Chris James, who plays second flute and piccolo with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, acknowledges the easy temptation to get dejected, even angry, about the financial plight of the symphony as it races to close a six-figure budget gap.
A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to raise much-needed funds for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The goal is $25,000.
What he and other musicians have chosen to do instead, though, is work in their own way alongside the symphony to help address a financial crisis that, in the worst-case scenario, threatens to sink the organization. Which is why, at the same time the symphony is raising money needed to finish the current season, the orchestra’s musicians committee is taking steps of its own that include a Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
The Kickstarter effort has a few simultaneous goals. The immediate point is for it to bring in $25,000 while it also helps put “a human face,” in James’ words, on the organization, since it’s the musicians themselves approaching the community with hat in hand.
Through the end of the day Wednesday, Feb. 12, with 54 days to go, the campaign had drawn 73 backers with pledges totaling more than $5,700. That means five days into the campaign, it was already at 20 percent of the goal.
The campaign’s deadline to be fully funded is April 7.
“We’re trying to see if we can get the musicians as people kind of out there into the community and into the public awareness, so we’re organizing several different things for later in the season,” James said. “And the Kickstarter campaign is one way we’re hoping to get the community involved. The more small donors we can engage, the more people will feel some ownership of the symphony in their town, which is a feeling we’re trying to cultivate.
“Staff resources are very tight right now. They’ve publicized a bunch of layoffs and restructuring, and they’re firing on all cylinders to try and get the rest of the season done. They’ve got a lot on their plate, so the musicians committee offered to start some of its own efforts to engage the community.”
As is the standard for Kickstarter campaigns, the “Save our Symphony” fundraising effort includes a tiered level of perks for contributors.
Contributors of $100 or more, for example, get to take a photo with the symphony musician of their choice. A $500 donation gets the contributor the opportunity to sit onstage during a rehearsal and interact with the musicians. Contributors of $5,000 will be treated to a private house concert by an ensemble of symphony musicians.
“We are committed to classical music.”
Symphony board chair
From the symphony’s perspective, fixing the budget problems includes raising money to get through the current season as well as raising funding to continue operating beyond that.
At the end of January, the symphony announced it’s taking “aggressive steps” on expenses and revenues to offset depleted reserves that declined as a result of “economic conditions and a shift in how fans consume classical music.”
Symphony board chair Gayle Rose, once a clarinetist in the orchestra, said the symphony structure has to change “because the model is no longer viable.”
“We are not alone in this as many other symphonies have or are facing this new reality, and we have brought in a CEO who is experienced in this area,” Rose said. “We are committed to classical music in Memphis, but it needs to be operating within a model that is financially and artistically structured for our new environment.”
James pointed anyone interested in the situation to also follow a Facebook page called “Musicians of the Memphis Symphony.”
The orchestra’s 2013-2014 season ends in May.