Van Cliburn

Sponsorship change, more school concerts new in Cliburn budget

Jacques Marquis, president of the Cliburn, speaks at the competition’s Draw Party at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel in May.
Jacques Marquis, president of the Cliburn, speaks at the competition’s Draw Party at the Worthington Renaissance Fort Worth Hotel in May.

A competition year used to result in a fat bank account at the Cliburn, while non-competition years had the nonprofit foundation digging into its savings.

Not anymore.

Under chief executive Jacques Marquis, who joined the Cliburn in 2012, the foundation changed the way it brought in sponsorship money and increased concert programming so it would no longer be in the red for three of every four years.

“Technically, sponsors were coming for the big competition year [with a four-year pledge] and the competition year was a surplus and the loss was the other three years,” Marquis said. “After the 2013 competition, everybody went to a one-year commitment.”

For its 2013 fiscal year, the Cliburn posted a profit of $1.3 million, but the next year it reported a $620,193 loss, when it had no competitions. Marquis attributed the loss to the foundation’s transition from the old sponsorship model. In 2015, the foundation turned a slight profit of $104,662 as it produced its first junior competition. The foundation’s finances reported on tax forms are not yet available for 2016.

About 65 percent of the Cliburn budget comes from donations while the remainder is from earned revenue such as ticket sales and management fees.

As Marquis has added a junior competition and included an additional symphony round in the amateur competition in 2016, the Cliburn’s budget has grown by 50 percent. The budget was about $11 million over the four years leading to the 2013 competition. Marquis said the budget from 2013 to 2017 is about $16.5 million.

The 2017 budget of $7 million during a competition year is significant, and allows the Cliburn to produce a high-quality competition, said Gustav Alink, director and co-founder of the Alink-Argerich Foundation, which tracks international piano competitions.

“Many other international competitions have to do with a much smaller budget,” Alink said. “Some competition organizers must try to have their entire competition at a $60,000 budget. In such a case, they do not have a finals with an orchestra.”

The Cleveland International Piano Competition, which is every three years and lasts about two weeks, brought in $834,535 in revenues for its 2013 competition, although the organization spent $1.1 million to produce the competition, according to tax filings. The financial information for its 2016 competition is not yet available.

Marquis said the Cliburn sold fewer subscription packages to the 2017 competition and hopes individual ticket sales will increase as the competition moves into its final week.

“I think people are more careful on subscriptions and this is a trend everywhere,” Marquis said. “That’s why the marketing is much more important. We saw it coming.”

To help generate buzz around the competition, to get Fort Worthians to buy tickets, the Cliburn painted the crosswalks on Fourth and Commerce streets to look like piano keyboards. It also put up outdoor billboards, signs on bus benches and banners as you drive in and out of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Although Marquis wasn’t looking to cut expenses, he decided not to produce a documentary, as the Cliburn did in the past. The documentary usually cost about $500,000 and was originally done to help make the competition accessible to more people.

“I was not convinced that the documentary was doing much more than what we were doing already with the webcast,” Marquis said, noting that the webcast brings the competition to a wider audience immediately, as opposed to waiting almost a year for the documentary.

Marquis has increased the Cliburn’s expenses for school performances, which are free for local schools. In the past four years, the Cliburn has grown those from 75 per year to 275. Each concert costs about $1,000 to produce.

“I feel there is a community responsibility for big arts organizations to bring music to the schools and expose these children to music,” Marquis said.

And as the competition expands its global audience with a webcast partnership with and adds more local concerts to increase community engagement, Marquis said he believes the Cliburn’s finances are solid.

“Every dollar I get in donations goes on the stage,” Marquis said. “I think it’s important from a donor perspective that the money is spent wisely.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @andreaahles