Big cities, take note: Arts organizations are finding an audience eager to ensure that their town remains on the cultural map.
By the end of March, the Cleveland Ballet’s prospects were bleak. The company was barely five years old, without an endowment, and responsible for the salaries of its five full-time and two part-time staff, plus 24 dancers—many of whom had moved to the city from other countries for the job. And because of the pandemic-related shutdown, the ballet’s revenue was reduced to grants, loans, and donations.
“Our company had a better-than-average formula,” says co-founder Mike Krasnyansky. Almost 58% of revenue was from ticket sales, while 42% was from donations. “But that was working against us,” he says.
Krasnyansky cut the Cleveland Ballet’s budget from $1.5 million to $1 million for the fiscal year that began in August and eliminated 80% of its performance costs—not hard, given that when performances did resume, they were held outdoors. He also received funds from federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to cover salaries for about six weeks.
What he didn’t do was lay off any employees or furlough a single dancer. Instead, he turned to the Cleveland community for help.
“There is a lot of civic energy behind it,” says Richard Pogue, chairman of the board of the Cleveland Ballet and a senior adviser for the law firm Jones Day. “Michael has got this saying, that every great city needs a great ballet company, and that sort of epitomizes what we’re talking about,” Pogue continues. “A number of are involved because we want to have a strong ballet company, not because we’re great aficionados of ballet, frankly.”