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An anticipated budget shortfall is forcing the administration and musicians of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera to take pay cuts of 10 percent or more -- in addition to programming cuts and other economic measures -- as the organization reacts to the recession.
This fiscal year, USUO will cut nearly $1 million in operating costs from its $19 million budget. At the same time, orchestra officials are pursuing strategies to remain financially viable in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, they said Tuesday.
Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO, and music director Keith Lockhart volunteered to take a 10 percent salary cut, while the musicians of the Utah Symphony on March 26 voted to give back 11.5 percent of their salaries and benefits for this fiscal year, which ends on Aug. 30.
The 83 full-time musicians' contribution includes donating two full weeks of salary, contributing half of their pension contribution, and giving up one week of vacation and a portion of their personal days. (An entry-level position with the orchestra begins at a salary of about $60,000.)
"It's drastic, no doubt about it," said Erich Graf, USUO principal flutist and president of local chapter 104 of the American Federation of Musicians. He likened the situation to the auto unions in Detroit, which have had to make concessions to help keep companies in business.
A majority of the musicians voted in favor of everyone giving back a portion of their salaries and benefits, Graf said. "Nobody's happy that this happened," he said, and added that musicians were presented with one possible alternative from the union if the musicians didn't concede.
That was, simply: Chapter 11, Graf said.
As for management, the administrative and artistic staff of USUO all took salary reductions, and all employer-pension contributions were suspended for the rest of the budget year. Eight full-time staff positions have been eliminated through attrition and layoffs.
The deficit is primarily due to reduced private and public contributions, including reduced Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks tax receipts, which are lower this year due to the recession and to the state legislature's reduction of sales tax on food.
Ticket revenue provides only 25 percent of the USUO's budget, said board chair Pat Richards. The other 75 percent comes from donor contributions.
Another reason for the financial woes is that the organization's endowment is invested in the rocky stock market. Between Dec. 31, 2007 and Sept. 30, 2008, the endowment lost more than 15 percent of its value, from $40.5 million to $31.9 million, according to the nonprofit arts organization's records.
USUO has taken steps to strengthen its financial situation for the 2008-2009 season and beyond, Tourangeau said. The 38-member board has increased contributions to the organization, and this fiscal year ticket revenue is projected to be 6 percent above the 2007-2008 season, surpassing goals. Subscription renewals for next season are "extremely strong," she said, and the company has attracted more than 200 additional donors than last year at this time.
The board's No. 1 priority is maintaining artistic excellence, Richards said, promising that the 2009-2010 season would be a "blockbuster."