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Endowment chair: BSO musicians are the best, but we can’t ignore financial woes

Baltimore Symphony musicians perform at the Oregon Ridge Park “Independence Day Extravaganza.” The event is presented by Baltimore County.
Baltimore Symphony musicians perform at the Oregon Ridge Park “Independence Day Extravaganza.” The event is presented by Baltimore County. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

First and foremost, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust wants the organization to survive (“Emails show BSO management suggested Hogan message with state funding, urging financial fix,” July 16). That is why we invest our personal time and make our own contributions to the long-term future of orchestral music in our community. This has been the purpose of the Endowment Trust since its charter was established, and there has been no change in our mission.

The Endowment Trust wants to be part of finding the path to a resolution to the BSO’s current concerns but we are not and cannot be the only answer to an unsustainable business model. Larger draws from the endowment would not fix the problem, they would just kick the can down the road and ultimately impairs the Endowment Trust by depleting its foundation.

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Trustees have consistently assisted when the BSO is in trouble, but we also have a fiduciary responsibility to our donors to adhere to the terms of our trust agreement and remain financially viable over the long term. For many years, the BSO Endowment Trust has attempted to bridge the gap to profitability. Between 2010 and 2018, the Endowment Trust has exceeded its annual 5% funding goal to the BSO every single year by making a second cash advance to offset budget deficiencies. Additionally, the Endowment Trust has already loaned the BSO an additional $2.3 million in 2019 to help address immediate financial challenges.

That is on top of a recent $5 million loan that remains outstanding. There is a limit to how much the Endowment Trust can provide and still meet its fiduciary responsibility to those who contribute to the endowment.

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Our position is in no way a reflection on the exceptionally talented individual performers who are among the best in the country and have dazzled audiences in our city, state and around the globe at guest concerts.

Sadly, what is happening in Baltimore has become common in performing arts communities in many other American cities. Orchestras across the country have made adjustments to reflect market demand and economize. While the BSO Endowment Trust is not directly involved in the contract negotiation process, we encourage music lovers and supporters of the arts to implore both sides to find common ground. Our city and state deserve a harmonious outcome that protects this great institution for our and future generations to come.

Chris Bartlett, Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust.

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