Bellevue Philharmonic replacing executive director
April 24, 2009 · Updated 12:00 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: It was not known that Jennifer McCausland had resigned from the BPO at the time this article was published. That information has been added.
The Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra is parting ways with its executive director, Jennifer McCausland, who resigned from the group with three months notice in February.
McCausland came to the organization as a change agent last year and introduced chamber-style performances to its lineup.
Dale Miller, president of the BPO board of directors, says the group is looking for an interim executive director, and expects to begin its search for a full-time replacement by the start of next season.
McCausland joined the BPO administration last summer as a former Seattle Symphony board member and founder of Apollo Music Ventures, which specialized in organizing small performances at unique venues.
The Australian-born music maven injected smaller shows into the BPO schedule, launching programs like Little Night Music and the Little Maestro series.
Miller suggested those programs will depart with McCausland as the BPO trims its schedule and gets back to its roots. The 2009 lineup, which comes out in May, will include three Masterworks concerts, one pops performance, and "Messiah."
"In terms of our mission, those are what's important to the community, so that's what we're going to focus on," Miller said, noting that the BPO strayed from its usual programming this cycle.
The philharmonic also needs to clear its books after a dismal 41st season that saw declining ticket sales, a sour economy, and the death of a major donor. That slump prompted the Bellevue Arts Commission to recommend less grant money from the city next year.
"It was unclear to the committee whether they would continue as a viable organization," said city of Bellevue Arts Specialist Mary Pat Byrne. "The Bellevue Philharmonic is in a live-or-die crisis."
The BPO is working to repair its image, with the board recently stepping in to take control of operations. Miller claims the group is now back on track.
"Our expenses are coming down rapidly," he said. "Hope is not the strategy here."
The game plan did involve taking out a $100,000 line of credit that is personally backed by the board members.
The BPO is also asking the city to increase its financial support, even though the Bellevue Arts Commission recommended reducing the group's annual grant from $17,000 to $3,000.
McCausland petitioned the Bellevue City Council last week to renew its previous $17,000 grant and provide additional financing from discretionary funds.
"The level of funding for arts in Bellevue hasn't changed since 2000," McCausland told The Reporter, noting that other municipalities offer more help to their local arts groups.
Bellevue designates a total of $110,000 for the arts annually, while Auburn gave $75,000 to its local orchestra alone.
Miller said the BPO board is working with the Bellevue Arts Commission to make its case for additional funding.
The BPO also plans to hold a benefit concert at Bellevue's First Presbyterian (1717 Bellevue Way Northeast) on May 17, and has received increasing help from regular donors and new supporters, according to Miller.
"There's a lot of people who care deeply about the orchestra, and they're coming out of the woodwork," he said.
Next on the agenda is taking care of a sore spot: negotiating a new contract with its musicians.
Tension arose between McCausland and the performers after she proposed holding public auditions for more than a dozen string seats, prompting the orchestra members to unionize.
Miller claims a preliminary agreement with the performers is already complete.
"I'm very impressed with what the musicians have tentatively come to," he said.
Miller indicated that McCausland is working on a new program called Symphony 425, a continuation of the smaller shows that she introduced to the BPO.
"There will essentially be no link between the two organizations," Miller said.
McCausland declined to comment on Symphony 425.