Santa arrived early for the Helena Symphony in the garb of anonymous donors. One paid off a $25,000 bill, the symphony’s largest chunk of debt. Others stepped up to pay the symphony’s line of credit debt with a bank, according to symphony executive director Russ Martin.

“I’m starting to believe in miracles,” said Martin. 

The Helena Symphony’s finances are still fragile, he said, but vastly improved from where they were a year ago.

The symphony has reduced its debt by approximately 66 percent, thanks to the generosity of these anonymous donors and is steadily chipping away at the remaining debt, Martin said.

This is just some of the good news in the annual year-end wrap-up on the six major Helena art nonprofits, which include the Archie Bray Foundation, the Myrna Loy Center, the Holter Museum of Art, Grandstreet Theatre and Live! at the Civic. 

Executive directors at all six are cautious, but somewhat optimistic about what the new year will bring. 

“Overall, it continues to be very tough,” said Arlynn “Arni” Fishbaugh, executive director of the Montana Arts Council. “I’m hearing from artists that this year was worse than last year, which they didn’t think possible.” Across the state, arts organizations report corporate sponsorships have fallen off, she said. 

Here’s a brief recap of the outlook at some of the largest Helena arts groups:

-- Archie Bray Foundation reports a great year. They had a very successful 6oth anniversary celebration, bringing in hundreds of visitors and artists from across the globe. Sponsorships, donors and art-sale commissions brought in $600,000, while the art auction grossed $510,000.

-- The Myrna Loy Center was able to restore staff hours that were cut a year-and-a-half ago during tight times. The Myrna had a very good fall, but summer attendance wasn’t as strong as officials hoped.

-- The Holter Museum of Art looks to end its fiscal year in the black, after trimming expenses and staff overtime. Interim executive director Karen Bohlinger reports sales, donations, memberships and some new grants have been a real boost. An exciting 25th-anniversary year is on the horizon.

-- Grandstreet Theatre had a tough year, expecting to end $30,000 in the red. Attendance is down, as are corporate sponsorships.

-- Live! at the Civic saw a decline in attendance and membership, which the group attributes to the economy and transitioning to a new executive director.

Look for more details about the art nonprofits in the Your Time section, part of today’s Independent Record.

(1) comment


Hope the Symphony and other mentioned groups will survive. My aunt used to play violin with the Symphony back in the 1920s.

Life without the arts, life without music, is not life.

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