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You Can't Say This Is a Total Surprise: Dallas Summer Musicals Needs $5 Million Pronto

Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins

Only last week, following the Wilco-Nick Lowe two-fer, we asked: Why isn't the Music Hall at Fair Park, long ago a popular venue for pop music, used for more concerts? At which point we were told: That's certainly a possibility. Matter of fact, said Jayne Basse, who books the joint for Dallas Summer Musical Management Group, LiveNation and AEG both have dates on hold for the Music Hall, but for whom she would not say.

So happens Dallas Summer Musicals, which runs the city-owned Music Hall and spends close to $400,000 every year keeping the lights on, could use the added revenue sooner than later: Following up today's story in The News, DSM just sent a release documenting its efforts to raise $5 million pronto, lest it face the very real possibility of insolvency. Says DSM Chairman Michael Steindorf in the release that follows, "It became clear that we can't keep doing business as in the past. We need to reduce our operating costs, shore up our financial base, re-establish our long-term reserve funding and prove our value as part of the Dallas Arts Community."

I've left messages for DSM President Michael Jenkins, who, you may recall, handed the Majestic Theater back to the city in 2009 after DSM's contract to operate the landmark facility expired. As Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, explained at the time, it costs around $1.2 to $1.3 million annually to operate the Majestic, and DSM used some of its revenue from the Music Hall to help defray those costs.

No doubt, though, you could see this coming: Three years ago, long before the official opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center (then known as the Center for the Performing Arts), Schutze wrote about Jenkins's clearly well-founded fears that the Arts District's new buildings would "cannibalize" the Music Hall and the Majestic. As Jim wrote:

Both sides in that fight have strong arguments to make. Michael Jenkins is one of three people who have produced successful Broadway theater in this city since the Summer Musicals began in 1941. But the CPA is a very serious, extremely well-funded new kid on the block. They contend that a little competition will spice the soup, not spoil it.

What a difference three years makes: The AT&T Performing Arts Center -- which, unlike the DSM, takes city money -- has its own financial struggles to deal with , and now the DSM is in trouble.

Dallas Summer Musicals confronts "new realities" in arts funding

DSM leadership adopts Advisory Committee recommendations to address urgent financial conditions facing the 72-year old Dallas institution

(DALLAS--December 9, 2011) - Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM) leadership announced the adoption of key recommendations made by a special Advisory Committee appointed in October to address urgent financial conditions facing the not-for-profit institution. Former DSM chairman and recently retired Comerica Bank-Texas Chairman Charles Gummer chaired the Strategic Support Committee that examined the difficult financial challenges facing the organization that has offered "the Best of Broadway" to Dallas audiences for 72 years. DSM joins other local performing arts groups that now face "the new realities" of falling donor support and declining attendance.

"In a way," said Michael Steindorf, DSM Chairman, "DSM was hit this year with 'the perfect storm' of events that changed our view of the long-term future. First, Texas may have fared better during the recession, but the economy certainly has had an enormous effect on donations, sponsorships and attendance."

Steindorf also said DSM has been impacted by competition from other theater groups and the various entertainment options in the region. In the case of touring Broadway shows, the overall selection of such shows has declined, with fewer blockbuster productions available to Dallas.

Steindorf expressed confidence in DSM's Michael Jenkins' abilities to find cost-cutting measures, raise new dollars for the Musicals and assist in the rejuvenation of the organization.

"It became clear that we can't keep doing business as in the past," said Steindorf. "We need to reduce our operating costs, shore up our financial base, re-establish our long-term reserve funding and prove our value as part of the Dallas Arts Community."

Among the Strategic Support Committee recommendations adopted by the DSM Executive Committee last week:

· Launch of a challenge grant program targeting individuals and corporations
· Continued reduction of operating expenses
· Reach out to other arts organizations to explore mutually beneficial synergies
· Increase in Board and Executive Committee contributions
· Daily outside monitoring of cash balances and expenditures
· Immediate search for new sponsors

For most of its existence, DSM has been self-sustaining. Ticket sales traditionally generated more than enough revenue to cover the cost of presenting world-class touring Broadway productions. That track record and strong leadership has had unique benefits for the Dallas community and the North Texas region. For example:

· The Broadway musicals at Fair Park are second only to the State Fair of

Texas in attendance
· According to economic impact studies DSM productions have the largest economic impact of any other performing arts organizations in the Dallas area
· 3,000 school children attend the Broadway shows free of charge each year
· DSM is the only major arts organization that does not receive any city subsidies

DSM President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins said he is cautiously optimistic about the future.

"This really is an unprecedented situation," said Jenkins. "The Music Hall has always been a 'must stop' for touring show producers because they love the building, the number of seats available, the new sound system, and they appreciate our local audiences. I think the musicals at Fair Park are a huge contributor to Dallas' reputation for excellence in the arts. Now, we hope that can continue."


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