Dancing For Dollars

October 7, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Executives of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company are hoping their 34th season, which lifts off this month in DeVos Performance Hall, will mean more revenue from ticket sales by the time they raise the curtain on their 35th season next year.

GRBC Artistic Director Gordon Pierce Schmidt told the Convention and Arena Authority that his company is working under a very tight $1.8 million budget.

“That is a small budget for a ballet,” he said.

For a company that has 13 full-time dancers and does 50 performances a year in locations across the state, Pierce would like to see that budget rise to $2.5 million by next fall.

“We think it’s important that the arts flourish here,” he said.

Schmidt and Assistant Artistic Director Laura Berman said they want most of the $700,000 increase to the budget to come from earned income. Right now, that revenue source makes up about half of their annual budget, while the rest comes from grants the company receives.

“That’s a pretty good balance. But we’d like to expand our earned income with the current state of grants,” said Berman.

“This is a tough time for a lot of arts organizations financially. We get very little money from the state,” she added.

GRBC received just one grant from the state this year, for $17,900, or only 2.2 percent of the $806,300 the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs awarded arts and cultural entities in Kent County.

“We’re working hard at creating a bottom line,” said Berman.

Two sources supported her statement. First, Beene Garter gave GRBC a grant because the ballet company is fiscally responsible. The firm has some inside knowledge of the company’s business practices, as their accountants audit its books.

The second validation came from SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan, who works closely with Schmidt and Berman to schedule performance dates in the 2,400-seat theater.

“They have continued to keep a pragmatic emphasis on the business side,” he said. “More than half of their earned income comes from ‘The Nutcracker.’”

The annual performance of the timeless Christmas classic is set for Dec. 9-11, 16, 18, 21 and 22. “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Firebird,” which open the company’s DeVos Performance Hall season, will be danced from Oct. 28-30.

As for the expense side of the ledger, Berman said GRBC does a few things that other dance troupes don’t. Instead of using recorded music for performances, the company hires musicians from the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra to play at a cost of $150,000 each year. And GRBC offers its resident dancers contracts for 38 weeks rather than the 24-week agreements other troupes offer.

Neither Schmidt nor Berman appeared before the Convention and Arena Authority, which is GRBC’s landlord, to ask for money or reduced rent. But both did ask board members for help in making the area more aware of the dance troupe.

“What we need from you is to help support us and promote us. We want to be part of the cultural Mecca that you want to create,” said Berman.

“Once we get people in here, they come back,” added Schmidt.

Although nothing specific came from board members in response to Berman and Schmidt, they seemed willing to act on their request.

“You may well be a model for the rest of us,” said CAA Chairman Steven Heacock. “We’re glad that you’re here and we’re delighted with what you do.”    

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