The National Symphony Orchestra is in the black.
Anyone suggesting this possibility nine months ago figuratively might have been banished to the frozen Yukon as an artistic flake.
The orchestra's financial success, however, is the result of a concerted effort to warm the coffers of the National Symphony with cold, hard cash to replace that lost to Reagan administration cutbacks in cultural subsidies.
At the end of the 1980 fiscal year, the symphony faced a $1.1 million deficit. "The orchestra was within 35 days of bankruptcy," according to the Third Sector Project, a nonprofit organization that assists other nonprofit groups in reorganizing their management systems.
NSO started this drive in the spring; now the results are in: When fiscal year 1981 ended Sept. 30, the orchestra had a $232,000 surplus.
With $1 million in seed money from a 1981 Interior Department appropriation (pre-Reagan), NSO reoriented its management priorities under guidance from Third Sector.
Acutely aware of the difficulties facing nonprofit organizations in a period of fiscal belt-tightening, Third Sector organized the successful search for donations of help from the corporate sector.
This search produced: a marketing study, contributed by Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc., a management consulting firm; management systems analysis by Mars Candy Corp.; public relations assistance by Potomac Electric Power Co.; computer systems diagnosis by International Business Machines Corp. and financial planning by Coopers & Lybrand, a big accounting firm.
In April, the orchestra's executive staff began fund-raising overtures to the local business community, guided by Third Sector project director Dan Keith-Ray. Utilizing subscriber analysis supplied by Booz-Allen and the theme "You Owe It to Yourself to Get In on the Act," the symphony launched it's "Emphasis '81" campaign to increase subscriptions and contributions.
At no cost to the symphony, WDVM-TV (Channel 9) produced four television commercials and 14 radio shorts with help from the advertising firm Weitzman, Dym & Associates, touching on the magic of an evening at the Kennedy Center. "The champagne and the chandeliers sparkle . . . Suddenly, it sweeps over you . . . You're part of a sound, a feeling like no other in the world. The National Symphony. You owe it to yourself to get in on the act."
Playing to its audience, NSO also promoted itself as a business commodity in its campaign, arguing that a vibrant arts community enhances the D.C. area's ability to attract more business.
By Sept. 30, this campaign had raised $3.29 million, 21 percent of which came from national and local businesses, and the NSO had registered a 25 percent increase in ticket sales. The symphony surpassed by $232,000 its stated goal of $5.5 million needed to balance the budget.
What created the financial urgency at NSO? Executive Director Henry Fogel and Keith-Ray agreed the $1.1 million deficit resulted largely from the symphony's decision in 1977 to pursue "world-class orchestra" status--an expensive undertaking.
Large amounts of money were spent to enlarge the orchestra, to attract top-flight musicians and to solicit the services of world famous cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.
"The unfortunate thing about the orchestra," according to Keith-Ray, "is that they never put together a development plan to match this growth plan."
Fogel, who moved here less than four months ago after a successful term as New York Philharmonic general manager, stressed "the uniqueness of Washington . . . it doesn't have the kind of corporate base . . . that other cities have.
"We have to offer more bang for the bucks. We have to provide a presence in Washington and demonstrate an ability for a corporation to get the kind of exposure it wants. . . . Nobody gives you a major corporate grant without desiring some kind of return."
Musicians of international reputation have suggested NSO should occupy a special position among this nation's orchestras. Isaac Stern, internationally known violinist and president of the Carnegie Hall Corp., is quoted in a Third Sector publication as saying, "We look to the nation's capital to establish national cultural standards. This orchestra is a national monument and deserves national support."
That attitude illustrates another avenue down which the symphony can pursue revenue, Fogel said.
One approach Fogel is working on is a program to visit cities where corporations have no major orchestra to support. "I think we are in a unique position to take advantage of our name, the National Symphony, not in trying to replace the Chicago Symphony or the New York Philharmonic but in going to cities which don't have major orchestras."
Fogel says he is concerned that the public-relations value of conductor Rostropovich has not been utilized fully.
"Rostropovich is the single most marketable and easily identifiable item the symphony has. . . . He has the capability of galvanizing a community around him, and we need to take advantage of that," Fogel said.
Pepco Chairman W. Reid Thompson, who serves as the symphony's treasurer and contributed a member of his staff to assist in the public relations work on Emphasis '81, argued in favor of the Reagan approach of decreased government involvement in the arts.
"The marketplace for giving will produce a better cultural environment," Thompson said. He cited the leadership of NSO Chairman Leonard Silverstein, whose skill as a tax lawyer and dedication to the symphony's growth as a national institution have provided the dynamic force behind the orchestra's financial recovery.
The government has a "larger responsibility" with regard to the NSO "because of the federal role as the major employer in the area," Thompson said last week.
Fogel said he thought the political climate puts many arts organizations in peril. "We need to build up our own public constituency because the greatest threat to us is that the community does not understand what it has."