Turnaround For Hartford Symphony's 75th Anniversary
When asked if the Hartford Symphony Orchestra's latest managerial strategy and turnaround could be called "HSO.2," Executive Director Steve Collins smiled, saying, "More like 'HSO.8' if you're talking about our 75-year history."
After decades of dire fiscal fortunes, including near-bankruptcy as recently as 2015, it appears that the second-largest symphony in New England — after the considerably larger Boston Symphony — is finally on a more solid fiscal path. It has produced two fiscal years of modest surpluses ($40,000 and $45,000) and it's rounding the corner on a third.
"One year in the black is exciting, two is promising and three is a trend — and we're having a good year now," says Collins. "But we need to establish a five- to six-year history of a responsible financial period to feel confident."
Still, the numbers surrounding its $6 million annual budget are positive. Earned revenue is up 35 percent over the last four years to $2.5 million while total revenue is up 22 percent from $4.4 million to $5.4 million.
With the demise of the Connecticut Opera and Hartford Ballet, the Hartford Symphony for a time looked like it would be the third arts institution of "The Big Six" to call it quits in the Capital City. (The other three — Hartford Stage, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and The Bushnell — are in relatively stable fiscal state.)
The HSO, as it is commonly called, began its latest series of financial and labor issues in the late 1980s.
Since the millennium, competition in the marketplace, decreasing attendance, concertgoers' changing buying habits, institutional resistance to change, lack of arts education to nurture new audiences and labor challenges contributed to years of deficits, debt and a growing doubt a symphony the HSO's size could survive in the 21st century.