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Opera Sees Need to Reinvent, Reinvigorate Itself

The San Diego Opera continued to revamp operations — as it strives for more community outreach — and its leadership in the wake of recent restructuring that cut 13 positions from the arts group that was once designated for closure.

Following a meeting in late June, the opera board elected four new members: Candace Carroll, a local lawyer; Kathryn Hattox, a philanthropist; Robert Kaplan, a university administrator; and Thomas Shiftan, an oncologist and former hospital executive.

The additions bring the opera’s board to 26 members. It also has four associate directors, who oversee 52 advisory directors. The latter group’s members aren’t voting directors but rather donors who advise directors, opera spokesman Edward Wilensky said.

In May, the opera’s board voted to rescind an earlier decision to close down after the end of its 49th season, and replaced its chief executive and about half its board members. An organization in flux, the opera is also moving its offices from the Civic Center to less roomy and less expensive space nearby which is expected to save the organization about $400,000 annually.

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‘A Lot to Learn’ From Tijuana Opera

As it prepares for its upcoming 2015 season, the organization is intent on reaching out to more people.

“That’s the message we got as we were going through all of this,” Wilensky said, alluding to the opera’s possible closure. “Many people told us, ‘Don’t go away, and go out to the community more,’ so you will see us increase our community efforts in the next 12 months.”

In advance of each of its three planned operas for the season beginning in January, the organization plans to put on at least three free concerts, likely at the Civic Theatre concourse or possibly at Balboa Theatre.

It also plans a concert at the opera’s props studio in Barrio Logan.

Wilensky said some opera board members were inspired by recent visit to Tijuana to view that city’s opera perform in the streets.

“We have a lot to learn from them,” he said.

San Diego Opera plans to do similar outreach to expand its local audience, including more programs with local schools.

Ticket Sales at About 40% of Budget

On the heels of the opera mailing out a delayed brochure for the upcoming season, it already has collected about $1.5 million in ticket sales. For the year, the group has budgeted $3.5 million in revenue from ticket sales, or about a third of its planned $10.5 million budget for the 2015 season.

The bulk of the budget’s funds, about $6.5 million, will come from donations by individuals, corporations and grants.

Thus far, the opera has received about $4.6 million in pledged donations, Wilensky said.

A successful crowdfunding campaign launched in April generated about $2.2 million, with 48 percent of those coming from first-time donors.

Yet even with this, the opera is facing a current deficit of about $1.9 million, which it must resolve by June 2015, Wilensky said.

Contract Talks Pending

One potential source of making up the difference is the savings the opera could realize by negotiating an end to the contracts that it still has with former opera CEO Ian Campbell and his ex-wife, Ann Spira Campbell, who earned combined salaries of nearly $800,000 in 2011, according to the organization’s most recent tax returns. The two, who haven’t been paid since May, have contracts that expire in 2017.

Lawyers for each of the Campbells and the opera have been negotiating since June on contract settlements, and an announcement is expected soon.

Wilensky said none of the funds raised through crowdfunding or donated to the group to keep it afloat will be used to pay the Campbells.

Last week, the San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture voted to give the opera $100,000, after the commission initially pulled some of a planned grant of $383,000 for the year. Wilensky said that with the arts commission having already provided $160,000, its total contribution this year is $260,000.

“We are grateful for the city and the commission for this additional money, and yet we are disappointed we did not receive the full amount,” he said. “We understand the concerns, however. One year we were a model arts organization, and six months later we announce we are suddenly closing.”


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