A background paper released today reveals just how tight the rope is that this orchestra is walking.
– It seems like things have moved very quickly in the past few weeks – how did we get to where
we are today?
Following significant advocacy by friends of the BSO and our musicians, House Bill 1404 (HB 1404) the John C. Merrill Act – was introduced by leaders in Annapolis during the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly. The BSO worked collaboratively with our musicians and leaders in Annapolis to ensure the passage of this legislation, a bill calling for financial support of $1.6 million annually from the State in each of the next two years (assistance given in addition to the very generous support the BSO receives through the Maryland State Arts Council) as well as authorizing a workgroup to help further examine our business model.
We had every reason to believe that the initial $1.6 million lifeline for FY20 would be forthcoming, and had expected to use this to immediately borrow funds in the form of a short-term credit facility to address our financial issues and help support efforts to operate ‘as usual’ while the workgroup was established and intensive discussions about the business model would continue. Unfortunately, final decisions have not yet been made about numerous items in the State’s budget, including the BSO grant. To-date, it has not been paid nor has a commitment to release the funds been made, and there is not a strong indication that the expenditure will be authorized. Against
these unknowns, and with the organization being left without sufficient capital to secure the credit facility needed to cover the expenses of the proposed summer season (which has consistently performed at a deficit), the BSO was left with no choice but to quickly adjust course by cancelling the summer season and reaffirming the contract proposal originally put forth in October.
UPDATE: It’s a lockout.
– If the fiscal situation is so dire, why announce the summer season to begin with?
The BSO administration and Board have communicated about the organization’s structural financial challenges – at the heart of our Resounding Campaign was the need for significantly increased endowment funds and capital to be able to increase the associated draw from the BSO Endowment Trust. And while the BSO had emphasized that the additional $3.2 million (over two years) lifeline anticipated from the State by HB1404 was not sufficient on its own to address our significant financial challenges, we were optimistic and eager to leverage that investment to secure not only the proposed loans but also additional fundraising support. As such, we worked together in partnership
with our musicians. We announced a modest schedule of summer concerts in the spring as we usually do. We understand that these are extremely difficult times for all involved and, while the BSO has been very transparent with our musicians (musician representatives sit on the Finance Committee of the Board, which reviews financial results on a monthly basis), when the future of these funds became unclear and the situation changed we needed to act quickly.
– If the fiscal situation has been so dire for so long, why did the BSO go on the European Tour?
Receiving invitations to the festivals such as those in which the BSO was featured in 2018 speaks to the exceptional quality of the orchestra. The BSO is committed to maintaining this quality as well as to touring, recording and broadcasting. Regarding the 2018 tour specifically, its associated expenses were covered through festival performance fees in addition to public and private funding
designated strictly for this purpose and which the BSO would not have otherwise received. Our financial challenges far predate the tour and, unfortunately, we would have been in this same situation regardless of it happening or not. As a significant cultural asset of Maryland, we are still so proud to have showcased the sounds and talents of the BSO under Marin Alsop to international audiences – and hope those audiences will be inspired to support us in the future.
Baltimore musician clearing out her locker ahead of the empty summer