Financial challenges have seldom been greater for the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, which is looking to maintain quality programming in 2015 with less operational funding.
Both federal and provincial grants have been cut significantly in recent years, leaving the RDSO seeking new ways of getting donations from the community.
Executive director Chandra Kastern said one novel way is through a crowd funding campaign started on the orchestra’s website.
It encourages people to donate directly, and spread awareness about the RDSO’s needs through social media.
Prizes are available to those who can give different levels of financial support.
These include tickets or a season subscription, a backstage pass and champaign reception, the chance to be conductor for a day, or to have Maestro Claude Lapalme and his wife cellist Janet Kuschak perform at a private dinner.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to run an orchestra,” said Kastern, who heard finances were only this tight once before in the RDSO’s 28-year history. She believes it was near the beginning, when the RDSO was mostly volunteer run.
Recent problem stem from various government grants being reduced by as much as 50 per cent, said Kastern. The RDSO used to count on having nearly three-quarters of its operating costs covered by grants and season subscriptions.
But this has been now reduced to 60 per cent (26 per cent of the budget comes from federal and provincial grants and 34 per cent from concert ticket sales).
To make up the 40 per cent gap, Kastern is hoping to get a higher fee-for-service grant from the City of Red Deer.
More donations must also be solicited from the community. RDSO supporters are being encouraged to give in a variety of ways, including a pledge-raising walk or run for the orchestra, or launching a personalized RDSO campaign.
Other ideas are being considered to replace the orchestra’s annual gala, which Kastern said has not been overly lucrative as a fundraiser.
In light of the new financial reality, RDSO has been tightening its belt, reducing costs for the 2015 season to $485,000 from a previously budgeted $515,000.
“We trimmed costs as much as we can without a concert from the program or cutting any people,” said Kastern.
She would love to see Red Deer build a larger performing arts space, since the orchestra regularly sells out the 576-seat Red Deer College Arts Centre. But Red Deer city council recently pushed this proposal 20 years into the future.
Until more seats are available, RDSO seasons subscriptions can’t grow, said Kastern.
Planning the next season has been challenging, but she believes RDSO subscribers will be happy with the 2015-16 concert series.
“We’ll be featuring more of our own artists from the area, in trying to rein in production costs, but quality can’t go down.”
Of course, high fixed costs are a given, considering the orchestra’s size, said Kastern, who noted that putting on concerts with a 40 musicians, many who must travel from Calgary, remains “quite the endeavor.”
One bright spot is that the RDSO is planning a free concert next summer on the Bower Ponds stage after receiving special event funding from the Community Initiatives Project. Several dates in August are being considered.