At the Canadian Opera Company’s Annual General Meeting yesterday, the COC announced news that General Director Alexander Neef has extended his contract through to the 2025/2026 season. This means that by 2026, Neef will be the longest-serving General Director of the COC (18 years), after Richard Bradshaw.
“The commitment of Alexander’s leadership of the COC for the next nine years ensures vital organizational continuity and sets the stage for the next phase of the company’s evolution,” said COC Board Chair Colleen Sexsmith.
The second announcement was the release of the COC’s 2016-17 annual report, outlining the financial health of the COC. The verdict is good, showing a stable year of moderate growth, particularly in fundraising, which has balanced out the COC’s moderate but worrying declines in ticket revenues.
The report also shows the COC’s continued commitment towards a fiscally conservative approach, which includes a six production season rather than the usual seven, and a focus on highlighting performers rather than opulent set designs, which allows them to keep costs down significantly.
While the report is a no news is good news situation in many ways, this appears to be the strategy moving forward for the COC. In the not-for-profit arts world, once an organization reaches a certain size, the challenge becomes on how to maintain that size in the face of changing market conditions, such as skyrocketing production costs, historically low levels of leisure time in North America, and multimedia disruption from online streaming. Each of these factors has had serious consequences for opera companies around the world.
“What is imperative in the years to come is that we not only maintain, but exceed that level of excellence, in order to fulfill the unique purpose of the COC as a Canadian opera producer — a company that is responsive to contemporary realities in a global context, and in touch with the voices and perspectives that are essential to exploring what our art form can mean in the 21st century,” said Neef. “That we are embarking on this next chapter from a position of strength gives me all the confidence in our success.”
Where the report showed that the COC have recognized and filled revenue gaps with charitable mandates, these were handsomely rewarded to the tune of 13.9 million in revenue — more than making up for the slight decline in ticket sales. The result is a humble surplus of $11,000.
- bank line of credit is reduced to zero (from $1.5M in 2016, available credit of $2.5M) — this is after two years of significant increases in balance;
- good fundraising year, up a couple of million.
- good foundation contributions with steady balances in the foundation
- most costs contained with modest increases — production costs are up despite decrease in performances, but justified in that half of the productions presented were new to COC, so no reuse of existing infrastructure and therefore requirement for increased costs
- ticket sales are decreasing on all fronts, subscription, single and 30 and under. Reliance on fundraising is increasing, which is good for the short-term, but one wonders what the strategy is in finding more diverse forms of revenue streams to fund areas of growth such as community outreach and artistic development.