Symphony needed $2 million to keep afloat

When the Charlotte Symphony launched an emergency fundraising drive in the summer of 2009, it wasn't kidding about the emergency: To get through the 2009-10 season, it ended up using $2 million of the lifeline.

That's the most dramatic number in the recently completed audit of last season's finances. The emergency money covered nearly a quarter of the orchestra's $8,119,833 expenses for the season, which ended June 30.

"We made a deliberate decision not to mask" in the audit the use of the $2 million, executive director Jonathan Martin said Monday. The need for the emergency money, he said, demonstrates that the orchestra's situation is still "very challenging."

The orchestra has been struggling with deficits since the 2002-03 season. The recession intensified the financial troubles, especially by squelching contributions from businesses. The orchestra reduced expenses in a variety of ways, including pay cuts for players and staff, but those didn't make up for the drop-off in revenue.

The challenges intensified in May 2009, when the Arts & Science Council - whose fundraising also has suffered from the recession - announced it would reduce its support of the orchestra by $1 million a year.

Soon after that, the orchestra launched its emergency drive, seeking $5.7 million for a multi-year bridge fund to help the orchestra pay its bills while it works to increase its ticket sales and donor base.

As the 2009-10 season unfolded, encouraging signs emerged, Martin said. Ticket sales, at $2.4 million, were more than 15 percent higher than in the preceding season.

But the ASC's $1 million cut went into effect as the season began. And corporate contributions, continuing a slide from the 2007 high of $1 million, totaled less than $450,000.