RDSO sets the culture minister straight about attendance figures

Declining attendance? What declining attendance?

Declining attendance? What declining attendance?

The Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Melody McKnight, said she’d like to set the record straight after Alberta Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk suggested the RDSO is getting less in provincial grants because it’s pulling in less money from the community.

In fact, the opposite is true, said McKnight. “Our community derived revenue has gone up by $20,000.”

The RDSO raised $331,306 in the 2011-12 season from concert ticket sales, the annual fundraising gala and raffle, sponsorships, cash donations, program ad sales and other revenues. This is up from the $314,213 raised during the 2010-11 season.

McKnight added that the RDSO’s concerts are also continuing to sell out at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.

While she’s not sure where Klimchuk received her information, “We’re not angry at all about the minister’s comments. In fact, I was talking to Mary Anne Jablonski about it (Monday) and we had a good laugh,” said McKnight, who feels the Red Deer North MLA and her Red Deer South MLA colleague, Cal Dallas, are understanding of the RDSO’s position.

Having a $50,000 shortfall “has been a frustration, but our MLAs are glad to be working with us.”

Although provincial grants have fallen in recent years, McKnight said the RDSO is still grateful for the $54,000 received last July from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. “That’s nothing to sneeze at.”

And she’s feeling lighter about the RDSO’s $50,000 budgetary shortfall, after getting assurance from city council on Monday that it would be covered by a municipal grant. City councillors “are the heroes today,” she added.

That council support didn’t come without some opposition.

McKnight told council on Monday that the season could have been less costly if they knew about the shortfall in funding before the season was planned.

This year, the symphony has cut the popular Chamber series, reduced its education and outreach programs, and trimmed staff hours and reduced the wages of McKnight and RDSO music director Claude Laplame.

“We will still have to make further cuts,” said McKnight.

The cash infusion will come from the city’s Culture Managed Fund.

Coun. Dianne Wyntjes said the RDSO puts Red Deer on the map as a player and it would simply not be Red Deer without the symphony.

Coun. Chris Stephan, who was the only member of council to vote against the grant, said the province made the cuts, not the city.

“I think we need to be fair to all the groups that come to us for assistance,” said Stephan. “And the appropriate time to do that is at budget. I think that when we do consider these one-off situations without considering our entire financial situation, it can lead to irresponsible decisions.”

RDSO board president Howard Mix said Tuesday: “It’s gratifying to live in a city that continues to focus on quality of life for its citizens, particularly during these fiscally challenging times . . . our councillors have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring that arts and culture remain alive in Red Deer.”

McKnight said the RDSO still intends to do some fundraising to try to cover part of the shortfall, “but this takes the pressure off.”

The RDSO also intends to reduce the cost of the next season. McKnight said this doesn’t mean it will be less entertaining. The orchestra intends to do more collaborations, exchanging services with other arts groups in the province.

For instance, the RDSO will play for the Edmonton Opera and, in exchange, will get some operatic guest soloists to perform at a Red Deer concert. “That will be tons of fun,” said McKnight.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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