Leslie Jackson Chihuly’s “State of the Symphony” remarks from yesterday’s SSO presser at the Fairmount.
State of The Symphony
By Leslie Jackson Chihuly, Board Chair
Thank you for taking the time to hear about the current state of the Seattle Symphony. There is much talk about the performing arts in our community these days, focusing on how the current economic stress is affecting organizations that depend on patron support for their livelihood.
We have called this briefing to tell you how excited we are about the future of Seattle Symphony. We are the largest performing arts organization in the Northwest and deliver over 200 performances a year to more than 300,000 patrons. We also are proud to serve over 100,000 people of all ages through our education programs, which reach deep into the community, including serving 190 schools in 24 school districts.
We are just now putting the final touches on our upcoming season as well, and I will share with you a few highlights a little later.
Seattle Symphony is a jewel in Seattle’s crown and, for over 100 years, we have made this community proud by offering the opportunity to be entertained by music of the highest artistic excellence.
I represent the board of directors, a very committed group of more than 40 involved citizens who serve this organization because we love the music that is created here, and we support it because we believe in its mission.
The artistic vision of the Symphony is uppermost in our minds at this pivotal time in the history of the organization, as we search for our next Music Director and a new Executive Director. These new leaders will take our vision into the future for decades to come.
For today, we have much to celebrate. Maestro Gerard Schwarz is completing his silver anniversary as our conductor. A career of 25 years is indeed a great achievement in the performing arts world and we are so proud to be turning the spotlight on his wonderful work for this entire anniversary year.
As we look at this great accomplishment, we are also playing a part in the development and mentorship of a new world-class career. Earlier this week, it was announced that 17-year-old Alexander Prior, who started playing the piano at three and began composing at eight, will be taking up a specially-created, six-month fellowship with the Symphony. To have this internationally recognized British teenage conducting prodigy under our wing for a while is extremely gratifying and exciting.
The 2010-11 season is also worthy of note. We plan to announce full details in just a few weeks, but I can tell you that we have many of the world’s greatest artists joining us to celebrate next season. I think I can whisper a few of the names that may be familiar to you: Yo-Yo Ma, Lang Lang, Garrison Keillor, André Watts, a rare appearance by the Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta and, of course, our own wonderful Seattle Symphony.
In the last few months with input from musicians and staff, we have been working diligently to update an ambitious 5-year strategic plan, which calls for many great initiatives and the relentless pursuit of artistic excellence in a way that articulates an institutional artistic identity as a great orchestra.
We feel this plan lights the future for the Symphony. It balances the allocation of resources for artistic initiatives with other extremely important priorities such as orchestra compensation. The plan also addresses audience development, improved organization capacity and contains a carefully considered financial plan that ensures sustainable growth in earned and contributed income in the coming years in order to support our long-term vision.
In no way are we ignoring the financial difficulties facing us all. Like many of us as individuals, the Symphony is past the point where short-term extraordinary solutions can be applied. That is why this 5-year plan is so very important to us.
We must maintain a financially stable organization in order to offer great music on the stage. Balanced budgets are essential. Our 5-year plan gives us the realistic ability to create sustained balanced budgets as we go forward. The plan clearly sets aside money that will enable us to realize our artistic objectives.
Currently, I am pleased to say that ticket sales for the first half of the 2009-10 Season are strong and we have surpassed our goal for January, including tickets for the upcoming performances with Itzhak Perlman on January 27 and 28. Total sales for the first half of the season are about 3.5% ahead of last year at this time.
On the fundraising side, we are on-track in spite of an anticipated drop in corporate and foundation giving due to the economy. We even exceeded our December target for some very good news at year-end.
I want to leave you with the thought that one of our city’s most revered arts organizations is active and viable. We have exciting plans for the future. There is a new season being planned to meet the artistic standards that our audience has come to expect. And we are implementing a 5-year strategic plan that will strengthen our foundation while we build a future as one of our community’s most vibrant assets.