Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra works to get out of the red to make more music

The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, which played its final concert of the season Saturday night, has told its patrons it's in debt and needs to raise about $30,000 to pay its immediate bills.

The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, which played its final concert of the season Saturday night, has told its patrons it's in debt and needs to raise about $30,000 to pay its immediate bills.

Symphony director Alexander Platt spoke at an orchestra fundraiser a week ago in which he spelled out the organization's money needs and spoke of why the symphony -- which celebrated its 100th anniversary three years ago -- is important to the community.

"The symphony, like so many other symphonies in the country, is in financial trouble," Platt said after the fundraiser. "So we are cutting back to make ends meet."

Along with cutbacks, the organization intends to pursue more sponsorship and is asking its patrons to pitch in and help get the symphony back in the black.

Despite the money problems, Platt and GGFSO board president Stephen Bott said they were hopeful for the symphony's future.


"We have a positive outlook going forward," Bott said. "We just have to make it to the end of this season."

The orchestra's financial year begins in August and its performance season begin in the fall and runs through spring. Its annual budget is about $200,000, Platt said. It includes programs and performance groups, such as the Junior Symphony and Youth Symphony for young musicians.

Arts organizations like the symphony generally are not strangers to living financially on the edge, existing from grant to grant and scrambling for donations. But the situation the symphony finds itself is more serious than that.

Bott said the board had been told at the beginning of its last fiscal year that it had $3,000 in the bank. As it turned out, he said, the organization was in debt to the tune of $40,000 because of bills that weren't recorded or paid.

"We worked like crazy to cut costs and get the season going," Bott said.

Bott would not say for the record who or what was responsible for the symphony's money problems. The symphony has not had an executive director since Jenny Tarlin resigned in August to take a job at the University of Shanghai in China. Bott said the board was working with an accountant and the IRS to resolve its financial issues.

To help bring in money, the symphony will work harder to find more sponsorships for its concerts, he said. The first concert of next season (in the fall) will be sponsored by a patron of Platt's who lives in Wisconsin. Since Tarlin left the symphony, the orchestra has not replaced her, although it did hire Andrew Martin, a musician with the new UND string quartet, to take over some of her duties.

"We've done a lot of cutting," Bott said. "This last concert, we cut one rehearsal because we have to pay everyone for every rehearsal." It also changed its program at the last minute because some of the music it was going to play required two harpists, who would have had to be hired from out of town.


Earlier this year, the symphony moved the pops concert from the Alerus Center to Chester Fritz Auditorium to save money. Because of expansion of the UND Department of Music, GGFSO has lost its free office space at UND and has entered an agreement with Empire Arts Center, the site of most of its concerts, to move its office there.

After Tarlin's departure, the GGFSO briefly hired a marketing director and said it would search for a new executive director. So far, a director hasn't been hired.

The Grand Forks symphony's money problems aren't unique to this community, Platt said.

"America is in crunch time as regards to culture, and communities all over this country have to decide if they want it," Platt said. "If we want the symphony, we have to support it. It's just that simple."

Platt said Tarlin had done everything she could to sustain the orchestra, but debts piled up and revenues were down, he said. On the other hand, Platt said, the orchestra has been flourishing artistically.

"It was a successful season in terms of the performances and how the orchestra sounded," Platt said. If the community and the GGFSO board believe in the symphony's importance, they'll come up with a way to save it, he said.

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