Cal Performances tasked by fiscal year 2018 budget with near $1M deficit reduction

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Cal Performances, a campus performing arts organization, has been tasked by the campus budget office with contributing $926,000 in deficit reductions in the fiscal year 2018, and the organization is expected to fall short, according to the recently revealed fiscal year 2018 budget.

Cal Performances was one of the 40 campus divisions for which draft versions of divisional dashboards, documents that detail the financial expectations of various campus bodies, were made available by the campus Tuesday. Cal Performances’ divisional dashboard also detailed plans for expanded performance schedules and Oakland-based performances, along with long-term goals for renovating both Zellerbach Hall and the Hearst Greek Theatre.

Like several of the other divisions in the release, it is unlikely Cal Performances will be able to produce the surplus needed to meet the target that has been set by the campus, according to the executive and artistic director of Cal Performances Matías Tarnopolsky.

“That’s not practical for an organization of 18 to 20 million dollars to take a basically million-dollar cut in a year,” said Tarnopolsky.

The extent of the proposed deficit reduction target is further complicated by timing, according to Tarnopolsky.

“We received these requests from the campus once our budgets were already set for next year and our season was already planned and announced,” Tarnopolsky said.

For campus groups like Cal Performances, a nonprofit that also engages in educational outreach, recent years’ budget concerns have prompted moves toward cost-cutting, efficiency and revenue generation through philanthropy.

Chancellor Carol Christ’s budget, as teased in July, aims to slash the $110 million deficit nearly in half, calling for around $54 million in deficit reductions. The newly released budget documents describe how that target is divided between the various campus divisions, some of which contribute solely through generating new revenue, while others — including academic, research and administrative divisions — are faced with steep cuts in expenses.

“The cuts to our budget do pose a challenge for us,” Tarnopolsky said. “We need to very carefully evaluate during the course of this year how we are going to be as efficient as we can be on the one hand, but also maximize revenues from ticket sales and from philanthropy.”

“I’m confident that we have that, and we can do that — but I’m not belittling the challenges here,” he said.

Tarnopolsky cautioned, however, against seeing Cal Performances’ state of health solely through the lens of the campus budget targets. He stated that Cal Performances is financially sound, both in the short term and in the long term.

He pointed to the organization’s track record for increasing ticket sales and philanthropy over the past several years as evidence that indicates growth in average ticket order price from $146.77 in 2011-12 to $163.11 in 2015-16 and shows positive trends in philanthropic gifts over the same period as well.

Tarnopolsky also emphasized the degree to which Cal Performances is working cooperatively with the campus budget office.

“We’re committed to doing what we can do to help the campus have a long term sustainable financial model,” he said. “We are in constant dialogue with campus leadership — Carol Christ and (Vice Chancellor Chief Financial Officer) Rosemarie Rae — about what is the appropriate level.”

In addition to the campus’s deficit reduction target for Cal Performances, the divisional dashboard also highlighted some of the organization’s strategic goals to increase revenue and community engagement. One — expanding art presentations to Oakland — has already kicked off, with several performances taking place at the Paramount Theatre last year. According to Tarnopolsky, next year will bring performances to several more venues throughout the city.

Furthermore, the divisional dashboard lists a plan to “expand to year-round programming, including additional profitable programming in Zellerbach and the Greek.”

Cal Performances is already beginning this process — this summer, it held several summer performances, including Vijay Iyer’s “Ojai at Berkeley” in June and the Asian Youth Orchestra earlier this month.

Year-round programming presents its own logistical challenges. Tarnopolsky noted that hall maintenance is generally completed during the summer, but he said he believes it’s a good opportunity to better serve the community.

The divisional dashboard also points to one of Tarnopolsky’s long-term goals for Cal Performances, which he refers to as “vision 2025.” This includes, first and foremost, Cal Performances’ primary home in Zellerbach Hall on Lower Sproul.

“Zellerbach Hall turns 50 in 2018,” Tarnopolsky said. “It is a mid-20th-century hall that needs to be updated to the needs of 21st century performance practice and use — a lot of the infrastructure within the hall is aged and needs updating.”

According to Tarnopolsky, Cal Performances has already completed a “facilities master plan” and is “now in the process of understanding what it would take to upgrade Zellerbach Hall and what kind of investment it would take.” Though he cautioned that planning is in the early stages, he did emphasize that any upgrades to Zellerbach Hall would be funded philanthropically.

Imad Pasha is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected] Tweet him at @prappleizer.