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Drop in donations impacting symphony

Capital campaign launched to initially raise $50,000
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Offstage budget challenges are sounding a sour note for the Auburn Symphony. While ticket sales remain buoyant during its 21st season, the symphony’s bottom line is being undermined by a drop in donations. Symphony Executive Director Jennifer Keck said that a new capital campaign has been launched to initially raise $50,000 to help shore up a budget that was set last summer at $277,000. The symphony also has to face a future without most of its once-substantial reserve. The orchestra had built up financial assets of just more than $200,000 by mid-2002 but has steadily dipped into that amount over the past five years. The non-profit’s most recent filing with the state Attorney General showed total assets down to $42,000 in July. Keck said that figure is even lower now, with the assets in stocks tied to the lowered market. So symphony supporters are taking some unprecedented steps to help keep the orchestra afloat during turbulent economic times. On a recent weekday, board members were dialing for dollars — manning a phone bank to contact season ticket holders and make a pitch for them to join the newly created $100 club. Keck said that effort over two days raised $6,500. Next week, the symphony hopes to gather together some of Auburn’s leaders for a stakeholder meeting at the downtown Arts Building. “Many were here at the beginning and it will give everyone a chance to reflect on the value of the orchestra,” Keck said. That value ranges from encouraging music in schools to boosting community prestige, she said. Plans in April include a Sunday morning coffee concert and a wine tasting event to raise funds. A walk-a-thon is slated for May or June. A casino night and silent auction is slotted in for July. While fundraising efforts are being ramped up, the symphony office has cut its hours. Keck said she’s being paid with “vouchers” and hasn’t received full compensation on her $65,000-a–year salary since December. While the Saturday and Sunday concerts typically draw 700 to 800 people to the Placer High School Auditorium — the orchestra’s home venue — the possibility of the Placer Union High School District raising rental rates next year also has the symphony considering moving at least one concert to Roseville or Rocklin, Keck said. The current financial challenges with the symphony don’t surprise former board member Michael Kent Murphy. A member of the budget committee, he left the board in the summer. Among his recommendations in light of dwindling reserves and a budget for 2008-09 that is up over the previous year’s record revenues of $241,000 was to make the executive director’s position a volunteer one. “I love the symphony and the musicians who put in thousands of hours of volunteer effort,” Murphy said. “But I’ve been really concerned about the future of the symphony. It was apparent to me then that income wasn’t matching expenses.” Richard Couzens, a retired Auburn judge who serves as president of the Auburn Symphony Association, said that while ticket sales are important, they only account for about 35 percent — or about $100,000 — of the operating budget. The board decided before this season not to raise ticket prices. With “very trying economic times” creating a downturn in donations to not only the symphony but many other worthwhile causes, the board decided to move forward with its first-ever capital campaign, he said. Janet North, president emeritus of the association, said she’s confident that Keck and Couzens’ leadership will help the symphony meet the challenge. She said that she’s watched over the past 14 years as the orchestra under the baton of conductor Michael Goodwin has grown in numbers as well as quality. On March 29, the symphony plays at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis to an expected audience of 1,000 to 1,300. Auburn’s local orchestra is something worth preserving, North said. “The symphony is so important to Auburn,” she said. “We’re not going to let it depart.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.