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Symphony Summer Donations Drop Dramatically

Donations to the Charlotte Symphony's summer South Park series dropped dramatically compared to last year. Volunteers armed with buckets and smiles managed to collect $75,832 in donations from people at Symphony Park during this summer's free concerts. But that's barely half what concert-goers pitched in last year and Symphony President Jonathan Martin it will mean a larger-than-anticipated deficit for the year. "I hope that the lower donations (were) more of a function of weather than a sense among a lot of folks that our problems are over," says Martin. "Because we still have a lot of challenges in front of us." Martin says rain and heat shrank the symphony's audience this summer. But the sense of urgency was different, too. Last summer, the symphony was on the verge of going under. The Arts and Science Council had threatened to withhold a major grant unless the symphony worked quickly to plug a $1.8 million budget deficit. The symphony cut expenses, salaries and staff. Donors pitched with extra money and disaster was averted. But now Martin worries the public may have misunderstood the symphony's true plight. "The message last year was all about urgency and crisis," says Martin. "The narrative going forward needs to be not just 'Save us! Save us!', but 'Help sustain us.'" Martin says the Charlotte Symphony essentially has four more years to remake its business model, expand its audience and establish an endowment fund. During that time, Martin says the symphony will need to plug a budget gap of about five million dollars. But, he says there are encouraging signs - ticket sales are up and so is the number of new people donating to the symphony. "We've made it through the first quarter of this game," says Martin. "We got three more quarters to go we got a lot of work to do." Next, Martin says he will unveil a new casual concert series geared at people who are intimidated by the symphony's marquee performances.