Going Gets Tougher

It’s been tough for performing arts groups, but it’s about to get tougher. Beginning next month, the cost of renting the Memminger Auditorium, the historic venue run by Spoleto Festival USA, will jump by about 30 percent, according to sources at the festival.

Since opening last May after a $6 million renovation, the Memminger has become a hot spot for local performing arts groups, including the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Stage, and many events featured at the MOJA Festival. CSO officials have said the 350-seat Memminger is the preferred venue compared to the 2,700-seat Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, because it’s smaller and less costly.

Now the rent is going up. The reason is not because of a historic economic meltdown. The reason is the cost of operating it. It’s proved to be more than expected, says Susie Prueter, assistant production manager.

“It’s a learning curve,” she says. “We’re trying to keep costs as low as possible.”

Spoleto’s goal, Prueter says, hasn’t been to make money but to create a “community venue” for area nonprofits. Financially, Spoleto’s goal is to break even. Thus far, it hasn’t. The air conditioning alone costs around $60,000 a year. Here are the new rental rates. Monday-Thursday: $800 per day. Friday-Sunday: $1,100 per day. A full week: $3,500. It’s still a deal if you want a cozy audience. Renting the Gaillard, however, will run about $2,000 a night. —John Stoehr

Orchestrated Survival

Since revealing weeks ago that its immediate future is in jeopardy, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra seems to have found an inch of wiggle room to carry on.

After alerting the 46 musicians that their December salaries were at stake unless money was immediately raised, the CSO’s plight received heavy coverage in The Post and Courier and here in City Paper. In the wake of those stories, Jan Newcomb, executive director, reports over $150,000 has come in, much of it in small donations.

On Dec. 3, the CSO announced that a group of long-time supporters offered a $75,000 matching pledge for donations arriving between now and the end of January. The challenge requires that all donations be above $1,000, but any amount up to $75,000 will be doubled, a possible total of $150,000.

“It’s to encourage major donors,” Newcomb says. “From the articles, we have gotten a lot of lovely gifts … but we need to get some of the bigger donors back, too.”

Newcomb says that while the $150,000 they’ve raised in the last four weeks is far better than in prior months, it’s still less than the same period in normal years.

She calls 2008 “the worst year in history, as far as fund-raising.” Normally, the final months of the year bring a flood of donations, as people take into account the value of giving as a tax write-off.

One of the CSO’s funding problems may be a lack of development and marketing. Three billboards went up promoting the symphony on I-26 this week, donated by Adams Outdoor Advertising, but pitching for donations has been largely limited to mailers sent to donors and word of mouth.

Newcomb hopes to design a more sophisticated development strategy, as well as build a stronger endowment.

She’s currently writing grant requests and says that if the $75,000 is raised (and then doubled by the challenge to a total of $150,000), she’s hopeful the season will be completed.

“I’m forever the optimist,” she says. “I just really want to make it through our obligations for the season.”

Three weeks after being notified of the crunch, however, the musicians’ union has yet to respond to the board’s request to renegotiate the union’s contract. Agreeing to that would most likely mean a pay-cut. Board President Ted Legasey says any salary cut would be across-the-board, from musicians to staff.

Although Newcomb hopes to find a sustainable economic model, she also hopes donors remember that the CSO is an organization for the public good and not a private, for-profit company. Just as National Public Radio must carry out quarterly fund-raising drives, the CSO needs consistent charitable donations.

“We’re not here to make money,” she says. “We’re here to present music.” —Stratton Lawrence

Going Gets Better

Organizers of Kulture Klash 3 estimate that about 2,000 people attended the arts and culture party at the Old Navy Base earlier this month. The news marks a significant step for the grass-roots project. The first Kulture Klash drew about 800. The second one, last spring, drew about 1,300. If the trend continues, Kulture Klash 4, which organizers say will likely be in the spring, is on pace to attract about 2,600 people. —John Stoehr

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