The Senate Appropriations Committee today will consider an unusual $1-million grant to the National Symphony Orchestra from National Park Service funds.
The proposed grant, which was approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, is one result of a number of financial assistance plans that Nso officials have been pursuing in the last couple of months. In that time they'vesought the counsel of Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), who sits on the board of the Kennedy Center.
"Almost everyone's been in on this, said Austin Kiplinger, NSO board president.
The grant -- which, if approved, must be matched by $1 million in private funds -- is the result of a long series of complicated moves, beginning a month ago when the orchestra originally asked Sen. Stevens for a $2-million appropriation from the Senate.
"Austin and I are very good friends," said Stevens. "He spoke frankly about the problems of the symphony. He convinced me it was part of a national obligation."
Stevens called attention to the absence of major corjporate donors in the Washington area. "I don't think anyone thinks the symphony ought to be a federal symphony," he said. "But the government is the major industry in this area.
The grant is comparable to any other major industry stepping forward and saying, 'Sure, we'll help out, but we want other people in the community to know it's their responsibility, too.'"
That is the rationale behind the requirement for matching funds. Said one staffer from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, "This is to generate increased funds from the public -- so this won't be an ongoing commitment from the federal government."
When NSO made its orginal $2-million request, orchestra officals asked if the funds could be channeled through the Smithsonian Institution. But "I thought that would be a little awkward under the circumstances," Stevens said yesterday. "We could have tried it, but I thought it would be safer put through the Park Service. That's where we've gotten funds for other cultural institutions." (The Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library and Wolf Trap Farm Park have received funds from the Park Service in the past.)
Also, the Senate subcommittee found upon further inspection that there may have been no legitimate way to get Smithsonian funds channeled to the NSO. "We couldn't find any statutory authority to provide funds through the Smithsonian," said a staffer of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to the Interior.
The proposed grant must be approved by full committee and then the Senate, as well as the House in a conference session. The House already approved a $300,000 Park Service appropriation to the NSO for its outdoor concerts on the lawn of the Capitol; it is unclear whether or not this $1 million is in addition to that amount. The full Senate could take up the appropriations bill as early as next week.
Over the past few weeks, while NSO president Martin Feinstein and others were discussing various strategies to cope with a projected $1-million deficit for the coming season, NSO board members Kiplinger and Clark MacGregor were meeting with Stevens.
On Monday, the day before the subcommittee was to meet, Stevens asked a staff member to call Kiplinger and read off four questions that would help "crystallize" Stevens' knowledge of the NSO's problems. The questions dealt with why the orchestra was in financial trouble, what was being done to improve the situation, why the orchestra needed $1 million and how the NSO would use the money.
Kiplinger and board members responded quickly -- the answers were hand-delivered to the Hill later that afternoon.
Basically, Kiplinger said, the grant would be used to cover some $500,000 in Kennedy Center charges when the symphony performs, and another $500,000 for "public service concerts."
The NSO currently has a $737,000 deficit from last season (the proposed grant would not relieve that debt). Thus, if the orchestra receives no more funds than officials presently foresee, by the end of the season the NSO will have a total deficit of $1.7 million.
Consequently, even if the congressional grant is approved, the NSO will still face a large indebtedness and has already embarked upon an energetic national fund-raising campaign.
"We've talked to Mobil, IBM, Bank of America," said Kiplinger, who spent yesterday in New York talking with Time Inc. president of the NSO's National Corporate Sponsor campaign, is helping the NSO raise money. "And we have emergency appeals in to 10 other major corporations, which will be followed up with very personal, face-to-face meeting."