Reflections on a Possible Merger: Arts Style

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August 16, 2011; Source: Sacramento Bee | In Sacramento, the opera and the orchestra are talking about their relationship. They’ve even moved in together. But are they ready for marriage? Not so fast.

Edward Ortiz of the Sacramento Bee has written an unusually well informed article detailing the possible merger of the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic. We loved reading it because it covers several reasons why you might not want to merge, even if it’s with someone you like an awful lot. Ortiz quotes Marc Scorca of Opera America, who mentioned two factors that should be considered before two performing arts organizations take the plunge.

First there is “the issue of loyalty to an art form among donors. Blending the two can be less appealing to everyone than the individual identity over which they are passionate.” So true. Who hasn’t seen a best friend utterly change once they got married?

The second factor, Scorca says, is financial: “Sometimes aggregate philanthropy decreases when there is a merged organization.” This is a fairly well known phenomenon. Funders often believe that two can live as cheaply as one when often it actually costs more at least at first to establish the new household.

Jane Hill, executive director of the Philharmonic, says that there is indeed little crossover between the audiences of the two companies, although both have a lot of room for growth. In terms of financial readiness, the Opera is suffering from poor ticket sales and can only support a skeleton staff, while the Philharmonic is healthier. But both organizations seem to believe that there are synergies and efficiencies to be gained by at least cooperating more, whether or not there is an actual marriage.

For now, they are “taking things to the next level:” co-producing a few performances, sitting in on one another’s meetings, and even living together under one roof now that the Opera has moved its offices. They’re also sharing the same conductor, the Philharmonic’s Michael Morgan. But even he is not in favor of taking things too quickly. “I would welcome some sort of arrangement that brings the two organizations together. It needn’t be a full-on legal merger, but I would be happy with that also,” he told the Bee. “The two organizations becoming one would raise both their visibilities and make for very interesting artistic possibilities.”

NPQ loves the fact that this article approaches the question of a merger with the same sense of deliberation that we should all observe. What do readers have to offer as their own reflections on important merger considerations?—Ruth McCambridge