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CSO finds a lifeline to carry it past the holiday season

Orchestrated Survival

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Since revealing almost three weeks ago that its immediate future is in jeopardy, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra seems to have found an inch of wiggle room to carry on.

After alerting the 46 staff musicians that their December salaries were at stake unless money was immediately raised, the CSO's plight received heavy coverage on The Post and Courier and here in City Paper.

In the wake of those stories, Jan Newcomb, CSO executive director, reports that over $150,000 has come in, much of it in small donations from folks saying they don't have much, but the symphony's survival is important.

On Wednesday, the CSO announced that a group of long-time supporters offered a $75,000 matching pledge for donations arriving between now and the end of January. The challenge requires all donations be above $1,000, but any amount up to $75,000 will be doubled.

"It's to encourage major donors," Newcomb says. "From the articles, we have gotten a lot of lovely gifts ... but we need to get some of the bigger donors back, too."

Newcomb says that while the $150,000 they've raised in the last three weeks is far better than in prior months, it's still less than the same period in normal years.

She calls 2008 "the worst year in history, as far as fund-raising." Normally, the final months of the year bring a flood of donations, as people take into account the tax write-off value of giving.

One of the CSO's funding problems may be a lack of development and marketing. Three billboards went up promoting the symphony on I-26 this week, donated by Adams Outdoor Advertising, but pitching for donations has been largely limited to mailers sent to past donors and word of mouth.

Newcomb hopes to design a more sophisticated development strategy, as well as build a stronger endowment. She's currently writing grant requests and says that if the $75,000 is raised (and then doubled by the challenge to a total of $150,000), she's hopeful the season will be completed.

"I'm forever the optimist," she says. "I just really want to make it through our obligations for the season."

Three weeks after being notified of the crunch, however, the musicians' union has yet to respond about the board's request to renegotiate the union's contract. Agreeing to that would most likely mean a pay-cut. Board President Ted Legasey says that any salary cut would be across the board, from musicians to administrative staff.

If musicians compromise and matched donations occur, the CSO may weather the storm.

Although Newcomb hopes to find a sustainable economic model for future seasons, she also hopes donors remember to view the CSO as a organization for the public good and not a private, for-profit company.

Just as National Public Radio must carry out quarterly fund-raising drives, the CSO needs consistent charitable donations.

"We're not here to make money," she says. "We're here to present music."

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