Performing Arts

Fort Worth arts groups must find new funding to keep their footing

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price gives the first donation for Fort Worth Opera’s Million Dollar Summer campaign to General Director Darren K. Woods on May 31, 2016.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price gives the first donation for Fort Worth Opera’s Million Dollar Summer campaign to General Director Darren K. Woods on May 31, 2016.

During 14 months of contract talks, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Musicians union asked management how they planned to raise money to grow the orchestra.

Symphony president Amy Adkins assured the union it had fundraising plans to help overcome the projected $700,000 annual deficits, but it wasn’t until the last few negotiating sessions in August that she revealed a multiyear campaign to grow the orchestra’s endowment from $24 million to $40 million.

“We know we have to raise money for the endowment. We have been talking about it at the board level for years,” Adkins said in an interview last week, adding that the symphony has $4 to $5 million in verbal pledges for the endowment campaign.

The union, however, was skeptical of management’s endowment plans; musicians rejected a final contract offer over Labor Day weekend and went on strike Sept. 8.

“Given its timing, it lacked a great deal of credibility with us,” said Stewart Williams, president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147, which represents the FWSO musicians.

The standoff between the musicians and symphony management has thrust local arts organizations — and how they spend money and raise money — to center stage.

North Texas arts groups are facing a difficult environment in which to raise money. Many are chasing the same wealthy patrons and corporations for big donations at a time when the economy is in slow-growth mode and depressed oil prices have put a dent in area wealth.

“In performing arts in America, at least 40 percent to 80 percent of the money comes from philanthropy and not from ticket sales,” said William Baker, a Fordham University professor who teaches an arts business class at The Julliard School. “The sad thing is in all of American philanthropy, which is substantial — with hospitals, schools and religion — only five percent goes to the arts.”

To combat rising budget deficits, arts groups are trying new ways to reach new audiences, hoping that first-time ticket buyers may one day become donors.

Over the summer, the Fort Worth Opera raised $1 million in 90 days to close its 2016 budget deficit of $675,000. With the emergency campaign, the opera doubled its donor base, using social media, radio and newspaper ads and e-blasts to reach new givers.

“We have to reassess our business models and reach new audiences and make ourselves more accessible and relevant again,” said Mark Saville, director of development at the Fort Worth Opera. “We are in rapidly changing times.”

An old fundraising model

When Saville moved from Arizona in February to take the position of chief fundraiser for the Fort Worth Opera, he thought it would be easy to raise funds in a county with more than 1 million people and home to several large corporations like American Airlines and D.R. Horton.

But he quickly learned it wasn’t easy. Local arts organizations relied on a few individual donors and foundations for support, and that number dwindled to a handful when the oil and gas industry entered a downturn.

“The model [local groups] have employed for a long period of time, they are starting to question how effective it is,” Saville said.

In addition to individual donors and corporations, Fort Worth arts groups typically get grant funding from the Arts Council of Fort Worth, which receives a portion of its funds from the city of Fort Worth. This year, the Arts Council received $1.37 million in the city’s FY2017 budget, the same as in 2016. That figure is almost double from the $799,690 it received from the city in 2013.

“We encourage everybody to think long and hard about the arts and the impact it has on our city,” said Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, noting that arts groups are large part of the “Cowboys and Culture” brand of the city.

In most communities, Baker said, it is typical to see a small number of incredibly wealthy people supporting the performing arts. And as the traditional legacy givers die, their children aren’t necessarily supporting the same arts groups as their parents and are instead giving to causes such as clean water initiatives or environmental and public health causes.

In a dual-city region like Dallas/Fort Worth, where there are numerous quality art organizations, Baker said, it is a more competitive environment for groups who need to attract donors. In addition to the arts groups, more than 3,000 registered non-profit groups exist in Fort Worth, according to, a website that compiles non-profit tax data.

“We’re running after fundraisers and donors and ticket buyers all together. We are a lot of people running for the same dollars,” said Jacques Marquis, chief executive of the Cliburn.

Edward Brown, who is on the board of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, agrees that each arts organization is trying to differentiate itself when applying for grants to supplement their budgets.

“We are all competing for the same foundation grants, whether it’s the Sid Richardson Foundation or the Amon Carter Foundation,” Brown said. “When we go out into the community and do new events, we can show other donors and foundation heads that we are invested in this community.”

New attempts to grow donor bases

Whether it’s “Opera Shots” at a local bar or a “Cliburn Sessions” presentation at the Live Oak Music Hall, local arts groups are trying to engage new audiences that they hope will turn into new donors.

On Wednesday, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth is presenting “Beer, Beards and Beethoven” at the Wild Acre Brewing Company, its first attempt at playing a short chamber music concert in a casual setting.

“Any time you broaden your audience, it gives you the potential to find new donors,” Brown said. “We hope they will come to our concerts, start as small donors and then convince them to support us in a more substantial way.”

Marquis said he believes that Fort Worth still has a strong donor base, particularly for classical music, but notes that with private money, there is a concern about the business markets. Corporations who are still giving to local arts groups have also lowered their level of donations. As a result, the Cliburn has added new programs and competitions, including its junior competitions last year, to attract new donors.

“The budget exploded this year and last year, so we had to find new ways of fundraising,” Marquis said. “But I think people were also excited by these new events.”

The Fort Worth Opera is hoping to entice Hispanic music lovers by offering performances of operas by Latino composers over the next four years, including the area premiere of the mariachi opera Cruzar la Cara de la Luna in 2017.

“As we talk to corporations about this [Hispanic initiative], they are getting excited,” Saville said. “As an opera company, we are trying to build a single new audience demographic, and suddenly donors are all ears.”

Local arts groups are also reaching out to residents of the growing suburban communities who typically don’t make the drive into Fort Worth to see a performance. Terri Messing, the chairman of the Apex Arts League, coordinates with symphonies, ballets and chamber music groups to hold concerts in Southlake.

“The big performing arts groups have to get out into the communities,” Messing said. “The interest in quality music is going to go away. They have to make music and ballet and theater attainable for the younger generation.”

Importance of endowments

Emergency funding campaigns, like the one conducted by the Fort Worth Opera, can help arts groups cover short term budget problems. With the new donations collected over the summer, the opera was able to pay vendors, including the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which had provided live music at the opera’s festival performances.

While the symphony has conducted emergency fundraising campaigns in the past, Adkins said, a larger endowment will help close its annual operating budget deficits.

When the plan was presented to the union in August, FWSO — which finished its most recent season with a $500,000 deficit — had $4 million to $5 million in pledges from individual donors to kick off the campaign, Adkins said.

Since organizations can’t legally draw more than six percent from an endowment based on a three-year average, musicians would have needed to accept salary cuts for two years before the symphony budget could grow again in the third and fourth years of a new contract.

Currently, the symphony is drawing $1.4 million of its operating income from its endowment, which is the maximum 6 percent. Adkins said the symphony acquired more than 1,200 new donors and had more than a dozen fundraising campaigns to help make up the budget losses that stem from lower corporate donations, a smaller Arts Council grant and one less Fort Worth Opera production.

“Individual giving cannot begin to fill that hole that was created by those major losses,” Adkins said. “And we can’t use the assets from the endowment beyond the six percent to solve our problems.”

An endowment campaign, however, takes time and can last over several years, Adkins said.

But the musicians, who are still on strike, say the endowment campaign is something management should have considered launching years ago. Union president Williams said it doesn’t make sense that a thriving city like Fort Worth can’t support its orchestra when other non-profit groups have had success fundraising in the community. This week, the Fort Worth Zoo announced it had quietly raised $90 million for a $100 million expansion.

“All we hear about is what they can’t do, instead of what they can do,” Williams said, “and that’s just absurd considering the resources and the spirit of this community.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @andreaahles