Nutcracker Refunds and More Cancellations In Jacksonville

Following the Jacksonville Symphony Association’s (JSA) decision to provide recorded music for all First Coast Nutcracker performances, the organization has confirmed that they are offering refunds to ticket holders who are displeased over the decision. However, the issue of whether or not the JSA will adjust their fee or if the First Coast Nutcracker will adjust ticket prices due to the lack of live music is, as of yet, unknown…

In a message from Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra (JSO) Director of Public Relations, Paul Witkowski, the organization is offering refunds to current ticket holders for all Nutcracker performances.

“Ticket refunds for First Coast Nutcracker have been granted for those displeased on an individual basis,” wrote Witkowski. “At this date, refunds have amounted to a small percentage of overall ticket revenue, which is approximately $10,000 short of last season.”

Witkowski’s statement prompts a relevant question regarding revenues and expenses for the Nutcracker performances. In particular, is the First Coast Nutcracker paying the JSA the same fee for providing recorded music as was agreed for live music? In an email message from the end of November, JSA Executive Director, Alan Hopper, indicated that the organization’s contract with First Coast Nutcracker, Inc. did not prohibit them from providing recorded music in lieu of live musicians.

Calls to Deleah Martin, First Coast Nutcracker Executive Coordinator, asking about these issues were not returned. Likewise, email messages to the JSA inquiring as to whether or not there will be any adjustment to their fee since they are not providing live music have not been returned.

According to the First Coast Nutcracker’s most recent IRS Form 990, they paid the JSA $78,000 for services rendered as an independent contractor during the 2006 production. Since 2004, the amount First Coast Nutcracker paid to the JSA for providing live music has increased 3.52 percent. If that figure remained consistent when the two organizations negotiated a contract for 2007, then the JSA would be earning approximately $80,700. Consequently, the question for current and potential ticket buyers is whether or not they feel paying for a ticket which was determined based on expenses related to using a professional orchestra is justified when the live music is replaced with a recording.

Based on the organization’s IRS Form 990’s from 2004 – 2006, the First Coast Nutcracker has managed to end each fiscal year with an average surplus of approximately $57,000, or 17 percent of their annual budget. As such, unless they plan on paying the JSA their full fee and/or non-music expenses have run significantly over-budget for the 2007 production, the organization would not put itself in any fiscal jeopardy if they amended ticket prices to reflect the change from live to recorded music. However, the organization has not issued any statements regarding adjustments to ticket prices since officially announcing the use of recorded music.

In a related note, the JSA has officially announced the cancellation of the Jacksonville Symphony Holiday Pops performances on December 14, 15 and 16 as well as the December 22 performance of Handel’s Messiah. These were the last performances scheduled before the JSA has indicated that they will cancel the musician’s health care coverage if an agreement is not reached by December 15, 2007. The JSA has stated that current ticket holders have been sent a letter outlining options and patrons may call 904-354-5547 to speak with a JSA representative.

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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2 thoughts on “Nutcracker Refunds and More Cancellations In Jacksonville”

  1. There is an ugly rumour out there that Mr. van Fleck, the President of the Board, has been planning all along to “fold” the symphony for two years and then “restructure”, something which sounds like starting over with new, younger personnel who won’t cost so much money as the experienced players they have now. If this is true, then this is some legacy for him to have to live down, as the last time Jacksonville was deprived of a symphony season in 1970, the then President of the Board suffered great embarrassment in the community, and was not as well thought of ever again, for his mismanagement of resources and poor fund-raising. So, Mr. Fleck will have a lot to answer for after this debacle, no matter the outcome.

    As far as the music-going community is concerned, losing out on the “Messiah” performances in a very religious city is going to make very bad public relations for the management. Very stupid to do this at Christmas. They thought they would squeeze the musicians, but they are getting the “squeeze” in resentment from music lovers and subscribers.

  2. The truest fiduciary responsibility of the board of a nonprofit is to the product, in this case, the music. Financial responsibility is important, but there are two sides to that picture: limiting expenses tends to limit artistic growth, whereas greater fundraising tends to maximize it. A board which will accept less fundraising from a growing community is not living up to its primary fiduciary responsibility, nor, apparently, to its secondary one.

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