Vancouver Symphony’s future in doubt

Nonprofit group says it needs to raise $100,000 by June 30

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter




The Vancouver Symphony is launching a fundraising campaign. The nonprofit group hopes to raise $100,000 by June 30 to make it through the summer and launch a 33rd season. Without support from the community, the symphony is in danger of closing. Even with a successful campaign, the 2011-2012 season will likely be scaled back.

People can donate money:

Through the symphony website (;

By phone (360-735-7278 to reach the symphony office);

Or by sending a check to the Vancouver Symphony (P.O. Box 525, Vancouver, WA 98666).

Several years of declining revenues have caught up with the Vancouver Symphony. Now the nonprofit performing arts group is launching an aggressive fundraising campaign to remain in operation through the summer and launch what would be its 33rd season.

The symphony is making tough cuts in response to dwindling corporate sponsorships and private donations, including eliminating its executive director and marketing director positions.

The nonprofit is looking to raise $100,000 by June 30. A notice from the symphony soliciting donations from the community will appear in Thursday’s Columbian.

The symphony launched a similar “Save the Music” campaign in spring 2010, but with a much smaller goal of raising $20,000. The organization exceeded its target, bringing in about $25,000.

The group had to cancel two April concerts during the 2009-2010 season, though all 2010-2011 performances went on as scheduled.

Whether there will be a 2011-2012 season remains to be seen. Symphony board chairman Scott Milam is optimistic that community support will allow the organization to continue, but said that even if the fundraising goal is met, next season would likely feature smaller concerts with fewer musicians, guest conductors and guest artists, all of whom are paid.

Ticket sales have actually been increasing for the symphony over the past five years. However, ticket sales only cover about 20 percent of the symphony’s budget, and the increase hasn’t been enough to offset declines in other revenue streams such as sponsorships, donations, grants and money brought in from fundraising events.

The symphony saw total revenues of $511,053 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, down from $526,363 the year prior and $568,372 in fiscal year 2007-2008.

“Like most small nonprofits, the economy has caught up to us. We’re struggling very hard,” Milam said, adding that the symphony projects further declining revenues for fiscal year 2010-2011.

To be sure, the symphony isn’t the only nonprofit performing arts group struggling since the recession. Locally, Christian Youth Theater Vancouver/Portland plunged $75,000 into debt in 2009, prompting the organization to cut staff and move into less expensive headquarters.

Arts Equity Onstage closed, the Camas Performing Arts Series went on hiatus and the Southwest Washington Center for the Arts laid off its one paid staffer.

The Vancouver Symphony is launching a partnership with other local performing arts nonprofits, called Music Alive!, which it hopes will help the groups pool their resources to make a bigger impact in the community and attract more funding.

The challenges these groups face go beyond Clark County and also extend to nonprofits outside the arts world. Some 40 percent of participants in the nonprofit information network GuideStar’s June 2010 economic survey reported that contributions to their organizations were down that year. Eleven percent laid off employees.

Layoffs are one tactic the symphony is turning to in order to cut costs. The proposed 2011-2012 budget reduces administrative costs by more than 50 percent.

Currently, the organization has three full-time employees and one part-time employee. Executive Director Carly McDowell said her position and the marketing director position were being cut, effective July 1. The development director left about a year ago, and that position was never filled.

Laurel Whitehurst, Clark County Arts Commission member and chairwoman of Arts of Clark County, said the symphony, under the longtime leadership of conductor and music director Salvador Brotons, who lives in Barcelona, Spain, is an asset to the community, and it’s absence would be felt.

“I think the symphony gives a lot of local performers a chance to play for their own community,” she said.

The symphony sponsors a Young Artists Competition that gives young musicians the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra.

In addition to its regular season, the symphony puts on at least two performances a year for local schools, and gives out vouchers for students to attend concerts for free.

During harsh economic times, patronizing the arts can fall off people’s lists of priorities, as they struggle to meet more basic needs. However, Whitehurst argues that tough times are when people most need the arts.

“We can go see friends, listen to some beautiful music, and it helps us find each other when times are sad. Being able to lift ourselves out of the gloomy spirits and think of beautiful things helps,” she said.

McDowell hopes the community feels the same way and responds to the symphony’s plea for donations.

“The (Vancouver Symphony) has worked very hard in the face of the recession and declining revenues and donations,” she said. “We’re very proud to have made it through this last season, and we’re putting forth every effort to have a 33rd season. There’s a lot of love for the symphony here in Vancouver.”

Mary Ann Albright:, 360-735-4507.