Another arts group calls it quits: Bellevue Philharmonic
After 43 years, the Bellevue Philharmonic is shutting down, citing decreased funding and ticket sales, debt and increasingly competitive environment for people's entertainment dollars.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After 43 years, including some recent rocky ones, the Bellevue Philharmonic is shutting down.
The board announced Friday that the orchestra will cease operations by the end of July. Its July 4 Concert in the Park at Symetra Bellevue Family 4th will be the orchestra's last.
"After months of discussion and analysis, the board made this decision given the long-term realities facing the organization," the Bellevue Philharmonic said in a statement that cited decreased funding, accumulated debt and an increasingly competitive environment for people's entertainment dollars as factors.
The past few years have been tough for the Bellevue Philharmonic, as it has been for many arts organizations, which have trimmed budgets, cut staff and slashed wages. Seattle's Intiman Theatre recently canceled the rest of its season because of money woes.
"The organization is simply not sustainable due to lack of support by larger donors to create an endowment, as well as a shrinking subscriber base," Board President Janis Wold said in the philharmonic's statement.
Reached by phone Friday, Wold said the board had been "struggling over it," voting to shut the orchestra down last month, with the final decision made Wednesday.
Board members have been aggressively paying down the orchestra's debt, which at the end of the 2008-09 season was just over $200,000. The orchestra had a $100,000 bank line of credit, from which it drew fully. Since then, board members have been paying off that line of credit and currently owe around $37,000 on it. In addition, the orchestra has accounts payable — including payroll — of about $24,000, Wold said.
The Philharmonic's annual operating budget in recent years has been in the low six figures.
Even with its debt load reduced, the immediate future for the orchestra didn't look sustainable, said board member Dale Miller.
Season-ticket sales for the planned 2011-12 season are down substantially from previous years, Miller said.
Meydenbauer Center, where the orchestra performs, has employees that are great to work with, Miller said, but the hall is not an ideal venue for a symphony. It is too small and the acoustics aren't right.
In its statement, the orchestra said checks will be refunded to subscribers who already have sent payment for the 2011-12 season.
Although the philharmonic, founded in 1967, does not have any full-time employees, it is a professional orchestra. It pays its musicians, who are in the middle of a three-year collective-bargaining contract. The status of that contract is unclear, Wold said.
In addition, the musicians have personal contracts for the number of concerts they play each year. Contracts for the 2011-12 season had not been issued yet.
Music Director Michael Miropolsky was a year into a three-year contract.
The orchestra was able to present a full season in 2010-11, though it had contemplated a smaller one. Its 2009-10 season had been scaled down. Its 2008-09 season was marred by canceled concerts, unpaid debt and tension between orchestra members and management.
Board members say they hope someone will be able to revive the Bellevue Philharmonic in the future — especially after the opening of the Tateuchi Center, a planned 2,000-seat performance center in downtown Bellevue. Groundbreaking for the Tateuchi Center is targeted for 2012, with opening projected for 2014.
Before a revival of the orchestra can happen, though, "we need to clear the decks," Miller said.
"We have a wonderful history, but we don't have the patrons that we should: the people who write the larger checks and attend," he said. "Our patrons are a wonderful but ever-smaller group."
What board members are doing now, Miller said, is "trying to exit with grace so that anyone who wants to come along in the future and restart the orchestra, when there's an appropriate venue for a full-scale symphony orchestra in Bellevue, will be able to do so."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.
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