Dayton Ballet, Opera and Philharmonic Orchesta consider merger

Triggered by declining contributions and season ticket sales that have led to annual budget deficits, the city’s original big three performing arts groups have been discussing ways to combine business operations since August .

On Friday, they launched a six- to eight-month feasibility study to be led by consultant David Ramey of Beavercreek-based Strategic Leadership Associates.

“Cost will be under 30,000, to be paid for by the Dayton Foundation and with some of our own funds,” project spokesman and Dayton Opera board Chairman Greg Robinson said.

“We may be the first to try combining an orchestra, opera and ballet company. If there’s an existing model for that in the United States, we haven’t identified it,” he said. “Even a combined philharmonic and opera model is pretty rare.”

The study will look at “how to retain the individual art forms, but share other operations all three do independently now,” Robinson said.

“For example, all three have their own development staffs and all three license the same software, at a considerable cost. The idea is to explore cost efficiencies, not to do away with anyone’s jobs.”

Like most performing arts companies in the country, the orchestra and ballet have their own business offices and staffs. The Dayton Opera, which has been under the umbrella of the Victoria Theatre Association for 13 years, could change partners if the study leads to a merger.

“The ballet, opera and philharmonic are all producing organizations. That is what we truly have in common,” Robinson said.

Tom Bankston, artistic and general director of the 50-year-old Dayton Opera , said he has met several times about the plan with Dayton Ballet director Dermot Burke and Dayton Philharmonic president Paul Helfrich.

“It’s in all of our interests to look at all options for improving our sustainability, but this is still an investigative process. It’s a great idea. The devil will be in the details,” he said.

Burke recently announced plans to step down as the ballet’s artistic and executive director.

Founded in 1933, the philharmonic is the city’s oldest and largest performing arts group.

Leaders of the three groups have met with Culture Works, said Kathy Hollingsworth, interim president and chief executive of the region’s united arts fund and arts service agency.

“One of the things that we all recognized in the conversation is that there are many decisions to be made – one, even whether ultimately it is going to work or not,” Hollingsworth said.

Culture Works is not playing a role in the merger discussions.

“They are using an outside facilitator,” Hollingsworth said. “We have obviously told them that we will support them in any way that makes sense.”