Q&A: Susan T. Danis

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(Cosi Fan Tutte, opening this weekend from Florida Grand Opera)

To those of us who cover and attend the cultural arts in South Florida and elsewhere, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that funding for the opera isn’t as high as it was in centuries past, when it was a dominant form of popular entertainment. But even I was shocked to see just how dire Florida Grand Opera’s funding situation is in Broward County. The company announced earlier this month that if it doesn’t meet its fundraising goal of $600,000 by Jan. 31, it will be unable to bring its 2015-2016 season to the Broward Center. That’s because contributions from Broward County sank from $2,038,633 in 2010 to $574,644 in 2014.

“FGO lost over $125,000 on its four productions at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts last season, and there is a projected loss again this season. Given FGO’s delicate financial condition, this cannot be repeated,” said FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis in a statement.

An anonymous donor quickly stepped forward, offering to match every dollar raised in this effort. But at the time of this writing, the company still has a steep climb toward meeting its goal, with just one more week to achieve it. Danis spoke to Boca Raton via phone to elaborate on the situation.

I was shocked that 2 million dollars in fundraising could dwindle to 574,000 in just a few years. What accounts for such a drop in Broward County contributions?

First of all, I’ve only been here since 2012, so what I’m saying is conjecture. What I know from talking with people is that for one thing, we have one person who is responsible for overseeing Broward operations. In 2006, we had five staff members working on the marketing and development in Broward. The Opera has contracted in response to the economic downturn and the incredible impact that the bottom falling out of the housing market has had on this area.

Secondly, there were always a couple of key supporters in Broward that were very generous to us. Unfortunately, they’ve gone on to the great opera company in the sky. The challenge is that we’ve not had folks step forward with that same giving capacity.

What do you think it would mean for this community, culturally, if there were no performances in Broward?

I think it would be really bad. The company has been performing there since before the Broward Center opened. There was the Greater Miami Opera and the Opera Guild of Fort Lauderdale. They go way back; Miami goes back to 1941. They merged in 1994, but they were performing long before the Broward Center was built in 1989. It’s been a really important part of the cultural fiber of the community, and for it not to be there anymore would be a shame.

Raising so much money by Jan. 31 seems like a challenge, because there’s such a limited time frame. But has the matching pledge by this anonymous donor moved anybody else to make donations?

I would love to tell you yes. They have, but in small amounts. The key thing is that we’ve raised $574,000. The stretch is just the $50,000 needed to reach the $600 thousand goal. In the mailing we did to every active ticket-buyer that attends the Broward Center performances, we’re just ensuring that people are coming with us next year and that we don’t have a deficit in Broward. We just want you to say, ‘I’m going to stretch a little bit, and you can count on me for a gift this year.’ We’re trying to raise awareness that things aren’t profitable in Broward anymore.

Why is it that the company remains successful in Miami but not Broward?

I think it’s changing demographics. Both counties have changed a great deal. It seems to me that even in my time, the different art offerings continue to increase, and it always gives people more options to choose from. Since art and entertainment is delivered so electronically, many people are opting to stay home.

One of the larger questions is, is opera so much of an endangered art form that problems like this will continue to arise as the core audience ages out?

I think that’s a huge, overrated thing in the U.S. about the performing arts. Opera is an art form people come to when they’re a little older. If you’re raising kids, and you both work, it’s tough to find time to go. But there are young people in the audience. It’s not all 70-plus-year-olds. We do lots to increase people coming in. It’s a bigger issue of how people consume culture. We’re all working on that as cultural arts organizations, so that people understand that while you can go to a movie theater and see a production at the Met or a ballet broadcast, it’s not the same experience as being live in a theater. The challenge is to convey to people that it is a unique experience.

To make a pledge and help preserve professional opera in Broward County, contact FGO Senior Individual Giving Officer Max Kellogg at 305/403-3289 or e-mail mkellogg@fgo.org. The company’s latest production, “Cosi Fan Tutte,” runs Saturday, Jan. 24 through Jan. 31 at the Arsht Center in Miami, and Feb. 12 and 14 at the Broward Center. For tickets and information, visit fgo.org.