September 18, 2018; Toledo Blade
The other day, NPQ and BoardSource presented a webinar exploring the new world of nonprofit strategic alliances. Here’s a good example of how much variety there is in combining forms, what platforms of previous relationship they are built upon, and the motivations behind them.
After nine months of negotiations, the Toledo Symphony and Toledo Ballet Association have announced that on the first of the year, they will merge and, under the new name Toledo Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA), they will serve as equal partners in one organization that will also include a community education component. Zak Vassar, the president and CEO of the Symphony, will take the staff reins of the new entity.
As is often the case, this option surfaced when one of the executives decided to leave—in this case, the executive director of the Ballet. But the relationship did not emerge out of the blue. “This partnership is a natural one,” Vassar says. “The Toledo Symphony and Toledo Ballet have worked together for over 70 years, with the symphony serving as the ballet’s pit orchestra. Our archives are rich with collaborations, and we have a great history of working together to entertain and inspire the community.”
Vassar also reiterates one of the points made in our webinar, saying the merger did not come from weakness, but from strength: “This is a visionary merger; this is not a ‘we have to move.’ We’re doing this because both organizations are strong and vibrant. We feel it will give us both a greater ability to do fantastic things artistically.” In fact, the two arts organizations have long experimented with a shared model with some success.
The board will comprise all 15 trustees of the ballet and the 38 trustees of the symphony. Three ballet trustees and 12 symphony trustees will act as the executive committee, but the current chair of the symphony will now chair the TAPA. (I would pause here to note the nuanced balances of power being observed.) The two brands will be maintained as connected to performance spaces, but the ballet staff will join the symphony staff in one operating space.
The Toledo Community Foundation provided funding for the exploration of this new organizational design.—Ruth McCambridge