What a way to start the week!* Intiman Theatre in Seattle cancelled the remainder of its 2011 season to “pause, plan, and prepare for strong seasons in 2012 and beyond” and Philadelphia orchestra filed for bankruptcy protection. A week earlier, in a typically prescient blog post, Diane Ragsdale offered some sound advice for arts organizations facing financial trouble (paraphrased): avoid redundancy by finding a competitive niche; cooperate to share resources; partner with others to create work and support artists. To this I add: evaluate and improve board governance. (there’s more, but let’s concentrate on board governance for now.)
What I found most startling about the story of Intiman’s closure – which I hope and believe to be temporary – is this statement in a Seattle Times story: “According to IRS filings, [Intiman] ended each year from 2003 through 2009 in the red.” I have no knowledge of the Intiman board or the theatre’s specific situation, but this statement is telling. A board, any board, has a fiscal responsibility to approve the annual budget and review the annual financial statements. Perhaps the choice Philadelphia Orchestra made to file for bankruptcy will save them from seven years of in-the-red annual financial statements and provide them with the time needed to reorganize and potentially reopen as Honolulu symphony was able to do.
My point is this: It’s too early to hang the black crepe and bury these organizations. They have talent, a mission, and community support. Reorganization means just that, reorganization. This may mean reorganizing the board, the organizational leadership, and the business structure.
*Thanks to Thomas Cott of You’ve Cott Mail for putting these dots together in his Monday morning digest.