After years of debate, the Overture Center for the Arts and the City of Madison have finally come to a funding agreement.
Despite the public, long and often heated funding battle over the multi-arts center, the Overture is at “peace” with with the city, Overture spokesperson Robert Chappell said.
“We’re pleased we are able to work with the city this year in a much more amicable way than we have in the past,” Chappell said.
Since it was founded in 2004, the center’s relationship with the city has seen significant change, Chappell said.
Originally, the Overture’s employees were all employees of the city, David Schmiedicke, City of Madison finance director, said.
Chappell said for the first 10 years of its existence, the center received $1.3 million a year from the city in addition to city-paid employees.
In 201o, however, the city and Overture negotiated a new agreement, according to Chappell.
“The promise from the city [in 2010] was $2 million a year going forward,” Chappell said. “But it’s been declining since then.”
Schmiedicke said the economic downturn and a “less city-friendly” state leadership began to cause a wider gap between how much the center made and how much it needed.
Chappell said because of the public nature of the funding debate, the center has seen fewer private donations. Still, he said he understands the city’s plight.
“It’s basically been that the city finances have been very tight and that is understandable because of the situation at the state level and the economy in general,” Chappell said. “But [during] the last two years it’s really been a battle and it’s been a very public debate about our funding. So, private donors have been hesitant to give us money while we are fighting with the city.”
The Overture receives subsidy funding to fill part of the gap between its ticket revenues and its operating costs, Schmiedicke said.
The center tries to fill the rest of that gap with donations from the public as well as corporate entities, Chappell said. He said ticket sales account for about 60 percent of funding, and rental fees also help.
According to Schmiedicke, although the city allocated $1.75 million to the Overture in the 2013 budget, Mayor Paul Soglin has only proposed $1.45 million in his 2014 budget.
“I think the mayor and the council, in putting the budget together, have had to make difficult decisions in terms of setting priorities because of state aid reduction and strict limits on property tax increases,” Schmiedicke said.
Both Schmiedicke and Chappell noted the need for other cities to help support the Overture. Chappell said about half of ticket sales come from patrons outside the city of Madison.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has already begun this process, pledging $5,000 for an Overture program this year with plans to double that number in 2014.
“The Overture provides a wonderful resource for Madison and Dane County on a number of levels,” Parisi said. “For the quality of life [it offers], the culture it provides and it’s a great economic driver. It brings people downtown. They go to restaurants and that helps create a vital downtown Madison.”