A Little Too Much Faith In The Government?

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlights some of the fundraising hurdles the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is attempting to surmount with regard to their planned concert hall. The article reports that if the ASO doesn’t receive the government support they’ve requested, the concert hall project may be delayed or not go through as planned…

Adaptistration People 118Reportedly, the ASO has asked their local and State governments to contribute $100 million (combined) toward their $300 million Santiago Calatrava designed concert hall project. Although there have certainly been examples in the past where governments have stepped up to the plate to help pay a sizeable portion of a capital project’s bill, governments are becoming less and less enthusiastic about being considered major donors by project leaders.

Case in point, the recent fiasco in Richmond, VA where a former official of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation claims that the foundation leaders believed they would be able to persuade local and state governments to contribute sizeable amounts to their project. That strategy was a strong contributor behind one of the reasons why the project has run smack into the ground and the foundation is slowly fading away.

Even in some instances where local governments have contributed to projects, they’ve only done so after there has already been a great deal of private fundraising. For example, in Nashville they designed a campaign which used substantial private and local business support in conjunction with a solid business plan to help entice major land gifts from the local government.

Then there’s the fact that government bodies are, at best, precarious by nature. Capital campaigns are multi-year projects but politicians come and go. Government coffers fluctuate and budget priorities often shift on-the-fly. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, they quoted the ASO development director saying that if they don’t get the state support they requested by January, then their entire project will be put in a holding pattern until the following year. A delay of that length can really take the momentum out of a capital project.

This doesn’t imply that governments shouldn’t be involved in capital campaign projects, but any organization which presents a plan whose success or failure hinges on government support is only asking for potentially critical problems. Unless the project leaders are expert politicians themselves who are deeply embedded within the local and state political culture, it will be an uphill battle to secure significant funding. As a matter of fact, most projects would be better off directing their efforts toward wooing funds from different sources.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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