This week, Isthmus asks the mayoral candidates what the city should do to solve the Overture Center's financial problems.
Their responses follow below.
The Daily Page: The Overture Center's trust fund dropped nearly $1.7 million in value last year, and the arts center is facing a $735,000 shortfall in its 2007 budget. What went wrong and what should the city do now?
The Overture Center will help keep Madison, especially downtown Madison, a destination point. As such, it is vital that Overture succeed. As mayor, I will work to help Overture succeed, but I will do it without spending any more taxpayer dollars to further subsidize it.
As mayor I will work with the arts community to develop a creative fundraising plan that would allow Overture to raise private funds to reduce dependency on ticket sales, without negatively affecting the fundraising of the other arts organizations.
I would also reopen discussion with the state and county about providing financial support for Overture, since a significant number of visitors live outside the city of Madison.
Trolleys won't boost ticket sales at Overture. To ensure the financial success of Overture, we must ensure its commercial success. This includes creating more downtown parking, and retaining respected leaders such as Michael Goldberg. I was greatly disappointed that the mayor chose not to renew Michael Goldberg's contract to lead Overture.
I would also like to see Overture broaden its appeal to expand its customer base by showcasing more original and locally created work, and becoming an arts education center for the schools.
Overture has budget concerns primarily for two reasons. Attendance is down and the investments didn't perform as hoped by those who supported last year's refinancing. Overture needs to do four things:
- Book shows that more people want to see.
- Increase private support.
- Keep costs down.
- Strengthen their connection with the community with a diverse outreach program.
That's why I hired new Overture Director Tom Carto. Tom has long experience and a good track record in all four areas. Jerry Frautschi gave the city a gift that will last a century. We knew there would be some growing pains, but I'm confident that with a generous arts community and Tom's leadership these near-term budget issues will be addressed.
What went wrong? Maybe the mayor's "contagious" optimism influenced an imprudent investment decision. Put simply, the endowment fund yield assumptions were too optimistic and thus fell short of expected return on investment. Taxpayers already contribute nearly $2 million yearly to Overture Center operations, and are at risk for construction loans of nearly $30 million. This level of subsidy has reached a point where donors and supporters must do the rest. Taxpayers are doing enough already.
A year has gone by and the mayor's optimism has cost us the forgone opportunity to fill the yield shortfall, not with taxpayers' money, but with philanthropic contributions. Unfortunately that trolley left the station. The city is confronting significant problems delivering basic services, such a safe drinking water, public safety, and providing effective support to our neighborhoods. Addressing these problems should be our highest investment priority.
The Overture Center is a wonderful asset to Madison, but it must not be an undue burden on taxpayers. As Mayor I will work with the Overture Foundation and Arts Board to encourage operational efficiencies, and raise sufficient donor contributions to ensure the ongoing success of the center.
The city had a crooked mayor who misdirected mega-high property taxes ' millions -- into Mafia contractors' pockets: Yet some contractors are clean. Voters must come out en masse in the February primary to vote Dr. Will Sandstrom into the general election for mayor, to reduce property taxes and use them correctly and wisely, guaranteed.
Note: An error in Cieslewicz's fourth point regarding Overture was corrected on Tuesday, Jan. 23.