Conductor Marin Alsop is working her magic with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and it shows when she's on stage. But it's the work behind the scenes that has strengthened the organization's financial footing and sharpened its focus, both critical elements to the BSO's viability and success. For some cultural institutions, a balanced budget might be a matter of course, but the BSO management's recent achievement on this front was central to rebuilding its network of donors and restoring confidence in the organization's future.
President Paul Meecham, with the backing of BSO board chairman Michael Bronfein, has managed to make the necessary cuts and streamline operations to finish the fiscal year that ended last July with a balanced budget, the first after five years of increasing deficits that totaled $19 million in 2006. It was a hole some may have thought too deep to dig out of.
But after raiding the BSO's endowment to reset its financial clock, the symphony's front office got to the nitty-gritty of reviewing the orchestra's expenses and paring as any deft bean counter would. They were judicious with their marketing dollars and pragmatic about the need for a gala with a capital G, as just two examples of cost-cutting. Mr. Meecham put a premium on recruiting top-flight talent to the task of replenishing the ranks of contributors, because they provide 60 percent of the BSO's revenue.
But ending the last budget year in the black should not be a once-in-five-years deal. The imperative is to repeat the feat and build on that success, which included a 35 percent increase in contributions. A $1 million, two-year challenge grant from the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds helped prime that pump, but others should be encouraged now to participate because of the BSO's proven commitment to a financially healthier organization.
The BSO and its benefactors should review the prospect of further expanding its subscriber base with an affordable season package, as was made possible in the current season with a donation from the PNC Foundation, and promoting Ms. Alsop, whose first full year as music director has resulted in $600,000 in new ticket sales.
Mr. Meecham also is looking south, to the BSO's second home at Strathmore, to enhance its donations. Patrons there and in Baltimore should recognize that the leadership of the BSO has met its pledge to shore up the orchestra's finances and such fiscal integrity deserves their contributions as well as their applause.