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November 29, 2014

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Smith Center a mixed blessing for performing arts groups

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Steve Marcus

Myron Martin, left, Smith Center president and CEO, stands on center stage after a topping-off ceremony for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.

Click to enlarge photo

Mayor Oscar Goodman signs a beam during a topping-off ceremony for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.

Map of Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Smith Center for the Performing Arts

361 Symphony Park Ave Las Vegas, NV, Las Vegas

Beyond the Sun

Las Vegas’ largest performing arts institutions, the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre, have faced an odd predicament over the past two years: an economy that’s forced them to slash budgets, while simultaneously struggling to grow in preparation for their move to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Shrink and grow, at once.

But their relocation to what will be the Las Vegas Valley’s new headquarters for the arts will demand larger budgets. As they look ahead, both groups believe it can be done, citing the hard work of the past two years.

The Philharmonic, which had a $200,000 deficit at the end of 2008, is out of the red, augmenting its education programs and developing a three-year budget based on the costs of the Smith Center.

Nevada Ballet — which in March 2009 cut costs by letting go of nine dancers, other staff and postponing its season finale — ran a surplus last fiscal year, which Executive Director and CEO Beth Barbre said was one of the strongest in the company’s history.

Yet operating costs will grow significantly once they become tenants of the Smith Center just over a year from now.

The rent for the $425 million center will be higher than the venues they perform in now. Both will also expand their programs in anticipation of greater interest as the center opens.

The ballet has been performing to recorded music and will switch to live music in the Smith Center. It also plans to increase the scale and quality of its productions.

In addition, both companies are increasing their education programs. The Philharmonic will launch a summer camp this year and add another concert to its Masterwork Series.

Jeri Crawford, Philharmonic president and CEO, said she anticipates that the public’s enchantment with the Smith Center will energize donors who will help fund the expansion. “This is as much about the Smith Center experience as it is about the Philharmonic,” Crawford said.

Similarly, Barbre said the ballet’s annual fundraising efforts this spring will be billed as the “journey to the Smith Center.”

Yet the center as a fundraising juggernaut in its own right is shifting the dynamic of arts fundraising as the ballet and Philharmonic attempt to increase their budgets.

The Smith Center received a $50 million grant in 2005 from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which gave it a $100 million challenge grant a couple of years later. Elaine Wynn recently gave $5 million. It also will receive public money from car rental fees.

While emphasizing that the Smith Center has been “wonderful” to the Philharmonic, Crawford also said she has seen corporate donations dwindle as a result of the economy and amid competition for donations from the center, whose Founders Club requires $1 million from each contributor.

“We’re honored to be part of the Smith Center … but that money doesn’t trickle down to help us with concerts and operating budgets,” Crawford said. “We have to ask and educate the community of what our needs are. We’re looking for corporate sponsors that want to go with us into the Smith Center.”

Even if it has made raising money more difficult, the Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet will benefit from the Smith Center’s success.

Myron Martin, Smith Center president and CEO, said the resident companies’ rent for performances will be but a fraction of the center’s actual operating costs. The Smith Center will tap its wallet to defray those costs.

“The Smith Center is underwriting the operating costs while the resident companies are in the building so their cost is reasonable,” he said. “It’s part of our planned approach to supporting the resident companies, part of our mission and our business model.”

Crawford said it’s too soon to reveal the orchestra’s next budget. The organization, which moves its concerts to the Smith Center in March 2012 (midseason), is still in contract negotiations with the Smith Center.

But Crawford said the Philharmonic is in a good position to move forward: “We have a very clear understanding of where we are and what we have to do to get to where we need to be.”

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  1. Will there be slots in the lobby? Maybe that is how to fund the budget shortfalls! It is, after all, Vegas! Maybe run a book on how well the center will do after 5 years!

  2. The Smith PAC is a welcome addition to Dowtown and the community of Las Vegans (and visitors) who desire access to "traditional" forms and presentations of performing arts. No progress is made without sacrifice and risk, so kudos and thanks to the organizations taking the risk to transform themselves and Las Vegas.

  3. The Smith Center will be a welcome addition to the city. Every Venue should not have a Casino attached
    and Mayor Goodman has been a Visionary on the Performing Arts Center. Now on to an Arena in Symphony Park paid for with Taxes on the Downtown Casinos, Naming Rights, Parking and The Venue itself. If Harrahs wants an arena over the objections of MGM, let Harrahs pay for it themselves. Harrahs has been poor stewards of most of their rag-tag properties and I can just imaging what their arena would look like in a few years.

  4. Unfortunately, non-profits have to behave more like for profits when it comes to raising money in this economy.
    As a donor to many cultural projects in Las Vegas this town has shrunk to the point where raising money through the usual resources has caused major donor fatigue to those that have supported this town's endeavors in so many generous ways for so many years.

    The organizations here are the usual suspects in not having the ability to raise funds in a more innovative ways by getting on board new faces with new abilities. I know for a fact when this town had its' input of "new blood with cash" looking to get involved in local projects - they were sniffed at or ignored because they weren't good enough to be included with the board members that recycle themselves through the same organizations for the past 15 years.
    Now those new faces have left the city because the feel they don't belong and have taken their cash to cities that welcome them.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens when you have three "tenants" in the same building competing for those dollars from the same old group of funders.

    Shame on these long-established non-profits to not have the ability or the foresight to look beyond the same donor pools and resources that should be helping other arts organizations and public projects that do need help to build on their miniscule resources to make them just as good and as worthy as these tenants of the Smith Center think they are.