Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County report modest budget surpluses

The going remains tough, but the financial outlook is improving somewhat for Orange County’s two leading performing arts presenters. The Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County both have announced modest operating surpluses for their recently concluded 2009-10 seasons.

At the Costa Mesa performing arts center, by far the largest arts organization in Orange County, the extra $200,000 allowed it to continue chipping away at a $1-million deficit that accumulated during the recent recession. The deficit now totals $700,000, center spokesman Tim Dunn said. After laying off staff and cutting salaries in 2008-09, the center was able to get through the year that ended June 30 without further reductions, Dunn said.

For the Philharmonic Society, the county’s leading importer of touring orchestras, along with other classical, dance and world music talent, the $89,000 surplus was more the result of painful cuts than improving business. But, its executive director, Dean Corey, said that after laying off five employees to balance the budget, one full-time and one part-time position are being restored for the budget year that began July 1, and a mandatory one-day-a-week furlough imposed on all employees will be relaxed for some staffers, down to a day every two weeks.

OCPAC, which offers a gamut of classical, pop, jazz and spoken-word concerts, a dance series, touring Broadway musicals and family shows, reported 414,000 paid admissions for the 273 events it booked itself during 2009-10, compared with 300,000 admissions to 210 events during 2008-09.

Its resident groups, the Pacific Symphony, the Pacific Chorale and the Philharmonic Society, presented an additional 132 performances, drawing a combined audience of 136,000.

Total attendance for all events, including performances for school groups and shows by outside promoters who rent OCPAC’s venues, topped 600,000, the center reported, up from 507,000 in 2008-09.

Altogether, the center reported unaudited earnings of $36 million, mainly from ticket sales and rental fees. Expenses were $47 million — in keeping with the standard operating procedure for nonprofits, which calls for seeking donations to fill an expected gap between earnings and expenses. OCPAC managed that by taking in $9.2 million in donations to its annual fund and drawing $2 million from its endowment. Thanks mainly to an improving investment environment, the endowment, which had dropped from $47.3 million to $41.1 million during 2008-09, now stands at $45 million, the center reported.

The Philharmonic Society reported expenditures of $3.38 million for 2009-10, and revenue of $3.47 million, divided about equally between box office earnings and donations. Dean Corey, the society’s executive director, said that while donations “basically came in OK,” ticket sales were “substantially lower than we thought. The recession effects are still around. It’s just consumer confidence that’s kind of sagging.”

Corey said that the layoffs and furloughs led to a 35% reduction in the Philharmonic Society’s administrative expenses. The organization also tried to rein in its payments to performers by requesting fee reductions from artists. Corey said that some, mainly smaller ensembles and soloists, agreed to cut prices by about 10%.

“For an artist who can easily book 50 or 60 dates a year, fees are not going to go down,” Corey said. “But the agents have been pretty good about working with us and have not pushed hard for really high fees. They understand what the circumstances are.”

In the coming season that begins in October, Corey said, the Philharmonic Society will take a “quality over quantity” approach to presenting at its two venues, OCPAC and the Irvine Barclay Theatre. However, a spokeswoman said that 31 performances are booked for the season, up from 29. Highlights include the Vienna Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel conducting, the Kronos Quartet and a violin recital by Midori.