From TOLEDO ALLIANCE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
The Toledo Symphony and Toledo Ballet today announced plans to merge the area’s oldest performing arts institutions. The Toledo Symphony, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is recognized as one of the finest regional orchestras in the country. The Toledo Ballet, celebrating its 78th season, is recognized as one of America’s finest pre-professional dance programs. By joining forces, the Symphony and Ballet will build on an accumulated 153 years of performing arts history to present the finest performing arts in the region and reaffirm their shared focus upon education.
The merged organization will be known as the Toledo Alliance for the Performing Arts, or T.A.P.A. The new non-profit is expected to form effective January 1, 2019. The Symphony and Ballet will continue to operate as sibling brands under the T.A.P.A. umbrella. Zak Vassar, President & CEO of the Toledo Symphony will become CEO of the combined organization. The Toledo Ballet has operated for several months without an Executive Director.
“This partnership is a natural one,” says Vassar, “The Toledo Symphony and Toledo Ballet have worked together for over 70 years, with the Symphony serving as the Ballet’s pit orchestra. Our archives are rich with collaborations, and we have a great history of working together to entertain and inspire this community.”
The Toledo Symphony first performed with the Toledo Ballet in the 1949 performance of the Nutcracker. The orchestra has supported the Ballet in every Nutcrackersince, celebrating the nation’s longest-running production of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet. Additionally, the Symphony has presented dancers from Toledo Ballet in many of its series performances, including the Rite of Springin 2015.
“Marie Vogt choreographed several special performances for the Toledo Symphony in the 1950s under then-Music Director Wolfgang Streseman,” recalls Robert Bell, President Emeritus of the Toledo Symphony. “There were special performances of music by Copland and Enescu at the Paramount and Rivoli theaters, too. The Ballet’s dancers beautifully enhanced each program with fresh choreography.” During this formative period of the Toledo Ballet under Marie’s passionate and unwavering commitment to the art, the Symphony retained the Ballet for a variety of educational concerts as well imaginatively staged productions of the Nutcracker Suite.
Besides presenting memorable performances, the Symphony and Ballet have common roots in education. The Toledo Symphony, through the Toledo Symphony School of Music and three Toledo Symphony Youth Orchestras, provides music instruction to nearly 350 student performers each year. The Toledo Ballet School presents a comprehensive instruction program, including classical ballet, ballroom, jazz, tap, and hip hop. The Ballet School carries certification from the American Ballet Theatre and welcomes 300 students annually.
“The Toledo Ballet and Toledo Symphony Orchestra have been collaborating for approximately 78 years,” said Lisa Mayer-Lang, Artistic Director of the Toledo Ballet. “The merging of the two organizations solidifies what has been a wonderful and long-running relationship between us. We are thrilled to take these two organizations into a new direction of collaboration not only for the arts community, but also the entire Toledo region.”
The Toledo Symphony School of Music, Toledo Symphony Youth Orchestras, and Toledo Ballet School will maintain their separate instruction spaces. “In time, I expect that our education activities will come together under one roof,” says Vassar.
In 2017, the Symphony and Ballet experimented with a shared service model, which ultimately led the organizations to explore a closer affiliation. Symphony staff assumed all marketing and box office responsibilities for the Ballet’s 2017 presentation of the Nutcracker.
“We redesigned the Nutcracker brand into something really magical,” reflects Symphony Marketing Director Felecia Kanney. “This helped us to talk up the scale of the production, its massive sets, incredible dancers, and the full Toledo Symphony in the pit. It’s a really professional Nutcracker, and we’re proud to be part of such a lasting community legacy.”
Proof was in the (Sugar Plum) pudding. In the first year of collaboration, Nutcracker ticket sales were up 25 percent, and the Ballet celebrated one of its most profitable seasons on record.
The Symphony and Ballet applied for funding from the Strategic Alliance Partnership program at the Toledo Community Foundation late in 2017. This funding enabled the organizations to secure the services of La Piana, a California-based consultancy that specializes in non-profit mergers. Through a nine-month process, the organizations explored different collaboration models before ultimately deciding to form T.A.P.A.
“We are lucky to live in a community that so encourages collaboration,” says the Symphony’s Vassar. “The team at the Toledo Community Foundation were supportive through this process. Along the way, they were curious about what we were baking. They really challenged us to dream big and consider something special for our community. I really welcomed their encouragement and their fascination with our progress.”
“Toledo Community Foundation’s Strategic Alliance Partnership is here to provide the support of our local nonprofits necessary for the study of the challenges and opportunities available in a potential collaboration or partnership,” said Keith Burwell, President of Toledo Community Foundation. “With the help of the Strategic Alliance Partnership, we can explore options ranging from consolidating administrative or back-office functions, combining programming, integrating fundraising initiatives, or possibly a full merger of organizations. This looks different for every potential partnership. The Foundation is thrilled that the Symphony and Ballet have found some opportunities here, never threatening the quality of the arts programming they each deliver.”
The Symphony and Ballet are excited to bring an unprecedented level of cooperation into the community. “For too long, we have heard about arts organizations struggling,” says the Symphony’s Vassar. “And while it’s true that organizations might compete for attendance, we feel that this collaboration sends an important message to our community that these two growing organizations are joining forces to achieve greater heights together.”
“Merging now makes sense,” Vassar continues, “we don’t need two separate box offices, two separate marketing teams, two separate fundraising groups. By working together, we can simplify the operation and maximize the art forms.” The Symphony, which employs a professional staff of 30, will welcome the Ballet staff of six, to its downtown offices.
The 15 trustees of the Toledo Ballet will join the 38 trustees of the Toledo Symphony to serve as the Board of Trustees for T.A.P.A. Three Ballet trustees will join 12 Symphony trustees in T.A.P.A.’s executive committee. Pam Hershberger, the Symphony’s Board Chair, will chair the new organization.
“After several months of discussion, we are very pleased to be announcing the merger of the Toledo Ballet and the Toledo Symphony Orchestra,” said Pam Hershberger, Board Chair of the Toledo Symphony. “This collaboration will allow both organizations to grow. The educational opportunities for the students of these art forms will benefit greatly from this combination.”
This type of collaboration has precedent. In 2012, the Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Ballet, and Dayton Opera merged to form the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. “All of us at the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance were thrilled to hear of the new alliance between Toledo Ballet and the Toledo Symphony,” said Paul Helfrich, President & CEO of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. “Our 6 years as a merged organization combining ballet, opera, and orchestra here in Dayton has taught us that there is much to be gained in such a partnership. Performances can be enhanced, new opportunities explored, and a better experience may be offered to patrons. Further, the community knows that its resources invested in the arts are being used in a thoughtful and efficient way. We wish our friends in Toledo much success and a great partnership.”
“Through our past collaborations—especially the 2017 Nutcracker—we have engendered an amazing level of trust across the Symphony and Ballet trustees, staff, musicians, and dancers. We are starting out on such a positive footing, so we really can walk hand-in-hand from the start and imagine new and exciting ways to collaborate,” says Vassar.
The Symphony is currently planning its 2019-2020 season and envisions several large and small collaborations. “The art of choreography can highlight the orchestral product in dynamic ways,” says Trudel. “The possibilities aren’t limited to existing ballets, either. We can add dance to standard repertoire and reimagine the visual component that typical performances lack.” The Symphony will continue to present programs without dancing as well.
The Symphony and Ballet are excited to spread their wings. This weekend, the two organizations will present a collaboration from another famous Tchaikovsky ballet, Swan Lake. “The timing is really a coincidence,” says the Symphony’s new Music Director, Alain Trudel. “We started planning this concert over a year ago, long before a merger was even considered. Since this weekend is my debut as Music Director, I wanted to include our community partners at the Ballet in our season opener. Little did I know then that we would be announcing such an exciting and important merger just beforehand!”
Trudel is excited for this weekend’s performance. “I cannot wait for this weekend and our performances at the Peristyle. It has been a true honor to work with Lisa Mayer-Lang at the Toledo Ballet and her team of talented dancers and instructors. This is a wonderful way to begin my time in Toledo. I have to applaud the leadership at the Symphony and Ballet for recognizing the power and potential that this kind of arts partnership demonstrates to the community.”
The Symphony’s Bell applauds the abundant potential within this merger to strengthen and expand the very extensive teaching and educational programs that are exemplary for both organizations. “I am happy to see these two storied organizations pledge to build more wonderful performances for years to come.” Marie Vogt, founder of the Toledo Ballet shares her enthusiasm. “Music has always empowered my life—it will be very helpful for the dancers to hear that lovely music!”