Regular readers of my Saturday column in the London Free Press know that I’ve been following developments at Orchestra London closely over the past 10 months. In fact, today’s column is the fourth variation on that theme since last December. The others are here.
The orchestra, arguably one of most important pillars of the city’s arts scene, merits close scrutiny for several reasons. The most compelling, of course, is that it’s in severe financial straits. Despite receiving a $482,000 operating grant from the city last fiscal year, it came begging, cap in hand, to city council in December for the backing for a $500,000 line of credit. The only other option, it said, was to fold. Council, after lengthy debate, gave its approval. At June 30 of this year, Orchestra London found itself with an accumulated deficit (the accountancy term for what lay people would simply think of as debt) of $1,004,887.
One condition of city council’s approval of the line of credit was that the organization find itself a platoon of respected businesspeople who would act as a financial oversight team to try to right the ship left listing by former orchestra executive director Rob Gloor. (Gloor now executive director of the National Broadcast Orchestra Company, a “new media orchestra” based in Vancouver.)
Given the fact the taxpayers of London, Ont., now have a direct financial stake in the enterprise, it behooves the board and its executive to ensure openness and transparency — a novel and somewhat uncomfortable prospect for a board that has traditionally enjoyed a more cloistered reporting environment. January’s annual general meeting, for example, almost reached adjournment under the leadership of chairperson Brent Kelman before members demanded to know more about the fiscal crisis and the plan for moving forward. Several members strongly criticized the flow of information even to them, let alone to the larger community.
Here’s hoping the organization, under the day-to-day leadership of managing director Joe Swan, can achieve a dramatic reversal of fortune. The orchestra’s musicians are already as open and accessible as classical musicians can be — they’re out there nearly weekly, performing in concert halls, cathedrals, churches, schools, libraries, shopping malls and other venues, all for their love of the art. It’s up to their board now to follow that lead.