Misleading Headlines About Orchestras

The headline in this morning’s ArtsJournal touted the “bombshell” report by the Toronto Symphony that it had avoided what looked like a likely $4-6 million deficit to instead post an $831,000 surplus AND reduce its long term accumulated debt of almost $12 million by about $5 million. Great news, right?

But read down into the Musical Toronto story and the news is more sobering. In fact, it looks like the “surplus” barely masks yet another shaky financial year for the orchestra, which has been carrying accumulated deficits for decades. How long? The orchestra has carried debt continuously since… 1979.

To put this year’s results in the black, the orchestra drew a hefty $4.9 million on its ~$33 million endowment. And then this curious notation:

The rest of the $5M reduction in accumulated debt comes from the historical musical instrument collection, which the orchestra valued at $4.2M and is unlikely to depreciate, due to its historical classification.

Since presumably the orchestra wouldn’t sell its valuable instruments(?) how did the instruments help reduce the accumulated deficit?

While the overall financial picture doesn’t seem really to have improved, the orchestra does seem to have adroitly avoided what was looming as a financial crisis after former CEO Jeff Melanson left last year. And the TSO did report that individual contributions to the orchestra were up impressively by more than 20% over the previous year, and the number of donors was up 15%.

The TSO’s books showed fundraising hitting an all-time high at 37.7%. Tickets contributed 27.5%, Government grants at 17.3%, Foundation contributions at 15.5%  and an additional 4.9% from other sources such as parking and concession sales.

Still – there are an awful lot of unfilled seats in Roy Thomson Hall these days. For whatever his faults as an administrator, Melanson had a big vision for the orchestra. With the TSO looking for a new CEO and a new music director, some compelling idea about what the orchestra should be will be a high priority.

  • Douglas McLennan

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