Grant Park Concerts Society Scrambles for Funds

To cover operating expenses for the Grant Park Music Festival’s upcoming season, the Chicago Park District has asked the Grant Park Concerts Society to come up with about three times the amount it did last year. It’s mostly Park District money that pays for the annual summer season of free orchestra concerts and other performances; the 16-year-old Grant Park Concerts Society works with the Park District to raise additional funds–primarily from corporations, philanthropic foundations, and individual contributions. Some GPCS staffers are worried that if they can’t come up with the money, the Park District will cut its ties with the not-for-profit organization.

Last summer the Park District put $1.7 million toward the festival; the Grant Park Concerts Society contributed $131,878 in direct operating support out of a total budget of approximately $600,000. The remaining funds went toward other programs, including an outreach program to bring schoolchildren to Grant Park concerts, a public relations, advertising, and audience development campaign, and out-of-town advertising, plus administrative expenses (the group’s three employees work out of donated space at the Congress Hotel).

But for the Grant Park Festival’s upcoming 60th-anniversary season the Park District is dropping its support to $1.5 million. The drop is part of widespread cutbacks under new chief Forrest Claypool. At the same time, the Grant Park Concerts Society is planning on expanding the usual schedule with special anniversary events. At a meeting between GPCS representatives and Park District executives last week, said one source, the Park District asked for a whopping $438,000 and gave the group a deadline of December 1 to report back about whether or not it would be able to come up with the money. The source said the group had offered to dispense with its outreach programs and advertising campaigns next season–a move that would free up around $250,000 –and allocate those funds to the 1994 festival, but Park District executives reportedly weren’t interested. “They wanted us to do all of our regular programs and come up with more money too,” noted the source. Newly appointed Park District marketing chief Marj Halperin would not comment on conversations between Park District and GPCS officials, but indicated that she and Claypool believe any funding shortfalls could be made up from the private sector. When asked what will happen if the society can’t get the money together, she said, “We would hope to continue working with the Grant Park Concerts Society.”

GPCS executives say it will be close to impossible to know by December 1 whether the organization will be able to boost its contribution, because its funding comes from sources that traditionally do not make snap decisions. It recently sent out more than 550 letters to major corporations and foundations, many of which said they would make no decisions about funding until end-of-the-year board meetings, as late as February in some instances. A number of corporations have already indicated that they will not provide funding for the 1994 festival. Those include Xerox, Visa, Audi, Bell Atlantic, Federal Express, Quaker Oats, and Coca-Cola. But late last week, GPCS executive director Elizabeth Kearns Madigan said a major corporate sponsor had agreed to donate $50,000 to underwrite the season opener. Madigan, the former manager of the Arie Crown Theatre, hopes to earn a substantial chunk of additional funding by selling benefit tickets to some big theater event. In past years she’s successfully done that with both The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon. But no touring blockbusters are scheduled to hit town in the next six months, and aside from the annual opening night benefit dinner, the group’s only scheduled fund-raiser is a February dinner honoring longtime arts philanthropist Stanley Freehling.

Who Saved the Spring Festival of Dance?

In published reports last week much was made of the so-called rescue of the Spring Festival of Dance by Chicago Music and Dance Theater Inc., the newly formed board that will oversee planning and fund-raising for a new midsize theater at Cityfront Center. But some of the credit goes to Civic Stages Chicago, the organization that coordinated and presented the annual showcase of dance companies in past years. Civic Stages was dissolved last June when Lyric Opera of Chicago bought the Civic Opera House and Civic Theatre. But before it ceased to exist it handed over some $230,000 to the Chicago Community Trust, the foundation that spearheaded the drive for the new theater. Now the money has quietly gone into the budget for next spring’s dance festival, slated for April 6 through May 22 at the Shubert Theatre, the Harold Washington Library Center, and Steppenwolf.

According to one source, approximately $60,000 of that sum will go to the Auditorium Theatre, which is providing various support services for the dance festival, and the remaining $170,000 will cover such expenses as glossy ticket brochures and publicity. Each of the dance companies will have to cover its own theater rental and production expenses, but they’ll be allowed to keep all box-office receipts; that means the pressure will be on the individual companies to maximize ticket sales. Companies scheduled to appear include Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Mordine and Company Dance Theatre, Ballet Chicago, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, Garth Fagan Dance, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

The big question, though, is whether there will be spring dance festivals in future years, when there isn’t any more Civic Stages seed money to cover crucial expenses. At least one observer close to developments questioned whether Chicago Music and Dance Theater Inc. would be willing or able to find money for future festivals with its attention focused on fund-raising for the new theater. Officials from Chicago Music and Dance Theater Inc. wouldn’t comment on funding matters related to the festival.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.