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MSO seeks community's help with Salute to Independence

March 23, 2011|By DON AINES and JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Maryland Symphony Orchestra Interim Executive Director April Dowler spoke Wednesday morning about the $50,000 shortfall in funds for this year's Salute To Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.
Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

The date for the 26th Salute to Independence is July 2, but the more important day for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra might be May 1 — the deadline to close a $50,000 shortfall in funding for the extravaganza at Antietam National Battlefield.

Earlier this week, symphony interim Executive Director April Dowler said the MSO hopes to close the gap by May 1 so musicians can reserve the July date, and contracts with vendors can be signed.

The loss of a major sponsor and reductions in other sponsorship levels — combined with an expected reduction in the battlefield's contribution — could leave the MSO $40,000 to $50,000 short of the $124,000 it needs to put on the concert and fireworks display, Dowler said Wednesday at a news conference.

Ed Wenschhof, the acting battlefield superintendent, said Tuesday he told MSO officials in February that the battlefield's cash commitment to the concert might only be $10,000 this year. Traditionally, the park service has provided $20,000 to $25,000 for the event, along with in-kind contributions, he said.

The federal government has been operating on a series of continuing congressional funding resolutions, and the battlefield also has to contend with rising costs for expenses such as fuel and utilities, leaving less money for special events, he said.

Other traditional sources of funding, such as $20,000 the MSO has received in recent years from Washington County's lodging tax, are expected to amount to about $74,000, Dowler said.

The MSO has not yet met with the Washington County Commissioners regarding the contribution, said Vicki Willman, MSO director of development.

The cost of producing the concert is about $229,000, of which $94,000 is a direct cost to the MSO, Dowler said.

That includes money to pay the musicians, and for stage equipment, fireworks and other services, according to a breakdown provided by the MSO.

Administrative costs for the MSO, and time and resources spent organizing for the event, add another $30,000 to the symphony's cost, Willman said.

The balance of the $105,000 comes in the form of  donated services and goods, which are expected to be unaffected, Dowler said.

That includes the services of park rangers, Maryland State Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and State Highway Administration for security and traffic control, along with emergency medical services, trash collection and site preparation.

Vendors often contribute some of their services, such as a portion of the costs for advertising, staging, portable toilets, and food and refreshments for musicians and crew, according to the budget breakdown.

A gift to the community

Since a story about the shortfall was published in The  Herald-Mail Tuesday, the MSO has been contacted by individuals and companies interested in sponsorships, Dowler said. However, nothing has been finalized from those contacts, she said.

The MSO has an endowment, but Dowler said it would be impractical to draw on that for the Salute to Independence.

"If we go into our endowment at the rate of $50,000 year after year, we won't have an endowment," she said.

Because the event is held on a national battlefield, admission cannot be charged, Dowler said. Tony Dahbura, president of the MSO board of directors, said the event is a gift to the community, and the symphony is asking for the community's help.

The campaign is an opportunity for new sponsors and donors to step forward and preserve the tradition, Dahbura said.

The Salute to Independence attracts 30,000 or more spectators, drawing more tourists to the county than any other event, Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said earlier this week.

Dowler said estimates of its local economic impact range from $500,000 to $800,000.

Contributions can be mailed or dropped off at the MSO office at 30 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, Md. 21740, or on the website

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