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Other local arts groups are suffering financial reversals

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which has a deficit for the 2001-02 season in excess of $750,000, is not the only major Pittsburgh arts organization suffering from the economic fallout of the Sept. 11 tragedies and the turbulent stock market.

Pittsburgh Public Theater and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre also ended the season with deficits in the hundreds of thousands. But the Pittsburgh CLO, Pittsburgh Opera and Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh were able to sustain balanced budgets or end with surpluses.

None of the major arts groups has planned significant cuts in artistic product, but all are used to adapting to economic pressures.

"I would describe our business as a ride at Kennywood," said Steven Libman, managing director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. "There's a time when you're way up and it's a thrill, and the next year you're coming way down, fast."

Pittsburgh Ballet ended its season with an operating deficit of $550,000. That's slightly less than its deficit in the fall, when the company lost out on private and corporate foundation grants because of the diversion of foundation money to Sept. 11 causes.

The unpaid furloughs the ballet made its staff take over the course of the season did not make up for the losses, so it is relying on projected surpluses over the next few years to eliminate the deficit. Libman says he's confident the ballet's new production of "The Nutcracker," refurbished at a cost of $2.5 million, will help create a surplus when performances begin in December. So far, 1,400 tickets to "The Nutcracker" have been sold, compared with 214 at this time last year.

The ballet and other arts groups have lowered projections of the amounts their endowments will earn them this season. Endowments are often heavily invested in the stock market, and earnings from them help support an arts organization's activities.

Pittsburgh Public Theater's operating loss for last year was roughly $500,000, the first deficit for the theater in several years. It has responded by not filling some administrative positions and dipping into accumulated surpluses.

Stephen Klein, Public Theater's managing director, said making artistic cuts would only hurt the theater, which enjoyed a rise in single ticket sales last year despite a drop in subscriptions.

"What we have, in the end, is our product, and that product creates sales and maintains our place in the hearts of patrons and corporations and foundations who contribute," he said. "If we behave like other theaters and cut some shows, we'd be destroying who we are."

The Carnegie Institute, which runs the Carnegie museums in Oakland, the Carnegie Science Center and The Andy Warhol Museum, does not expect to have an operating deficit when its fiscal year ends in December. Ellsworth Brown, president of the institute, said the museums have managed to adjust expenditures in the wake of stock market troubles and decreased donations.

The Pittsburgh CLO expects to end its fiscal year in October in a healthy financial state, possibly with a surplus. Although its operating deficit for the summer 2001 season was nearly $300,000, the summer of 2002 saw a leap in attendance that helped offset a drop in donations and investments.

Van Kaplan, general manager, said that because the CLO runs a summer season, it had time after the Sept. 11 attacks to make administrative cuts and to add a patriotic show, "George M," and a Pittsburgh favorite, "Singin' in the Rain," to its season.

Pittsburgh Opera ended its fiscal year in June with a $43,000 operating surplus. Mark Weinstein, the opera's general manager, said the organization managed to avoid a deficit because it raised more from donations than it lost in investments. Many of the donations were multiyear commitments pledged before Sept. 11.

At the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, significant cuts have already been made in administrative costs to help relieve last season's deficit, the exact amount of which will be known after the orchestra closes its books Sept. 30. But it does not expect, at this point, to make cuts on the artistic side.

"It's been a rough year," Klein said, "but potentially, the year we're going into could be tougher for all of us."

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