Mu­sic Cen­ter, key ally not in har­mony

The head of the Blue Rib­bon, an aux­il­iary group, says lead­er­ship and fundrais­ing are in­ad­e­quate.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Boehm and David Ng

The ad­min­is­tra­tors of the Mu­sic Cen­ter over­see the venues at the heart of L.A.’s clas­si­cal mu­sic and theater scene. The pres­i­dent of the Blue Rib­bon leads the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s old­est and largest fundrais­ing ally — and she’s not happy about the way things are go­ing.

Carla Sands, who has led the Blue Rib­bon since 2012, as­serts that Mu­sic Cen­ter ad­min­is­tra­tors spent too much money stag­ing last year’s 50th an­niver­sary bash at the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion. She also says they did a poor job rais­ing money through cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships, lead­ing to staff and pro­gram cuts.

“Fail­ure is not an op­tion when it’s the 50th,” said Sands, who also sits on the Mu­sic Cen­ter board. “You don’t get to do it again next year. And you have to bring in money so it’s a thriv­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Mu­sic Cen­ter of­fi­cials de­clined to be in­ter­viewed but is­sued state­ments ac­knowl­edg­ing fundrais­ing prob­lems.

“There is no ques­tion it has been chal­leng­ing to grow the fundrais­ing ca­pac­ity of the Mu­sic Cen­ter over the last few years,” at­tor­ney

‘I don’t be­lieve the staff or lead­er­ship of the Mu­sic Cen­ter knew how to raise money, and that’s the bot­tom-line job.’ Carla Sands, pres­i­dent, the Blue Rib­bon

Lisa Specht, who chairs the Mu­sic Cen­ter board, said in an email.

Specht said the Dec. 6 gala “net­ted a profit of $1.9 mil­lion, but other el­e­ments of the fundrais­ing cam­paign haven’t been as suc­cess­ful.” She said the Mu­sic Cen­ter made “strate­gic de­ci­sions” to elim­i­nate five po­si­tions in its ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment, five po­si­tions in pro­gram­ming and one in fundrais­ing as a re­sult of the over­all fundrais­ing short­falls.

Ad­di­tion­ally, she said, two “se­nior level staff mem­bers left for new … op­por­tu­ni­ties” but will be re­placed. That ap­par­ently was a ref­er­ence to vice pres­i­dents for ed­u­ca­tion and fundrais­ing who left re­cently.

The Mu­sic Cen­ter com­prises the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall, the Dorothy Chan­dler Pav­il­ion, the Mark Ta­per Fo­rum and the Ah­man­son Theatre.

The pri­vate non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceives about $25 mil­lion an­nu­ally from Los An­ge­les County to pro­vide main­te­nance, se­cu­rity and build­ing man­age­ment ser­vices, but most of the per­for­mances are staged by res­i­dent com­pa­nies such as the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic and Cen­ter Theatre Group.

Sands said the Blue Rib­bon, an aux­il­iary group founded by Dorothy Chan­dler in 1968, col­lec­tively do­nated nearly $2 mil­lion to the gala by buy­ing tick­ets to the show or ta­bles at the postper­for­mance din­ner.

Months be­fore the event, Sands said she and other Blue Rib­bon mem­bers be­came con­cerned that a golden fundrais­ing op­por­tu­nity was be­ing squan­dered.

“I don’t be­lieve the staff or lead­er­ship of the Mu­sic Cen­ter knew how to raise money, and that’s the bot­tom-line job,” said Sands, who pre­vi­ously had served on the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic’s board. “I think it’s [a ques­tion of] lead­er­ship and vi­sion.”

Sands said they didn’t take ad­van­tage of of­fers by Blue Rib­bon mem­bers to re­cruit star per­form­ers and said the Mu­sic Cen­ter failed to line up big cor­po­rate spon­sors to help cover costs.

Un­like its res­i­dent orches­tra com­pany, the Mu­sic Cen­ter doesn’t stage an an­nual gala fundraiser. Sands said the in­ex­pe­ri­ence showed.

“The lack of lead­er­ship is the crux of this,” said Karen Be­drosian Coyne, an­other Blue Rib­bon mem­ber who said she shared Sands’ con­cerns. “If we had a strong leader who has the house in or­der, th­ese things don’t hap­pen.”

Los An­ge­les at­tor­ney Neal Mil­lard re­signed his seat on the Mu­sic Cen­ter board early this year, partly out of frus­tra­tion over lead­er­ship and fundrais­ing.

“The Mu­sic Cen­ter is kind of stag­nat­ing,” Mil­lard said. “Ev­ery­one has their hearts in the right place. It’s the abil­ity to raise money that’s the chal­lenge.”

Un­like some other L.A. arts or­ga­ni­za­tions, the Mu­sic Cen­ter hasn’t seen a re­bound in con­tri­bu­tions amid the eco­nomic re­cov­ery from the Great Re­ces­sion.

Public fi­nan­cial state­ments show that in the four fis­cal years from mid-2005 to mid-2009, the Mu­sic Cen­ter raised $24.5 mil­lion a year, on av­er­age. In the five en­su­ing fis­cal years, dona­tions av­er­aged $10.2 mil­lion. In­stead of build­ing its board dur­ing the 50th an­niver­sary sea­son that ends this spring, the Mu­sic Cen­ter saw its ros­ter dwin­dle from 42 last June to the 36 trustees now listed on its web­site.

Specht, the Mu­sic Cen­ter board chair, said fundrais­ing from 2005 to 2009 was un­usu­ally strong, in part be­cause a cam­paign was on to fund the $30-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the Mark Ta­per Fo­rum that was com­pleted in 2007.

The Mu­sic Cen­ter’s paid staff has been led by Howard Sher­man, its long­time chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, since for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Roun­tree stepped down late last year to be­come an ex­ec­u­tive with Cen­ter Theatre Group. Specht said that fundrais­ing will be a sig­nif­i­cant part of the new chief ex­ec­u­tive’s job and that she ex­pects an an­nounce­ment this sum­mer on the po­si­tion.

While the Mu­sic Cen­ter stalls, one of its lead­ing peers, New York’s Lin­coln Cen­ter, re­cently an­nounced it had re­ceived $100 mil­lion from David Gef­fen to ren­o­vate its main con­cert hall.

The do­na­tion sparked spec­u­la­tion as to why the Mu­sic Cen­ter hadn’t man­aged to court a big gift from Gef­fen, who made his for­tune in L.A. and has been known to at­tend L.A Phil­har­monic con­certs.

Warner Henry, a board mem­ber of Los An­ge­les Opera, said the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s lead­er­ship has failed to spark co­op­er­a­tion among the arts com­pa­nies that stage per­for­mances in its venues, act­ing in­stead as a dis­in­ter­ested land­lord.

“The … re­la­tion­ship the Mu­sic Cen­ter has with its res­i­dent com­pa­nies is arm’slength, re­mote, not col­lab­o­ra­tive,” Henry said. “Each res­i­dent com­pany is in its own lit­tle pri­vate world; col­lab­o­ra­tion is not en­cour­aged.”

Sands said that she’s press­ing for more in­for­ma­tion about the gala’s fi­nances be­cause it’s im­por­tant for donors to know how their money was spent and why the re­sults fell short. Af­ter ex­chang­ing let­ters with in­terim pres­i­dent Sher­man in early March, she met with Mu­sic Cen­ter fi­nance man­agers on March 25 to go over con­tracts and in­voices in de­tail. She was not re­as­sured.

“There were ac­counts writ­ten by hand on some pages,” Sands said. “I was ex­pect­ing to see ac­count­ing in good or­der, but they don’t seem to have any idea what they spent. How can any or­ga­ni­za­tion be run that way?”

Sands, whose hus­band, Los An­ge­les real es­tate and in­vest­ment ex­ec­u­tive Fred Sands, is pres­i­dent of the board of L.A.’s Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, said she sent a dozen de­tailed fol­lowup ques­tions in writ­ing af­ter the meet­ing on such mat­ters as the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s con­tract with Cor­po­rate Magic, a Dal­las-based events com­pany that pro­duced the Dec. 6 show. She said she’s still wait­ing for an­swers.

The show that was pro­duced was crit­i­cally panned, Sands noted in a March 6 let­ter to Mu­sic Cen­ter of­fi­cials.

“I would imag­ine Dorothy Chan­dler was turn­ing over in her grave that night,” she wrote.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

A DEC. 6 GALA mark­ing the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s 50th an­niver­sary made a profit of $1.9 mil­lion, Lisa Specht, who chairs the board, said in an email, “but other el­e­ments of the fundrais­ing cam­paign haven’t been as suc­cess­ful.”

Jonathan Leibson

CARLA SANDS was dis­cour­aged af­ter meet­ing with Mu­sic Cen­ter fi­nance man­agers.

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