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Time to tip our hats to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic 

Whether or not you're a fan of symphonic music, everyone in Colorado Springs should be tipping their hats to the newly formed Colorado Springs Philharmonic for the improbable feat of far exceeding their fund-raising goal of $650,000.

They not only accomplished this seemingly impossible goal in less than four months, but they also did it in a down economy and in a town with a notoriously grim reputation for its support of the arts. The Philharmonic exceeded its $650,000 goal by nearly $150,000 -- putting in motion additional grants worth $325,000 from four local foundations. Altogether the fledgling organization raised a grand total of more than $1.12 million for its operating budget (not including the nearly $300,000 in ticket sales thus far).

To put this in perspective, let's go back to September 2002 when the board of the now-defunct Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra attempted to raise $900,000 dollars in a similar four-month period ending on Dec. 31 of that year.

Though the CSSO's efforts were valiant, they fell short, eventually forcing the board to enter into the bankruptcy proceedings that closed the CSSO in February 2003. At the time, many musicians and symphony supporters believed the board simply hadn't done enough; and the board was trying to force musicians into a downsizing agreement that would have cut salaries and forced the symphony to compromise its artistic integrity.

With Executive Director Susan Greene -- who was fired without explanation from the same position with the CSSO two years ago -- back at the helm of the CSP, musicians are confident that, pay cut or no, their best interests are being served by someone who truly loves the organization. More than anything, what has been restored to the musicians and their new organization is trust.

Considering that nearly 10 symphonies around the country have experienced serious financial difficulty or bankruptcy in the past two years, one has to wonder how the CSP did it. With traditional donors and ticket holders (many of whom got burned when the CSSO closed) feeling skeptical and understandably reluctant to part with their money again so soon, the Philharmonic knew they'd have to reach out and regain the trust of many old donors and season ticket holders while courting new donors and potential new fans as well.

As part of its campaign, the organization has begun to build a grass-roots campaign based on small donors while trying to reinvigorate more traditional supporters. During its campaign, they hosted creative fund-raisers, including a 24-hour nonstop concert in the produce section at King Soopers. While such a stunt may have seemed hokey to some, the event raised $10,000 in small donations.

They also held free concerts in churches all around the community, reaching out beyond the confines of their longtime established home, the Pikes Peak Center. Third, the Philharmonic secured support from Mayor Lionel Rivera who stated that he didn't want to be mayor of a city that didn't have an orchestra. Fourth, they put season ticket money in an escrow account so that, in the event of a sudden economic turn, season ticket holders would not be left holding the bag.

The result of these efforts is a truly American come-from-behind underdog story the likes of Seabiscut, but people in the community will need to continue to show this kind of support long after the adrenaline and excitement of this year's inaugural season have worn off.

The new board of directors of the CSP should keep in mind the breakdown in trust the CSSO suffered when it fired Greene and covertly maneuvered to renegotiate musician contracts.

As for the Philharmonic: Its director and musicians must be cognizant that the constant cultivation of new audience members and supporters could mean everything from playing concerts with local rock bands to playing at retirement centers.

Finally, the former symphony supporters who are not yet on board with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic should recognize that an incredible thing has happened for symphonic music here, and throw their financial and moral support behind the CSP.

-- nblack@csindy.com

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