Inside the Dayton Arts Merger Part 2

Part 1 in this series examined the background, reasoning, timeline, and process behind the Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera, and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra merger. Today’s installment will examine key factors and present conclusions.

Key factors

guest-authorIt seems mergers are often suggested, but they rarely become a reality.  So how did we make all this work?  We were fortunate to have a number of factors in our favor.  First, our Artistic Directors, Neal Gittleman, Thomas Bankston, and Karen Russo Burke set the tone for all of us.  Their focus was always on what was going to be best for the art, and that kept us going through a few rocky moments.  We were blessed to have three Artistic Directors who were willing to work together and put ego aside, when necessary, to ensure the best possible outcomes.  Second, our board members, especially those involved in the merger process, were forward-thinking and positive.  There were no issues of ego or control to deal with there, either.

Third, because all three organizations had reduced staff significantly over the past three years, this was not a merger that was going to be about mass layoffs.  With a few exceptions, there was a place for most everyone on the pre-merger staffs.   There was certainly some expense savings to be realized, but it had mostly to do with ending out-sourcing arrangements and bringing various functions back in house.

Fourth, we kept our constituents well informed, including our artists, all throughout the process.  I’m grateful, in particular, for the thoughtful way our musicians approached the merger.  I mentioned that, while the Dayton Philharmonic was already playing for the opera, it had not played for Dayton Ballet performances for years.  Working together at the bargaining table, we were able to craft contractual language that would put the orchestra back in the pit for the big story ballets like The Nutcracker, while allowing the Ballet the flexibility to continue to use recorded music for repertoire performances not set to orchestral scores, which would be typically performed in a venue where the pit could not accommodate a symphony orchestra anyway.

Fifth, we were blessed to have an active and engaged partner in The Dayton Foundation, which, as an important steward of community resources, began actively encouraging non-profits to work together in new ways.  We would not have been able to complete this process without their support.  Finally, each organization came to the table with its own strengths and weaknesses, and we were wise enough to see them for what they were, and to see how joining forces might be beneficial – to allow the various weaknesses to be mitigated and the strengths to be enhanced.

So perhaps the stars did align for us, in ways that made this possible where otherwise it might have been considerably more difficult.  I would not say, however, that Dayton’s situation was somehow unique.  I believe that if another community were to feel that merger between various arts organizations might be beneficial, and the arts organizations themselves were willing to put in the time and hard work, then this could, indeed, happen elsewhere.

Our video and conclusion

You can hear more from our Artistic Directors and others involved in the merger process by viewing our promotional video:

I’m happy to answer any questions anyone would like to raise as a comment, and as always, thanks to Drew for this opportunity!

About Paul Helfrich

Paul Helfrich is President of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance.  He received his Bachelor of Music degree (with distinction) from Indiana University – Bloomington in 1984, and a Master's degree in Arts Administration, also from Indiana University, in 1986. Mr. Helfrich came to Dayton to serve as President of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2008.  In less than four years, he has overseen the launch of two new series including the highly successful Rockin’ Orchestra series, the completion of a $1.5 million special fundraising campaign called Protect & Secure, and played a key role in the merger of the Dayton Philharmonic with the Dayton Ballet and Dayton Opera to create the new Dayton Performing Arts Alliance.   Prior to his arrival in Dayton, he served 12 years as Executive Director of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra in Charleston, West Virginia.  His time there saw a great expansion of the orchestra’s concert, touring, and education programs. Mr. Helfrich has also served as Executive Director of the Erie Philharmonic and Director of Marketing for the Kalamazoo Symphony.

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  1. I’m curious as to if there were objections to this merger both from inside the organizations and from the community. It seems to me that it would benefit the organizations to be able to pool resources and have a stronger combined presence.

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