Austin Classical Music Organizations Slowly Climbing Out of Economic Hole

A clear picture is starting to emerge when diving into the public tax records of Austin’s classical music organizations, and it mirrors the rest of the country: economic recovery is happening, but slowly.

The website GuideStar offers the past three years of IRS Form 990 for all registered non-profits. The most current year available is the 2010 tax year, which for most performing arts organizations translates to the 2010-2011 season.

ATXclassical looked at 17 different classical music non-profit organizations in Austin (see table below), some starting with the 2007-2008 season where available. Of course we all know that is the season that directly preceded the global economic crisis.

The big picture

In the four seasons of data publicly available, the 2007-2008 season was the only season in which there were significantly more organizations with a balanced budget than with a deficit (see graph) and the only season with an overall surplus (nearly $250,000).

The two seasons wedged in between (2008-2009 and 2009-2010), clearly show a tough environment for Austin’s classical music organizations. In the first year after the recession had officially kicked in, only 5 out of 17 organizations had a balanced budget. The overall total deficit was around $1.3M. The following season, while more organizations had a balanced budget, the overall deficit remained high at $1.2M. Despite more, mostly smaller organizations climbing out of a budget deficit, two of the large organizations (ALO and ASO) still had a combined deficit of $1.3M.

From 2008-2009 to 2009-2010, total revenue of all 17 organizations shrunk by 2.79% and total expenses shrunk by 3.06%. However, in 2010-2011, the last year reported, despite two smaller organizations missing in the numbers, revenue had shot back up by 10.34% and expenses had increased with 4.50% from the previous season. While that season still shows a combined deficit, the number decreased by nearly $1M and the pendulum of balanced vs. deficit budget swung, albeit barely, in favor of a balanced budget.

The big three

The big three in Austin’s classical music scene are the symphony, ballet and opera. These three groups are responsible for more than 80% of the total revenue of all 17 organizations. So as you’ve seen above, challenges in any of these three groups can really impact the overall results.

Ballet Austin has continued to grow throughout the recession (revenues grew $1M in four years) and ran a small deficit in only one of the four years reported. The Austin Symphony’s revenue fluctuated in the four years and the organization ran a deficit in three of the four years. The Austin Lyric Opera’s revenue fluctuated as well and it ran a deficit in all four years.

Both the ballet and the opera had community school revenues in these years, but if we purely look at ticket sales and contributions (excluding government grants) as reported in the 990 forms, we can see some interesting trends.

Government grants

Most organizations filed a 990-EZ form throughout these years, limiting the amount of information. The larger budget organizations all filed 990 forms, with more complete details on revenues and expenses, including information on ticket sales and government grants.

Five of the biggest organizations all reported government grants income in all three years: Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, Conspirare and The Austin Symphony. Austin Classical Guitar Society filed 990-EZ forms for all but the last tax year.

These grants include local, state and federal government. Throughout the three years, the levels remained fairly flat for the five organizations combined: $720,873 (2008-2009), $719,948 (2009-2010) and $695,630 (2010-2011). That is respectively 4.38%, 4.59% and 4.22% of these organizations’ expense budgets.

The raw numbers

Looking at the economic impact of the creative sector has been a popular sport for foundations, governments and arts organizations alike. As if there needs to be economic proof justifying the existence of arts organizations.

This report is not meant as one of those studies. It doesn’t report on the impact of the more than $15M spent annually by these organizations (and that doesn’t even include KMFA, The Long Center and Texas Performing Arts). Surely, classical music keeps artists and managers employed, brings in tourism dollars and tax dollars, and makes Austin a more attractive option for settling a businesses.

Keep in mind that numbers without context are just numbers. That said, here are the raw numbers used in this article.


Comments & Reviews on ATXclassical

  1. Very impressive research and analysis.

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