HARTFORD — In a move designed to shore up one of the city's oldest arts organizations, the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and The Hartford Symphony Orchestra announced a two-year "strategic collaboration" Wednesday, shifting management of the financially ailing orchestra to the Bushnell.
Under the management services contract between the two organizations, the Bushnell will provide the HSO with administrative, marketing, box office, technical, clerical, programming and accounting support. The agreement also provides that Bushnell CEO David Fay will serve as the symphony's interim CEO, replacing Carrie Hammond, who will step down next week.
The two organizations will remain independent, nonprofit groups, with the HSO contracting for the Bushnell's management services through the summer of 2016. Both nonprofits will continue to have their own boards.
The agreement was approved by the Bushnell board of trustees on Wednesday and the HSO board of directors on Monday.
"While there have been many prior discussions about realigning the HSO to work more closely with the Bushnell, the timing finally seems right," HSO board chairman James S. Remis said in a joint press release. "Through our shared visions of the value of classic music to our community and an appropriate structure to operate more efficiently, we need to create a successful new cultural model for Greater Hartford and perhaps the nation."
The HSO, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, has a history of financial challenges, and it's a struggle that Remis said is common in the industry.
"For years the HSO has struggled financially in order to continue its programs," Remis said. "It's not just our symphony; every symphony orchestra in the country is struggling. We live from year to year."
Its 2013-2014 budget is about $5.8 million. The projected deficit, in part because of enhanced programs for its anniversary year, is expected to be about $600,000, Remis said.
Concern over the symphony's financial stability and its limited staffing was underscored in the past two years after conductor Carolyn Kuan was appointed in 2011. Kuan, considered an innovator whose new performance and collaborative initiatives has attracted a more diverse audience and additional donor potential, has had other new ideas that have been stymied because of limited staff and money.
"You need money to pay for things and money to have enough staff people to implement visions. It is hard to do things when you can't take that risk," Remis said. "For us, this is the easiest way to accomplish what needs to be accomplished."
Fay said the collaboration brings a couple of things to the Bushnell, including a much closer relationship with its "prime tenant."
"This means a much closer relationship than we already have with the HSO and a chance to support Carolyn's visions. We will also be receiving a fee for our services," Fay said, declining to say exactly how much HSO will pay for the management services, but noting it will be less than what the orchestra is now paying for those services on its own.
Besides Hammond's position, there is also a vacant chief financial officer post that will not be filled.
Fay said it is not known if other HSO positions will be eliminated.
"We'll be looking at that over the next couple of months," Fay said.
"I have been so privileged to have two years to accomplish what we have accomplished," Hammond said Wednesday. " A majority of our concerts have been sold out, we have had increased attendance and now are poised to continue to grow and be a much better partner with other arts organization in Hartford. "
Bushnell trustees President Robert E. Patricelli called the collaboration a "great opportunity" for both organizations to work more closely.
"We have been extremely fortunate," Patricelli said, "and take tremendous pride in having the HSO as resident company at the Bushnell for the past 70 years."
"I am excited to extend our reach and touch more people through this new alliance with the Bushnell," Kuan said in the joint press release. "I am grateful to all of our HSO constituents, staff, board, musicians and audience members for their long long-standing commitment to our organization. Together, with David Fay and our ever growing family, I know we have what it takes to transform lives and make a difference through the Hartford Symphony Orchestra."