On Friday, October 6, 2023, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra issued a press release announcing a deficit of $1 million dollars.
Find the full release below.
Despite gradually increasing audiences, WSO financial future extremely concerning.
Earlier this week, at its annual general meeting, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's (WSO) Board of Directors' treasurer, Jon Kliewer, announced a deficit if $1.3 million for the 2022/23 season—the orchestra's 75th anniversary season. However, he explained that due to the board's decision to set aside a COVID stabilization reserve with funds resulting from the 2020 and 2021 federal rent and wage subsidies, the WSO was able to offset this deficit entirely.
"The WSO realized a substantial deficit in 2022-23 and will be challenged to break even in this fiscal year even using the remaining COVID stabilization fund balance," says Kliewer. "Management and staff are dedicated to achieving a sustainable business model over time but will need substantial increased revenues to bridge this and the next two years.”
"We are in the eye of the storm," says board chair Curt Vossen who marked his fourth season serving in this capacity. "No solution is possible without the collaborative efforts of government, the private sector, patrons, the administration and musicians."
"The reality is," says Vossen. "This is a challenge to which the entire community must rise."
The 2022/23 fiscal year saw the WSO continue the process of re-building concert and education programs after several challenging years. lt was the first in four seasons where concerts were held uninterrupted and without restrictions.
Audiences began to rebound landing at roughly 67% of pre-covid years, but all in, still representing roughly a $1m drop in ticket revenues. At the same time, government covid-related support programs worth close to $2.1m in 2021/22 - all ended. “This along with regular support programs flatlined for decades and finally rising costs and inflation create a perfect storm for the WSO and many other performing arts organizations,” said Executive Director Angela Birdsell.
"Arts are integral to a vibrant urban core. As key arts and cultural institutions we are central to bringing people back to Winnipeg’s downtown, " says Birdsell, "Which is at this point in history, critically lacking in retail and other attractions. The anchor effect of major arts institutions helps to leverage activity of a diverse range of artists and organizations large and small such as the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, the Fringe Festival, Nuit Blanche and many other events and concerts."
Despite the very real risks many performing arts organizations are dealing with today, Birdsell, who is in her second season with the WSO, says she is very proud of the achievements the organization made this season.
"Audiences returned to our Classics series, with our new single-night format enjoying much fuller halls that sparkled with buzz and energy for both audiences and musicians. Our newly-branded Live at the WSO series opened with Winnipeg’s own Crash Test Dummies and closed spectacularly with sold-out performances of an ABBA tribute by the group Rajaton. Roughly 12,000 school kids were bussed to education concerts, and people, young and old, enjoyed our family series," says Birdsell. "We welcomed diverse audiences to our free Community Celebration concert and our Lunar New Year Celebration. It was a true joy to witness the energy and enthusiasm of audiences at these events. The WSO continues to explore opportunities to feature diverse composers, guest artists and conductors, and audiences - new voices and new faces that represent the range of people in the community that we serve.”
For music director Daniel Raiskin, who is in his sixth year with the WSO, the 75th anniversary season of the WSO marked the perfect opportunity to celebrate the past, but more importantly to look forward.
"Our 75th season became a kind of starting point for our future, albeit still with some caution, still in search of our rhythm. Our faithful audience of music lovers finally got the opportunity to attend our concerts regularly! Pre-planned, and lovingly constructed programs were played with soloists of the highest caliber, guest conductors, and world-famous ensembles,” says Raiskin. "How do we write the next 25, 50, 75 years of the WSO’s history? I take my cues from every rehearsal, every concert, every staff or management conversation and every board meeting."
Raiskin says as long as the support and interest are there he will be as well.
"I am confident that 25 years from now, I’ll be able to attend the WSO’s 100th anniversary season!"
Starting in January 2023, the WSO began efforts alongside other large performing arts colleagues in Manitoba to lobby government decision makers and pre-election political candidates, to make a bold investment in the arts and double the budget for the Manitoba Arts Council. They also sought to make permanent the Arts, Culture and Sport in Community Fund, a $100 million capital-investment initiative.
"In times of inflation and looming recession, the arts bring a sense of hope and optimism," says Birdsell. "We also bring the arts beyond the perimeter to communities across Manitoba in performances and exhibitions both live and virtual."
During the provincial election the NDP announced $8 million in annual investment in grants and capital funds to support Manitoba's artists, festivals, musicians and performing arts organizations.
"We intend to hold the new provincial government to that promise," says Birdsell. "And we hope that our new leaders will work with us, and our supporters, in creating an even more vibrant symphony orchestra that will serve our entire community.”
Following the AGM, a short board meeting was held to re-elect Curt Vossen, Chair, Daniel Friedman, Vice-Chair, Jon Kliewer, Treasurer and Julia Ryckman, Corporate Secretary. Four directors retired from the Board: James Cohen, Robin Hildebrand, Isaac Pulford (Nov 2022) and Ed Jurkowski.
Two new directors were welcomed: Paul Ong and Derek Johannson
The full executive and committees will be voted on at the next board meeting.
2023-2024 Board of Directors
Curt Vossen, Chair
Daniel Friedman, Vice-Chair
Jon Kliewer, Treasurer
Julia Ryckman, Corporate Secretary
Terry Sargeant, Past Chair
Arlene Dahl, Musician Rep.
Robin MacMillan, Musician Rep.
Margaret Kellermann McCulloch
Daniel Raiskin, Music Director, ex-officio
Angela Birdsell, Executive Director, ex-officio