Arts as a business: Opera Idaho

photo of opera idaho singers
As Opera Idaho has grown, it has been able to attract a higher caliber of singers. Photo courtesy of Opera Idaho

This is the fourth in a four-part series on the economic impact of local arts groups.

If you ask Mark Junkert, general director of Opera Idaho, opera is the most complicated art form of all.

“The Boise Philharmonic has an orchestra. We do, too,” Junkert explained. “We have actors like the Idaho Shakespeare Festival who sing and act. We occasionally even have dance. It’s just evolved that way.”

For that reason, unlike some other arts organizations, Junkert acts as both the artistic director and the executive director. In 2008, he became the first to combine the roles.

“There are ways that happens in other worlds, but it happens more often in opera,” he said.

The organization, entering its 47th season, started as Boise Opera Workshop, then Boise Opera, then Boise Civic Opera. Living up to its name, it performs week-long residences and full operas in Pocatello, as well as educational programs and concerts in cities including Ketchum, McCall, Emmett and Weiser.

photo of mark junkert
Mark Junkert

“It’s important for us to live up to the ‘Idaho’ part,” Junkert said, especially since the organization is the only one of its kind in the state. Coeur d’Alene Opera became Inland Northwest Opera in Spokane, while Idaho Falls Opera performs only every couple of years, he said.

Operas require a lot of people. The orchestra, which typically consists of 24 to 50 musicians, is generally the same from opera to opera, while Junkert draws from a pool of about 100 singers for the chorus. Leads are typically half local singers, with half brought in from outside, he said.

As Opera Idaho has grown, it has attracted a higher caliber of singers who are also more expensive.

“We’re medium-sized now,” Junkert said, noting that the opera’s budget is now over $1 million. (In comparison, the Metropolitan Opera’s budget is $300 million.)

Opera Idaho has often used singers at the beginning of their careers, which made them more willing to return as their careers progressed.

“The hope is that if they start early here, we can afford to keep having them come back,” he said.

Operas are typically performed only for one weekend and cost between $80,000 and $150,000, depending on the number of performers and the location. Some are performed in the Egyptian Theater, with others performed in the larger Morrison Center.

About half of that is production costs.

“Some have a lot of set components to them,” Junkert said. “Anything at the Morrison will have a bigger set than at the Egyptian.”

Typically the organization builds its own sets, rather than renting them, particularly because of the Egyptian’s unusual configuration, he said.

Even with the Morrison, it’s sometimes cheaper to build than rent, due to shipping costs for two semitrucks a set requires.

“Boise’s not exactly near anything,” Junkert said. “Unless it’s going to come from Utah, Oregon or California, the cost starts mounting.”

Shipping costs from New York can top $10,000, he said.

photo of opera idaho alterations
While some costumes are rented, others are built or bought. Photo courtesy of Opera Idaho

Opera Idaho typically rents costumes if they’re a specialty item, such as kimonos for Madama Butterfly.

“If it’s something contemporary, it’s probably just as easy to go buy it at J.C. Penney or Sears,” Junkert said.

Opera Idaho has five full-time and five ongoing part-time staff members. Staff in general takes up about a quarter of the budget. They also handle relatively new programs such as the children’s chorus and a “rising stars” program for high school juniors and seniors, Junkert said.

About 30% of the organization’s $1.2 million budget is earned income, while the remainder is contributions, either individual or corporate, Junkert said.

“That’s great growth,” he remarked. “It was $430,000 when I came.”

He also differentiates between sponsorships – which require compensation, such as ads, tickets and marketing – while contributions don’t, he said.

Like other arts organizations, Opera Idaho is working to attract young people, such as its Operatinis.

“The whole idea is to get people who might not want to sit through an opera in another language to sit 45 minutes,” Junkert said.

Arts as a business: the Idaho Shakespeare Festival

This is the second in a four-part series on the economic impact of local arts groups.

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s performances regularly sell out thanks in part to loyal season ticket holders. Photo courtesy of Idaho Shakespeare Festival

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is defying conventional wisdom — thanks to a loyal group of fans who support the company year after year.

“As an industry overall, regional theater is not seeing much growth in season tickets,” said Charlie Fee, producing artistic director for the Boise-based company. “It’s been going the other way for more than a decade. Audiences are less and less interested in tying themselves into a full season of entertainment.”

But even in that environment, subscription sales for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival were 45% of ticket sales in 2016, and are now at 64%, Fee said. “We don’t see that kind of growth in Cleveland,” he added, referring to one of the Shakespeare Festival’s two sister companies (the other, in Lake Tahoe, doesn’t offer season tickets). “We’ve had growth, but nothing like this growth.”

Consequently, the company is trying to increase the number of performances – it went from 93 in 2016 to 99 today – but it’s limited in how much earlier and later it can extend its season due to uncertain weather, Fee said.

Subscription tickets offer a big advantage, Fee said. He likens the Shakespeare Festival to a manufacturing company.

“We build plays,” he explained. “We build sets. We build costumes. We build props. How far out are you looking at orders in your manufacturing? I need to deliver 18 months from now. If you don’t know who’s buying it, you’re in a very volatile position.”

Photo courtesy of Idaho Shakespeare Festival

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s annual budget is $4 million, mostly spent on staffing. There are 12 administrative staff members with year-round salaries and benefits, as well as 10 production staff. The three companies enable Fee to keep them busy. Even people who aren’t employed full-time, such as support staff, carpenters, stitchers, milliners and electricians, are often getting paid for close to 50 weeks of work, he said.

“The most difficult part of a seasonal company is, how do you build consistency in your production team when you have only three months’ worth of work?” Fee said. “Boise’s not big enough to support them the rest of the year, so you’re constantly hiring new teams. That’s not a good business or artistic model.”

Having the three companies means he’s been able to develop a much deeper bench, he said.

Actors are all union, earning around $950 per week plus benefits, while roles such as fight captain or dance captain can earn $1,100 per week, Fee said. Shop people have more of a variation but typically start at around $32,000 per year and top out at about $50,000 per year, he said.

Photo courtesy of Idaho Shakespeare Festival

A big expense is housing for the actors and shop people when they are not in their home city. It added up to $350,000 this year alone, and the company paid the tab.

“We’re renting Airbnbs because we can’t go to a major apartment owner anymore and ask for 20 apartments for three months,” Fee said. “This is no longer sustainable.”

The company builds its own sets, and builds or purchases about 70% of its costumes, though it does rent some specialty items. For “Witness for the Prosecution,” this year’s Agatha Christie production, barristers’ costumes and wigs had to come from London, Fee said. His materials budget for this year is $52,000 for costumes, $50,000 for sets and $13,000 for props.

And this can vary widely. For example, “Taming of the Shrew” costumes cost just $1,000 because they were created in Cleveland, but “Music Man” cost $17,000 because they were created here, Fee said.

Charles Fee, Idaho Shakespeare Festival artistic director, at a rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Idaho Shakespeare Festival

Of the company’s budget, 71% comes from earned income, primarily ticket sales but also souvenirs, the Shakespeare Café and educational programs such as summer camps, Fee said. The remainder is contributions, corporate sponsorships and grants, about 64% of which comes from individuals, he said.

But with the crowded house – 98% capacity in July, with the final week of “Shrew” at over 100% due to selling more hillside seats than usual – Fee is looking at other options. Expanding the Boise theater isn’t really practical because it would require basically starting over, he said. Plus, the theater’s intimacy is a draw.

So Fee is looking at the company’s home in Cleveland, Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square.  It’s one of seven theaters in the district, owned by a single umbrella nonprofit, which bring in 1.5 million visitors every year. Great Lakes Theater, the Cleveland company, manages the theater, and whenever it’s not in use, the parent company can rent it out.

The Shakespeare Festival is studying this model and hopes to have a plan for a second similarly sized theater in the next three to five years, which would cost about $30 million and allow the company to essentially double its capacity with an additional 100 performances plus tech rehearsals.

And when the company isn’t using the space, it could be available to the community. “Nothing is less productive than an empty theater,” Fee said.

Arts as a Business: the Boise Philharmonic

The Boise Philharmonic is one of the oldest arts organizations in Idaho. Photo courtesy of the Boise Philharmonic

This is the first in a four-part series on the economic impact of local arts groups.

Probably the oldest arts organization in Idaho – and one of the longest-running arts organizations in the U.S. – is the Boise Philharmonic, which started as the Boise Orchestra in 1886 and is working to make itself more appealing to contemporary audiences.

As the officially incorporated nonprofit Boise Philharmonic Association, it’s about to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

The Philharmonic’s budget for next year is about $2.1 million, including artistic labor, production expenses, marketing, patron services and ticketing, development, fundraising events, education and administration, according to Hollis Welsh, executive director. The lion’s share – just shy of $1 million – goes to labor, including the music director and more than 80 contracted musicians, as well as guest conductors and artists, she said. Adding in administrative salaries brings the total spent on staffing to about 60% of the total budget.

Among them are 14 salaried musicians, paid year-round and guaranteed a certain number of “services,” a 2 ½-hour block of time, typically either a rehearsal or a performance.

“The salaried positions were created several years ago as a way to encourage musicians from out-of-town to consider moving to Boise as a destination,” Welsh said. They also typically perform in the organization’s smaller ensembles.

The remainder are hired based on need. “We have fewer performances than a theater company with a four-week run, but we’re paying 80-plus musicians for a single performance,” Welsh said. “That dynamic really changes things.”

A standard concert typically has four rehearsals, two with just the orchestra and two with the guest artists, typically followed by two performances.

The Philharmonic’s musicians recently unionized, but that hasn’t caused a big change, Welsh said. “We’re in the middle of negotiations to update our collective bargaining agreement with them about changes we want to see,” she said. “It’s been a very amicable process, by and large. Small changes will make it easier for everyone in the organization.”

Orchestras tend to have less turnover than some other performing arts, Welsh said, with some staff staying on for decades.

Eric Garcia, music director of the Boise Philharmonic. Photo courtesy of the Boise Philharmonic

Like many other arts organizations, the Philharmonic is working to attract younger audiences. “We did a great deal of growth on the season we just wrapped,” Welsh said. “We updated to be contemporary, bright and inviting, to be attractive to the new people moving into town. Part of our goal is to appeal to a broader, younger, more diversified audience.”

That includes reaching beyond the Treasure Valley. For example, this year for the first time the organization streamed some of its concerts to schools that couldn’t attend in person, such as in North Idaho, as well as appearing on Boise State Public Radio.

Another part is considering a new, dedicated performance space. “It’s a conversation all four arts organizations have had in one way or another,” Welsh said.

The Morrison Center holds 1,900 people and some Boise Philharmonic concerts reach 1,850, though the average is about 1,700. In the Brandt Center at Nampa’s Northwest Nazarene University, concerts average 500 people, Welsh said. The organization continues to introduce new events to help attract new members, such as its recent pops series.

“That did move our earned revenue up,” Welsh said.

While the Morrison is a good size for the Philharmonic, a multiuse space would serve varying needs, she said. “What’s missing is a 1,000- to 1,200-seat space,” she said. “It’s the sweet spot for a lot of performances.”

Counting attendees at all performances, about 50,000 people a season – some of whom may attend more than one concert – attend Boise Philharmonic events, Welsh said. These days, performances don’t typically sell out.

“There was a time when Boise Philharmonic sold out through subscriptions, and you couldn’t get a single ticket,” she said. “But that was before a lot of other options showed up.”

The Philharmonic makes its money through earned revenue – ticket sales, contract work, dues and so on, which amounts to about 45% – and contributed revenue, which includes grants, fundraising events, sponsorship revenue, general fundraising and interest.

“It’s fairly steady,” Welsh said. “You’ll probably find that’s a pretty standard split.”


Sun Valley thrives through the arts as much as the outdoors

Renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony this summer. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony this summer. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Sun Valley these days fashions itself as much as an arts destination as a year-round outdoor recreation hub.

Ever since the sweeping Sun Valley Pavilion amphitheater planted a landmark arts flag in 2008, Ketchum has continued adding arrows to its arts quiver. ArtPlace – a national collaboration of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions – named Ketchum among the Top 12 Small-Town Art Places in 2013.

“What has shifted in Wood River Valley is a collective desire for all arts organization to come together to celebrate that people come here for great recreation,” said Kristen Poole, artistic director of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. “But the reason they come back is they realize that they can not just exercise their body but also exercise their mind and spirit.”

What Poole is talking about is the establishment of the Ketchum Arts Commission in 2009 by Claudia McCain at the urging of then-Mayor Randy Hall soon after the Pavilion set the stage. Arts organizations started meeting several times a year and they now have a singular voice that Poole put into words.

“Arts and culture are as significant as recreation and people should come here for both of those things,” she said. “It’s been a very focused effort in the last five years.”

A singular voice means nothing without an audience. Along came the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance in 2011, a tourism marketing entity that was split off from the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau as a free-standing organization. Recently renamed Visit Sun Valley, the group treats arts marketing and outdoors marketing as one and the same goal.

Jennifer Teisinger mingles with the audience before a Sun Valley Summer Symphony concert. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Jennifer Teisinger mingles with the audience before a Sun Valley Summer Symphony concert. Photo by Teya Vitu.

“Sun Valley is a real energetic combination of world-class outdoor recreation and world-class arts and culture and the fact that it is so accessible,” said Arlene Schieven, the alliance’s president and chief marketing officer since nearly the beginning. “You can go fly fishing in the morning and you don’t even have to get changed (to go to an event).”

July saw 86 percent room occupancy in Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey, the highest occupancy rate for any month for which there are records, Schieven said.

Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas credits the Sun Valley Center for the Arts for attracting visual and performance artists to the Wood River Valley to spend the summer. She cites arts, theater groups and symphony groups with stoking the overall visitor base in the region.

“I think more people are coming here not to ski,” Jonas said. “I would say the predominant driver is some kind of art event.”

By far the largest arts attraction is the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, which draws 40,000 people to its 16 concerts each year in August. But Jennifer Teisinger, the symphony’s executive director since 2006, acknowledges its impact largely falls within a three-and-a-half-week window when all the concerts are performed.

“We are a festival and we come and go,” said Teisinger, who is leaving the orchestra at the end of the year to become executive director of the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado. “The Company of Fools and the Center for the Arts – their presence is always felt here.”

Also stoking the arts calendar are the Trailing of the Sheep, the Hemingway Festival and the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival, now in its 26th year. Sun Valley in recent years has consciously sought to stretch the arts season beyond July and August.

Kristin Poole
Kristin Poole

The fourth Sun Valley Film Festival is set for March. The Sun Valley Wellness Festival has become a Memorial Day stalwart.

“June is getting to be quite busy here,” Schieven said. “We do well into October with the Jazz Festival and Trailing of the Sheep.”

The Company of Fools, Ketchum’s professional theater company, recently became an entity of the Sun Valley Center of the Arts. The Center is the largest nonprofit arts organization in the state by budget and scope of projects, according to the Idaho Commission on the Arts.

“Sun Valley Center for the Arts in particular has been consciously developing programming throughout the year and not only addressing the adult population but we do school tours,” Poole said.

The Sun Valley Center for the Arts is a virtual center that includes facilities spread around the valley, such as the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, where the Company of Fools performs. Poole acknowledges that for all its merits, Ketchum’s facilities put it short of being a full-fledged arts destination.

“I would say we are three-fourths of the way there,” Poole said. “We’re stumbling now in the facilities we can use.”

The city of Ketchum, however, has embraced its emerging arts status. The City Council in 2011 adopted a Percent For Art ordinance requiring 1.33 percent of capitol improvement project budgets be set aside to support public art. In 2014, the council increased the amount to 5 percent, which arts leaders believe is the highest in the country.

“The message that sends is that art is a driver of the economy and the city recognizes that,” McCain said.

Public art has come to flourish in Ketchum with the Percent for Art funding implemented by the Ketchum Arts Commission under Claudia McCain’s direction.

“Art is a reflection of the culture,” McCain said. “It gives a visual stimulus. You can walk down the street and look at it.”

Arlene Schieven
Arlene Schieven

She means that literally. As in Boise, Ketchum has 16 utility boxes covered with art, five of these artworks on one street in its Art on Fourth street. Since 2014, Ketchum has translated four commemorative coin designs into 40 manhole covers. Last year, KAC launched the first Art Car – a Sun Valley Resort gondola wrapped in original art. Art works also rotate through City Hall.

The arts generate $8 million a year in Blaine County, which has 144 arts-related business, 7.4 percent of the businesses, McCain said.

Targeting marketing has brought the arts to the fore as never before.

“To me the arts have been given greater visibility in the last few years along with the rise of the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance,” Teisinger said. “In the last two years, they have been putting more attention on events.”

Shieven confirms she has given arts marketing increased focus in the past two years with new approaches to print, postcards, online campaigns, and advertising.

“We are doing a lot more storytelling and content marketing, not just a simple ad,” said Schieven, citing examples: “’Here are five great cultural things you don’t know about. Nine great things you can take in.’ We have an events campaign that includes all the arts and culture (targeting Boise and Salt Lake City) that started two years ago.”

Blaine County has only 21,000 residents, but among them is Idaho’s largest concentration of wealth, many of these residents keen on the arts. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony itself has more than 75 donors giving at least $10,000 a year.

“It’s a really special community,” Teisinger said. “You have part-time residents who care about the arts. They want the arts to be here when they are here. They give because the concerts are here.  It definitely has risen up as more of a destination for people to experience the arts.”

Corporate donors are stepping up to the Boise Philharmonic

Music Director Robert Franz and the Boise Philharmonic may make more roadtrips around Idaho with increases in corporate funding. Photo courtesy of Boise Philharmonic.
Music Director Robert Franz and the Boise Philharmonic may make more roadtrips around Idaho with increases in corporate funding. Photo courtesy of Boise Philharmonic.

Corporate dollars are returning to the Boise Philharmonic Association after a number of fallow years.

The Philharmonic has attracted $80,000 in corporate funding since July 1, with ambitions to reach $125,000 by the time the fiscal year ends June 30, said Amy House, the organization’s director of development and marketing. The Boise Philharmonic season opens Sept. 26.

In the 2013-14 season, corporate sponsorship reached $20,000 or, as Amy House described it, zero dollars.

Corporate dollars are the lifeblood for fine arts organizations nationwide. When corporate dollars dry up, so, too, do some organizations. That happened with Opera Pacific in Orange County, Calif., and nearly occurred this spring with the San Diego Opera.

The Boise Philharmonic slogged through the recession with nary a corporate dollar. It survived through an especially robust commitment of individual dollars from a “very supportive” community, in the words of Executive Director Sandra Culhane.

Like any business – and Culhane is upfront about talking about the Boise Philharmonic as a business – the Philharmonic seeks a diversified income stream. Ticket sales account for only about 40 percent of revenue, which is typical for fine arts organizations across the country. The Philharmonic’s $2 million budget is about 62 percent contributed income.

“We’re trying to develop corporate giving,” Culhane said. “It’s an open slate for us. It’s really not an area we focused our energy on in recent years.”

The corporate campaign started in April as House, after four months of discussion, won a $25,000 gift from Albertsons to help fund the Boise Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Culhane and House then invited two dozen business leaders to breakfast in July to explain the Philharmonic business model and listen to what the corporate world wants from the Boise Philharmonic.

Sandra Culhane
Sandra Culhane

“What we heard is what people don’t know about our orchestra,” Culhane said. “They didn’t know the breadth of our activities. They are excited about that. They were engaged.”

Culhane told business leaders that Philharmonic musicians appear in all 263 second grade classrooms in the Treasure Valley; that the orchestra performs free children’s concerts; that Music Director Robert Franz makes more than 100 school classroom visits per year; and that musicians offer a Musically Speaking lecture series before each concert.

“How are we relevant? We absolutely must be relevant to them,” said Culhane, who joined the Boise Philharmonic in May 2013.

The Boise Philharmonic Board of Directors and Culhane are nearing the end of a strategic planning process. Culhane sees potential uses for increased corporate funding.

“We’d like to cover more of Idaho,” Culhane said. “We want to do a tour of Idaho with larger ensembles. We want to live stream eventually and do Webinars. Amy put together a wonderful menu of opportunities (for potential corporate donors). Strategic planning will chart the course we want to go.”

Saint Alphonsus Health System recently offered $5,000 to sponsor the Philharmonic’s new series for senior citizens. Saint Alphonsus hasn’t sponsored a Boise Philharmonic series in at least 10 years, said Linda Payne Smith, the hospital’s vice president of marketing and community development.

The Micron Foundation gave $10,000 to help fund the Philharmonic’s free Children’s Concerts series in January for third to fifth graders in Boise and Nampa. This is the annual “Musical Tour of the Planets” narrated by former astronaut Barbara Morgan.

“It’s a way to provide students the arts and science at the same time,” said Kami Faylor, the foundation’s community relations manager. ”We like to fund opportunity at schools that support a passion in the next generation for science and engineering.”

Across the country, economic development groups cite the value of the fine arts in recruiting talent to a city. Zions Bank Chief Executive Scott Anderson espoused the value of business investment in the arts in an Idaho Business Review guest column in March.

“The Philharmonic has sent Scott Anderson’s guest opinion to many corporations because the message is excellent for companies to give to the arts,” said Ray Stark, the Boise Phil’s board chair and senior vice president at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. “We’re using that letter as a door opener in targeted requests for sponsorship opportunities.”