While most local arts organizations were singing the blues to the Ann Arbor News late last year, Barast sounded a brighter note. Others spoke of 10 and even 20 percent deficits, but Barast said the crisis had simply “caused us to rethink things a little bit.” The symphony, he said, could compensate by “programming repertoire that is in the public domain more” to save on royalties.
Two days after the story appeared, Barast learned that balancing the budget would take more than tweaking the programming: “I came into the office and discovered I was being laid off indefinitely.”
“The irony of all of this is that the music has never been better,” says Barast’s former boss, AASO executive director Mary Steffek Blaske. Until last fall, its finances had likewise never been better—with an annual budget of $1 million, the symphony had ended every season in the black for fourteen years.
But in September, Steffek Blaske says, the recession “finally started hitting us. There were drops in subscriptions and single tickets for the first three concerts.” And just like that, the symphony was looking at a projected deficit of $100,000.