In mid-2010, the executive directors of Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera, and Dayton Philharmonic, along with the chairs and presidents of their respective boards posed a question to themselves: do you think it’s possible to merge our three organizations?
Now, 16 months later those discussions have concluded in a merger which is the first of its kind in the U.S. The three organizations introduced themselves last week as the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance.
The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance begins its new life with new funding. The newly formed Alliance has already received significant funding commitments or support including a $500,000 gift over two years from the Harry A. Toulmin, Jr., and Virginia B. Toulmin Fund of The Dayton Foundation and another $500,000 over two years from an anonymous donor, with a potential additional grant of $250,000 in year three. Encouraged by these two generous lead gifts the Arts Alliance will continue to seek other sources of funding, with a strong indication of interest from a number of other Dayton organizations and individuals.
“The merger of the Ballet, Opera, and Philharmonic represents some of our best collaborative thinking as a community,” said Dick DeLon, Dayton Philharmonic Board Chair. “We are planning for future success by creating a single management structure and business operating unit, while preserving and promoting the integrity and identity of each of the participating arts groups.”
The question the arts groups initially posed to themselves led them to The Dayton Foundation which was able to provide a structure and financial assistance for their successful merger discussions.
Mike Parks, The Dayton Foundation President, commended the three arts organizations for their spirit of innovation and creative thinking about how to enhance and even transform performing arts for the benefit of the community.
Parks said, “Over the past 16 months, The Dayton Foundation was also pleased to assist their management and Boards with funds from the Nonprofit Alliance Support Program. The program, funded by The Dayton Foundation, the Dayton Power & Light Foundation, and Montgomery County (OH), is designed to support partnership and merger explorations of nonprofits.”
“It took great foresight, courage, and leadership to engage in the complex due diligence process and pursue a common vision. We are thrilled with what this first-in-the-nation merger will mean for Greater Dayton. The Dayton Ballet, Opera, and Philharmonic are integral to the cultural health of our community, and this merger, this act of renewal, energizes our culture for generations to come,” Parks said.
According to Greg Robinson, Chairman of the Dayton Opera Association Board, the two new major grants are to be used to help the Alliance manage costs associated with the merger, itself, with projected operating shortfalls while economies of scale are realized. These grants will also and, perhaps most importantly, provide support for new artistic initiatives that are at the heart of this innovative merger plan.
Robinson said that the new Alliance will also be well positioned to focus on increased ticket sales, co-marketing opportunities and new sources of funding and sponsorships. “Our plan is premised upon a higher level of engagement from the community through memberships, attendance, and philanthropy. We’re excited about opportunities to broaden and deepen our relationships throughout the community.”
Jeremy Trahan, President of the Dayton Ballet Association Board, described both the importance of maintaining the individual identity of the arts organizations while seeking new opportunities for artistic collaboration.
“In our planning process, we recognized that a single, stronger governing body could also facilitate artistic collaboration in a way that had not been fully explored in our community, or even nationally. We have the foundation now for very forward thinking in performing arts.”
“Increased financial efficiencies may be what people think of first when they learn of this merger, and that is certainly an important outcome,” said Martine Meredith Collier, President and CEO of Culture Works, the united arts fund and service agency for the Dayton region. “However, what is equally exciting to me is the quality of the artistic product that will be possible within this new and innovative organizational structure. The potential for outstanding performances, highlighting the best of each art form, is unlimited as is the opportunity for expanding the delivery of arts education and community outreach resources through consolidated efforts.”
The merger agreement was approved during the week of January 30, 2012 individually by each of the arts organization’s respective governing boards. The final step in formalizing the merger agreement will be voted upon by the Dayton Ballet membership on February 22, 2012 and Dayton Opera Associations’ membership on March 1, 2012, per those organizations’ by-laws.