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Ballet Nouveau Colorado Floundering?

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Ballet Nouveau Colorado sent an urgent email to all their donors, including me, this morning. The gist of the email was that they need to raise a substantial amount of money (between an eighth and a fifth of their entire budget, depending on which source you believe) by the end of July to stay in business. It caught me a bit by surprise, as they have been portraying themselves as a growing, thriving organization, even starting an expansion of their headquarters a few weeks ago. I'm a little pessimistic about their chances of raising the money, given that it would require a substantial increase, percentage-wise, in their donations. This makes me hesitant to chip in a little more when it might do more good to give that money to an organization that is going to be around.

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This is very troubling news. I have a lot of family in the Denver area, and we had been told they have a great Nutcracker for kids; we were looking forward to taking a young niece this year. I see on their web site that they have posted the full text of the letter they just sent out. http://www.bncdance.com/

There's something odd in the timing and wording of that letter, almost as if this last-minute short-fall took them by surprise. "We are determined to never find ourselves in this position again." Perhaps a major source of funding abruptly pulled out (a local community grant or a major individual donor?). Or perhaps they haven't managed their finances as attentively as they should. Puzzling, whatever the explanation. I wonder why they didn't say: if we don't raise X, we'll have to cancel Y programs or lay-off Z staff...suspending operations entirely sounds ominous.

Still, this is not surprising, given other struggles in the arts in recent years - the cut-back in the Colorado Ballet season for next year, the postponement of the Balanchine program to November by the City Ballet of San Diego, etc.

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What I thought was interesting was that they fired a longtime executive director when the company was fine and then hired the artistic director's sister to be the executive director! I got the email too and when I searched her name, this came up - https://atl.etapestry.com/fundraiser/BalletNouveauColorado/boogie/individual.do?participationRef=1366.0.54105139

Is it weird to anyone else that the brother is the artistic director, his wife is the associate artistic director, and his sister is the executive director? And then the company is in the toilet?

Something fishy is going on here and I know i won't buy tickets to any more of their shows or donate to this thing because I don't know where my money is going.

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The Denver Post Arts Blog has a little more information from John Wenzel:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/artmosphere/2010/07/08/just-in-ballet-nouveau-colorado-in-dire-straits-pleads-for-fundraising-help/

"The last-minute plea comes seven months after the Broomfield-based nonprofit fired its executive director of 11 years, Lissy Garrison, and announced plans for a 3,500-square-foot expansion west of its current space. Since then the company said it has been working to trim expenses in advance of its 2010-2011 season."

. . .

"Former executive director Garrison said the fundraising crisis was entirely avoidable and pointed to high staff turnover in recent months as a sign of unrest.

"'(Ballet Nouveau) was an organization that for 15 years was run with integrity and best business practices and thats no longer the case,' she said. 'I would have a lot of questions if I were in the position of providing money for a bailout. I would want to know what would be different going forward versus what has happened in the last six months. Because to transform an organization with an absolutely brilliant reputation 'a professional business' into one making bailout pleas.'"

"Garrison said when she left Ballet Nouveau it was in 'prime shape and 100 percent in the black.'"

This is still very puzzling. The article says their annual budget is $1.6 million. With a shortfall of $198,000 (12% of the budget), why is the only option they mention "suspension of operations"? Many arts/cultural/educational organizations have suffered recent budget problems which they handled by laying off staff, shortening their season, etc., etc. We don't know from the article or their fund-raising letter if those options were considered and why the problem couldn't be handle that way.

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Hmmm. The artistic director gets the executive director fired and replaced by his own choice. The fired executive director claims that she left the company in great shape but things got fouled up after she left. A member of the board hints that the fired executive director was sloppy with the books and that the company wasn't in as good financial shape as the fired executive director portrayed it. Sounds like a normal, healthy arts organization to me.

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The Denver Post Arts blog has a new post asking if the fiscal prolems of Ballet Nouveau, like those of the Colorado Ballet, just reflect a lack of support for dance in the Denver area:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/artmosphere/2010/07/13/is-dance-just-a-tough-sell-in-denver/

"Certainly the Great Recession has played a major role in the struggles of both of these companies, just as it has hurt other non-profit groups of all kinds. But it is impossible not to wonder if something larger isnt at play here. Is the Denver metropolitan area just an inhospitable city to dance? And if that is the case, why?"

Others have noted that it's not easy for companies on tour to add a Denver stop, as it is relatively isolated from other large cities that might support touring. That makes sense, and a look at programming in the region suggests there is something to that. The Newman Center at University of Denver brings in small troupes like Paul Taylor and the Aspen Santa Fe company, but there's no dance series at the historic Performing Arts Center in downtown Denver. The Vail Dance Festival in the summer brings in a significant company each year (Pacific Northwest this year, Miami City Ballet last year), but that's slim pickings for a populous state.

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I hope this can be worked out. Having seen the collapse of Ballet Florida less than two years ago, I find that some of the elements in the Boulder story sound familiar:

-- artistic leadership and executive directors incomprehensibly out of sync;

-- conflicting versions of how they got to where they've ended up;

-- donor base that is first of all confused, then mistrustful, and then ... gone;

-- local media that picks up the story only after the problems have already gone too far.

This must be sad and trying times for the dancers and the other arts workers who keep have kept the company going.

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It seems to be common, at least in Denver, for the artistic director and the executive director of growing arts organizations to come into conflict. It has happened in both the Colorado Ballet and Colorado Symphony, as well as several other organizations.

Colorado isn't a great place for the arts in general. I believe that it ranks near the bottom in terms of government funding for the arts. It's telling that when Jeffrey Kahane decided that it was too much to be the music director of 2 orchestras while maintaining a career as a touring concert pianist, he dropped his Colorado Symphony Orchestra directorship and kept his job with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

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Colorado isn't a great place for the arts in general.

Is that true of all arts, YouOverThere? I have a friend who is a visual artist in Denver and her business is thriving with new commissions and opportunities for exhibits. My understanding from her and another person is that visual artists do very well in Denver. Is she an exception? :dunno:

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Is that true of all arts, YouOverThere? I have a friend who is a visual artist in Denver and her business is thriving with new commissions and opportunities for exhibits. My understanding from her and another person is that visual artists do very well in Denver. Is she an exception? :dunno:

Although I don't live in Denver, I have a lot of family there and visit a lot, so I'm always checking web sites to see what's on while I'm there. The Denver Art Museum seems to be doing well. They have an intriguing new building by Daniel Libeskind in downtown Denver that's worth a visit and seems to attract a lot of tourists. And the region does seem to have a lot of "arts fairs" appealing to tourists, wonderful appreciation of historic preservation, and many lovely little galleries and museums.

But the Performing Arts Center in downtown seems mainly to show a lot of touring Broadway shows and plays. The only dance there since I've been paying attention is the Colorado Ballet and they'll only have three programs there this year. The historic (and recently restored) Opera House is beautiful and a wonderful venue, but it's huge, so smaller groups couldn't make that work. The Vail Dance Festival that we visited last year (and will again this year) was very well-attended, but the people we chatted with were mainly tourists who had planned vacations around the festival. University of Denver hosts small touring groups, but there's almost nothing at Boulder in the way of touring dance groups. (It looks like one performance by the Oregon Ballet Theatre is about it for the coming year.)

But living in southern California, I'm used to regions that aren't great at supporting dance. Fortunately, these cities have good airports, so it's possible to head to New York and Washington, DC to see really good stuff a few times a year!

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A fundraiser has been announced for July 29 at $50:

http://blogs.denverpost.com/artmosphere/2010/07/15/ballet-nouveau-colorado-announces-benefit-with-national-dance-figures/

"'Moving Together — A Cause for Dance' unites Ballet Nouveau’s own 11-member company with dancers from the Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Washington Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Trey McIntyre Project and others. The company plans to announce more organizations as they are confirmed."

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Is that true of all arts, YouOverThere? I have a friend who is a visual artist in Denver and her business is thriving with new commissions and opportunities for exhibits. My understanding from her and another person is that visual artists do very well in Denver. Is she an exception? :dunno:

Although I don't live in Denver, I have a lot of family there and visit a lot, so I'm always checking web sites to see what's on while I'm there. The Denver Art Museum seems to be doing well. They have an intriguing new building by Daniel Libeskind in downtown Denver that's worth a visit and seems to attract a lot of tourists. And the region does seem to have a lot of "arts fairs" appealing to tourists, wonderful appreciation of historic preservation, and many lovely little galleries and museums.

But the Performing Arts Center in downtown seems mainly to show a lot of touring Broadway shows and plays. The only dance there since I've been paying attention is the Colorado Ballet and they'll only have three programs there this year. The historic (and recently restored) Opera House is beautiful and a wonderful venue, but it's huge, so smaller groups couldn't make that work. The Vail Dance Festival that we visited last year (and will again this year) was very well-attended, but the people we chatted with were mainly tourists who had planned vacations around the festival. University of Denver hosts small touring groups, but there's almost nothing at Boulder in the way of touring dance groups. (It looks like one performance by the Oregon Ballet Theatre is about it for the coming year.)

But living in southern California, I'm used to regions that aren't great at supporting dance. Fortunately, these cities have good airports, so it's possible to head to New York and Washington, DC to see really good stuff a few times a year!

I think the problem isn't that Denver isn't an arts town, but rather the reduced coverage of it. I live in Denver and man, I could go to a dance show or play every night of the week it seems. Additionally, Denver is a model for other cities in arts funding with our SCFD tax. I was able to go to the Performing Arts Convention when it was here a few years ago and everyone was so fascinated by how we fund the arts. SCFD has a website called Scene 3 or something and it is for all the smaller arts groups in Denver. Also, I heard somewhere that Denver has the highest per-capita non-profit groups in the country.

Also, there is a venue problem. Most of the venues are for concerts or booked up years in advance. A music group I was with wanted to play at the Newman Center at DU and we couldn't book the place for a year! Other than that it is like HUGE spaces that seat thousands or small spaces that seat a hundred. In Boulder there is the Dairy Center and they have a couple dance groups and some other stuff. Some people perform at CU at Mackey but that venue has no parking (literally, it's in the middle of campus and there is no street or lot parking) and it kinda big and trashed from the college kids.

Anyway, thought i would jump in.

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It seems to be common, at least in Denver, for the artistic director and the executive director of growing arts organizations to come into conflict. It has happened in both the Colorado Ballet and Colorado Symphony, as well as several other organizations.

Colorado isn't a great place for the arts in general. I believe that it ranks near the bottom in terms of government funding for the arts. It's telling that when Jeffrey Kahane decided that it was too much to be the music director of 2 orchestras while maintaining a career as a touring concert pianist, he dropped his Colorado Symphony Orchestra directorship and kept his job with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Interestingly, this says that California is the lowest for arts funding per capita - http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/02/california-last.html

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Interestingly, this says that California is the lowest for arts funding per capita - http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/02/california-last.html

I see that blog posting was from February 2009. It's probably worse by now. California went over a cliff financially years ago. We're at or near the bottom on per capita funding for public education and a lot of other stuff. All state employees had to take 3 days of unpaid furlough each month for the last year, and now the Governor wants to pay all state employees the minimum wage until the legislature settles on a budget (which requires a 2/3 majority). All UC and CSU faculty and staff had to take 2-3 days of unpaid furloughs for the last year. etc., etc., etc. It's pretty ugly all around.

But in comparing arts funding per capita, looking at funds provided by state government is just one measure. Support from foundations, corporations, local school districts, and many other sources can matter, too. People here can visit the Getty Museum for free, e.g., all day, every day; no state or other governmental funds support the Getty, just a very rich endowment (although that's been hammered in recent years). They do charge for parking, but you can also get there by bus.

The bigger picture right now is that a lot of arts groups are really hurting financially, as are educational and cultural groups of all kinds. The sad thing is that so many people think the arts are "frills," so they will likely have a hard time recovering. I hope that people who care about these things do what they can to support struggling arts groups -- attendance, donations, whatever they can manage. It matters more now than ever, I think.

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A new column in the Denver Post, by John Wenzel, was posted July 23. He sheds more light on the problems:

http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_15580511

". . . several former Ballet Nouveau company members contend that the board had no plan in place for Garrisons' departure — and that its fundraising stability was tied largely to her and others who have since left, such as former development director Amanda Stewart.

"Lissy Garrison . . . was terminated in December in what appeared to me to be an underhanded, unethical, power play by a few of the board members," said former trustee Sue Shaffer. "The board was not forthcoming in their logic or reasons for this termination, so in January, I resigned.". . .

It's still not clear why they will have to suspend operations if they don't meet their fundraising target by Saturday (as opposed to drastic moves, such as staff lay-offs, furloughs, etc.), but Wenzel does add a lot of interesting detail to this story and he seems to have talked with quite a few people

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Moving Together- A Cause for Dance benefit performance will raise funds to help reduce the financial shortfall of the company’s current operating budget. World-class dance companies and artists from all over the country are sending leading dancers and artists to perform in support of BNC. Participants include: Oregon Ballet Theatre, Colorado Ballet, The Washington Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Ballet Memphis, Smuin Ballet, Trey McIntyre Project and Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Moving Together- A Cause for Dance will take place at the Performing Arts Center at Pinnacle Charter School, located at 1001 W. 84th Avenue Denver, CO 80260 – 10 minutes north of Downtown at 84th and Huron.

One performance only: Thursday, July 29th at 7:00 p.m.

Individual Tickets range from, $50- $500 Student/Artist/Non-Profit Employee Tickets $20 (No Ticket Limit)

The top 2 ticket level prices include VIP post-performance reception with the artists

Tickets now on sale

Online: www.bncdance.com

By Phone: 303-466-5685

In Person: 3001 Industrial Lane #12 Broomfield, CO 80020

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The comments by the guy from the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships seem rather strong.

BNC is staging a fund-raising dance program on Thursday (7/29). It is supposed to include dancers from 8 companies, only 3 of which are local. This program was announced on the the 17th, only 9 days after their announcement about their financial situation.

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There was a quickly organized gala that included guests from other companies, not all local, when Oregon Ballet Theatre was facing a possible shutdown.

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They are holding the benefit in a theater that holds only 600 people. With a shortfall of $150,000, according to the most recent Wenzel article in the Post, they'll have to sell a lot of $500 tickets to meet their goal.

http://www.pcsarts.com/rentals/

Of course, they might be hoping to inspire some big donors to come up with more. But even assuming all the guest performers are donating their services, there are still out-of-pocket expenses to cover at the theater, travel, hotel, etc. for the guests.

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I went to the fund-raiser, and it was a pretty enjoyable show. Sona Kharatian and Jonathan Jordan from the Washington Ballet stood out with a performance of a piece titled Cor Perdut by Nacho Duato. Another highlight from my perspective was a performance of an excerpt from Nine Ninas: What More Can I Say? by Cecelia Jones of the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company, presumably performed in honor of the recently departed Afro-American dancer Marceline Freeman for whom that segment was created. The Colorado Ballet contributed the 2nd "movement" from Feast of the Gods, danced by principals Chandra Kuykendall (back from her maternity leave) and Alexei Tyukov. This performance got a noticibly less enthusiastic reception than the other performances. I don't know if some in the audience didn't want to acknowledge the other ballet company in town or if it just was the wrong environment. The 2nd "movement" is subtle rather than flashy, like the 2nd movement of a traditional three-movement concerto, and it's easy to miss how physical that segment is.

I'd guess that the theatre was about 40 percent full, meaning 225-250 people in attendance. I wouldn't have expected more than that.

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Thank you for reviewing the performance. :flowers: to the dancers.

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The other guests at the fund-raiser were Stayce Campero and Marcus Oatis from the Kansas City Ballet performing Jessica Lang's Splendid Isolation III (also one of my favorites from the show - I love everything that I've seen from Jessica Lang), Jessica Touchet and Darren Anderson from the Smuin Ballet performing an excerpt from Fly Me to the Moon: I've Got You Under My Skin (a ballet take on ballroom dancing - crisply danced but for me not very interesting choreography), Anne Mueller and Christian Squires from the Oregon Ballet Theatre performing Twyla Tharp's Known by Heart Duet (the longest of the guest performances, and I didn't care for the very repititious minimalist music that made the piece seem longer than it actually was), and Jane Hope Rehm and Jonathan Powell from Ballet Memphis performing an excerpt from Fingers of Your Thoughts (too short to form an opinion). In addition, there was a video of a performance of Trey McIntyre's Grass by Dylan G. Bowley from the Trey McIntyre Project, which mainly served to make all the other performances seem better.

I got there about 10 minutes late, which means that I missed most of the pre-performance speech so I don't know whether they said anything about how the show was put together.

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Colorado isn't a great place for the arts in general.

Is that true of all arts, YouOverThere? I have a friend who is a visual artist in Denver and her business is thriving with new commissions and opportunities for exhibits. My understanding from her and another person is that visual artists do very well in Denver. Is she an exception? :dunno:

It certainly is true of music as well as dance. Both the Colorado Symphony and Colorado Springs Philharmonic were created from the ashes of earlier orchestras that went bankrupt. The musicians in the Colorado Symphony took a double digit pay cut last year, and the base salary was only in the mid-30's to begin with. Chamber orchestras have struggled mightily. The Colorado Chamber Orchestra barely managed to scrape together 2 programs this past season and Pro Musica Colorado managed but 3.

Well-known touring plays do very well, but locally-produced plays often end up selling tickets at a discount.

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Does the new Liebeskind art museum building in Denver have a lecture/performance space theater? If I were a chamber group, I think I'd want to perform there, since the building itself is such a draw.

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Does the new Liebeskind art museum building in Denver have a lecture/performance space theater? If I were a chamber group, I think I'd want to perform there, since the building itself is such a draw.

Interesting idea. I can't say that there's never been a chamber music performance there, though I'm not aware of any. Looking at their website, I don't see any room that would have room for more than a few hundred seats if they need to accomadate 20-30 musicians and my impression is that the rent is several times what churches typically charge (and churches might not charge much to hold a rehersal while they would have to pay full rental to rehearse at the museum).

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