This is the third in a four-part series on the economic impact of local arts groups.
Ballet Idaho has undergone some big changes in the past few months, with both a new artistic director and a new executive director.
Executive director Laura von Boecklin Mulkey started July 15 with the Boise-based organization, after a position as executive director at the College of Western Idaho Foundation, while artistic director Garrett Anderson joined the company in July 2018.
“He’s the one who oversees the dancers and the production and artistic vision for the organization,” Mulkey said. “I handle fundraising and operational. People are pretty excited he’s on board.”
Anderson is bringing a new contemporary vision for the company, Mulkey said.
“The contemporary direction is a new direction for us,” she said. “Ballet Idaho in the past hasn’t had as much of that focus. From everything I’ve heard, he’s contributing to our ability to attract and retain dancers, because they’re excited to work with him.”
That contemporary direction is also expected to draw a younger audience, something a number of arts organizations are struggling to do.
“Classical ballet definitely appeals to some of our patrons who’ve been fans for years,” Mulkey said. “The younger crowd appreciates the creativity and innovation that happens in a contemporary dance piece.”
The organization recently underwent a strategic planning process that is intended to take it through 2024.
“One of the goals is to make sure our business model is designed to sustain and grow the organization,” Mulkey said. “A big focus in the next year is assessing where we are and coming up with some recommendations about what we need to have in place for future growth.”
These include things like business processes and internal systems, such as human resource management and computer systems, Mulkey said.
“You can do really well if you stay the same size, but if you’re planning for growth, you need a solid foundation.”
Currently, Ballet Idaho has an annual budget of $2.2 million, with about 35% coming from contributed support such as donations and grants, and ticket sales contributing 37%, Mulkey said. Other components are 17% for tuition at the organization’s dance academy, 7% for special events such as its gala and fashion show and 4% for “other,” such as sales at the company’s gift store.
“One of the most surprising things for me when I came was to find out how much goes into one of our productions,” Mulkey said.
For example, over the last couple of years, Ballet Idaho has held a major capital campaign to raise $1 million to pay for a new production of The Nutcracker, the quintessential Christmas ballet that is also the company’s biggest performance of the year.
“The Nutcracker alone accounts for 60% of our box office revenue and 20% of our revenue,” Mulkey said. “The Nutcracker costumes and set will last us for 20 years, and they were at the end of their lifecycle.”
Outside of the capital campaign, Ballet Idaho has a payroll of around $900,000 a year, between full-time staff and contract labor. That includes musicians for the performances that have live music, as well as dancers. For example, production expenses for The Nutcracker in 2018 were $150,000, including $3,450 for lighting design and other components such as choreography and props, she said.
Going forward, growth could include more performances – currently, productions are typically staged over a single weekend – as well as bringing in artists from other cities to expose the audience to dance from other areas, Mulkey said.
“The other thing I’ve heard is, we are ‘Ballet Idaho,’ we are not ‘Ballet Boise,’ so what does it look like to be ‘Ballet Idaho’?” Mulkey said. “What would it look like if we took our ballet elsewhere?”
This summer the company performed in Sun Valley, just weeks after the San Francisco Ballet.
“It was an opportunity to introduce that community to the work we’re doing, and make them aware that we’re here.”