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Stimulus grant saves MSO staff

July 20, 2009

HAGERSTOWN -- A federal stimulus package grant will help the Hagerstown-based Maryland Symphony Orchestra retain its administrative staff despite declining donations and ticket sales, MSO executive director Andrew Kipe said.

The orchestra was selected by the Maryland State Arts Council to receive a $12,500 grant through the Maryland Arts Employment Stabilization Program, which is part of a national effort to preserve arts jobs threatened by the economic downturn.

The funding was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was awarded to Maryland from the National Endowment for the Arts, according to a state press release.

The MSO was one of 29 Maryland arts organizations awarded the employment stabilization grants by the state arts council, which distributed a total of $306,050, the release said.

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The grant gives the orchestra some "breathing room" in a budget that already has required some concessions from orchestra members and staff, Kipe said.

"It's been a rough year for the orchestra," he said.

The MSO ended last fiscal year on June 30 with one of the largest deficits in the orchestra's history, Kipe said.

Determined not to cut back on concert offerings or the orchestra's educational programs, the MSO has turned to other ways of cutting expenses, Kipe said.

The players made some concessions in a new labor contract, staff have seen changes to their health-care benefits, and Kipe and the orchestra's music director took small pay cuts, he said.

Had it not been for the grant funding, staffing levels would have been the next thing the orchestra would have had to look at, Kipe said. He said the grant should allow the orchestra to keep all of its staff.

The MSO has six full-time and three part-time employees, Kipe said. They are responsible for areas such as marketing, fundraising and concert logistics, he said.

Kipe said other orchestras across the country have dealt with reduced income by either cutting back on their number of concerts or reducing educational activities. The MSO thought either path would send the wrong message to the community, Kipe said.

"In difficult times, music is one of the things that really helps people through, emotionally," he said. "We wanted to make sure we were continuing to do what we were doing, that the community has come to rely on."

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