Organizers of the Ojai Festival, fighting for the economic survival of one of Ventura County's foremost cultural events, pledged Tuesday that next year's program will be easier on the ears than this year's collection of contemporary American composers.
Facing an unparalleled debt of almost $100,000, organizers said they will seek a broader mix of music--some adventurous, some traditional--as a selling point in a plan that calls for more than doubling donations in the coming year.
"We are going to be very responsible," said Christopher Hunt, who was recently hired as consulting director. "We will not spend any money unless we have it."
Citing the support of residents as a top priority, Hunt urged festival board members to consider promotional events throughout the year that would "cater to this community."
As a long-shot possibility, he suggested countywide performances of Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale," written to be performed from roadsides and truck beds in Swiss villages four generations ago.
"If we could re-create it and take it to places around Ventura County, we might be able to do something interesting and exciting," Hunt said.
Then again, Hunt said, the price tag would probably run to $50,000 or more and, unless a financial angel were to step forward, this year's tight money would make it impossible.
"He has more ideas than anybody I've ever run into," said festival President Joan Kemper, taking the floor after Hunt at the festival corporation's annual meeting, which was attended by about 40 board members and other backers.
As for the program of next year's festival--scheduled from May 30 to June 2--Hunt said he and the board have considered Bach cantatas, dance pieces by Mozart and contemporary pieces by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
He also pledged that he would heed, in a general way, the advice that poet Robert Lowell once offered an aspiring poet:
"Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, and bring on the dancing girls."
The 43-year-old festival organization faces an estimated $98,184 debt--the largest in its history--all accumulated by the three-day program in June. The event's emphasis on avant-garde music from contemporary American composers won critical acclaim but chased away many longtime supporters.
The result, said Virginia Swift, immediate past president of the festival board, was a "deadly combination" of reduced ticket sales and diminished contributions that left the organization near disaster.
In a new budget outline, Hunt and his staff estimated that this year's festival took in $63,898 in ticket sales, about $30,000 less than forecast, along with $180,664 in contributions and grants, and $1,485 in scholarship income.
Facing overall expenses of $344,231, the organization found itself owing $98,184 to Bank of A. Levy.
The organization's plan for the fiscal year that started Aug. 1 depends on $81,850 in ticket sales in 1991, $368,150 in contributions and grants--twice as much as raised last year--and another $75,000 in contributions earmarked specifically to cut the festival's debt.
Most of the extra income would cover added expenses. Festival costs were projected at $436,050, largely because of an increase from $116,670 to $187,050 in administrative costs, including hiring Hunt. If all targets were met, festival organizers said they would be able to erase all but $9,234 of the debt.
Hunt acknowledged that the budget is very ambitious in its forecast of contributed income, but said other elements are relatively conservative. He said he will adjust his expectations one way or another when he hears from board members at the next meeting, scheduled for mid-November.
Festival backers said they are counting on the part-time presence of Hunt, an internationally known festival director whose undisclosed salary is part of the administrative overhead, to generate added contributions.
"It's going to take us a big leap forward in fund raising," said R. Allen Urban, treasurer of the festival board and chief financial officer at Bank of A. Levy.