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Jan 28, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Orchestra needs city grant, and maybe a new home, to prosper

London Community News

Even as a city committee was voting to financially support Orchestra London, the man charged with guiding the organization’s future was saying how a new home would make things a lot easier.

During the city’s Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee meeting on Monday (Jan. 28), councillors voted to support the annual grant to Orchestra London to the tune of $482,688. And while not everyone on the committee was convinced it would be money well spent, the Orchestra London board chair said fundraising and fiscal stability would be easier if the organization could move out of its antiquated home at Centennial Hall.

“It is a challenge for the staff of Orchestra London, for everyone involved with it, to sell tickets given the facility the orchestra plays in because, by every measure, unsuitable,” said Joe O’Neill, who took over the orchestra board in November. “We visited the president of a large company in London last week and he very sheepishly indicated to us that he would go to the orchestra more, but he finds the venue the orchestra plays in is uncomfortable and he’s embarrassed to take clients to it.”

That kind of reaction, O’Neill said, is mirrored by the fact the orchestra recently lost two large corporate sponsors, representing approximately $60,000. One of the former sponsors was Western University, while the second was General Dynamics, although O’Neill said the orchestra is currently working with them to “pull the puck out of the goal crease on that one.”

O’Neill, who is also president of the London and District Baseball Association and the former commissioner of the Intercounty Baseball League, said orchestra officials “aren’t making excuses” and will go forward in trying to “sell every last ticket.”

That effort, O’Neill said, would be further enhanced by the Music London initiative, which includes a $40 million concert hall proposal that would include Orchestra London.

Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser, who said he hasn’t heard a strong outcry by his constituents to further fund the orchestra, asked O’Neill what would happen in six months should council not support the annual grant in 2013.

O’Neill was simple and straight forward in his response, “If the city did not grant the $482,000, the orchestra would be bankrupt.”

Both Mayor Joe Fontana and Ward 8 Councillor Paul Hubert said a successful orchestra is a key part of the city’s arts community. Hubert, who called the orchestra a “critical element to our cultural landscape,” also requested “a little more information” from the orchestra on its core business model as a tool from which to better defend the providing of the annual grant.

O’Neill said the orchestra is “extremely well run by dedicated people,” but that a new facility would, in his opinion, make it “immensely” easier to raise the kind of money necessary to support orchestra programming.

There are two reasons the new building would be important to the orchestra’s future, O’Neill said. For one, there would be more people attending the concerts and wanting to be better engaged with it in a new building.

The other point was one O’Neill determined first-hand. O’Neill said he intentionally purchased “the worst ticket” at Centennial Hall to watch the Barenaked Ladies recent performance during the Red Hot Weekends event in October. The upper level seat, O’Neill said, didn’t exactly sell him on the Centennial Hall experience.

“I sat in the seat I paid $45.95 for and I could not see the strings section of the orchestra nor could I see the keyboard player of the Barenaked Ladies for the entire concert,” O’Neill said. “So you are essentially selling some seats that frankly have very poor sightlines, where you actually aren’t seeing portion of the stage. So if you accept that reality, it is reasonable to expect it would be difficult to sell tickets and raise funds for the orchestra.”

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