By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — After raising enough money to wipe out its $350,000 deficit and keep its doors open, the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro now turns to the tough job of turning around its finances.
That effort will get a big boost Nov. 1, when the Thomas Philion, general manager of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, takes the newly created job of president and chief executive officer.
“Our problems in the past have been that we have not had an active development program,” says Bill Bearding, who is president of the festival’s board and is serving as acting executive director.
With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the festival – which recently hired a development director – also plans to hire a consultant to help map its overall operating strategy.
Financial survival of the festival — which each summer invites up to 200 high school and college students from throughout the United States for training and performances — will hinge on effective marketing, promotion and fundraising, says Bearding, president of William Carol Consulting Group, a human resources consultant.
“We very clearly told our patrons and our community that we will have a balanced budget next year and will continue to have a balanced budget,” he says. “A lot of people didn’t realize that you’re supposed to run this place like a business.”
In July, at a Saturday night concert presented by the festival faculty – symphony musicians from throughout the United States and Canada – board member Sue Starr announced that the festival would be forced to close if could not cover its deficit.
The result was an outpouring from more than 600 donors, mainly individuals, whose gifts ranged from $25 to $10,000.
Board members promised to contribute $150,000 if the festival could raise $200,000 from its patrons. As of Sept. 1, the festival had raised $308,000 from patrons.
Bearding said the deficit, which grew over 10 years, mainly was a result of a $350 increase to $1,600 in the average subsidy to students because of competition with other festivals, and a 30 percent boost in the rent charged by Guilford College for the six-week festival.
“We feel like we’re in a position now to go forward,” Bearding says.