“People really would like to have this orchestra,” but changes need to be made to the funding system, said David Montgomery, the orchestra’s conductor and executive director.
On Monday night, the Manassas City Council is expected to take up how it funds arts groups and other nonprofits.
The symphony has suffered internal turmoil and financial difficulties since 2009, when it sharply curtailed its schedule. But well before then, the organization’s leaders say, it had become clear that they would be getting fewer dollars from the county, a primary funding source. The funding system, the symphony’s leaders said, unfairly favors some groups, and, ultimately, the symphony opted not to reapply for money.
As Prince William — which has been a major supporter of the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory in Manassas and the Manassas Ballet Theatre — confronts criticism of its system, Manassas officials are grappling with similar questions.
Montgomery, in arguing that the city’s system isn’t fair, notes that Manassas City Council member Mark D. Wolfe (R) heads the ballet as its unpaid executive director. His wife, Amy, is the group’s paid artistic director. Mark Wolfe is also head of the Prince William County Arts Council, a part of the county park authority.
The authority, an independent entity funded by the county, is the same body that appoints a citizen panel to fund arts groups that apply for grants.
Since fiscal 2005, the ballet has received a total of $386,677 from the county, or 24.5 percent of the county’s $1.6 million allocation for arts groups over that time period. Since fiscal 2006, the ballet has received $138,000, or 11 percent of the city’s $1.2 million allocation for all nonprofits, according to budget documents.
Wolfe and others say the ballet is a strong organization, with well-attended fundraisers and a supportive community that appreciates the high level of performance the group offers. Wolfe said his roles as head of the ballet and the arts council do not conflict. He competes for the grants, he said, along with everyone else.
“We have played straight and fair,” Wolfe said. “I don’t make the rules.”
Although they are under the same umbrella, the two entities are separate, said Kathy Bentz, a part-time consultant for the park authority on arts issues.
County rules mandate that groups are not to receive more than 20 percent of their income from the county’s coffers. The Manassas Ballet’s income is good, making it more attractive for the county grant’s process, Wolfe and Bentz said. The ballet received $781,776 in public support in fiscal 2009, according to its public tax return.