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A Tale of Two Cities (or, How to Make an Orchestra Extinct): Part 1

Updated: Jun 28

You might have noticed a recent news story or two explaining that the RDSO is working to secure operational funding from the City of Red Deer. There is lots of information floating around, so we thought we'd clear the air with a little Q&A session to help make everything as clear as possible. Here we go...


City of Red Deer, aerial view

1) Why is the RDSO asking the City for money?

The "Big Problem" is that the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra receives $0 in operational funding from the City of Red Deer. Every other professional orchestra in Canada, from BC to Nova Scotia, gets financial assistance from their municipality, which helps them cover the costs of their basic operations including staff wages, office rent, venue rental, and musician fees.


2) Doesn't the RDSO already receive money from the City?

Yes, we do - the RDSO currently receives around $47,000 from the City in project funding each year through the Community Culture Development Fund (CCDF). The problem here is the difference between project and operational funding:

Project funding provides money to offset project expenses. Operational funding provides money to cover daily overhead costs.

So, while the RDSO receives money from the City, this money is tied up in specific project grants, such as Choir Kids, Symphony @ the Snell, and Community Concerts. If we don't do these projects, we don't get this money, and we can't use this funding for expenses beyond the scope of this project.

The RDSO can spend up to 13% of the $47,000 per year on "administrative expenses". Do you know someone who'd work a full-time event planning job for a $6,000 salary? We'd like to chat.

This lack of operational support means that the RDSO is constantly in a financial fight-or-flight situation. Think of it like this: we're asking the City to help fill some major potholes, and they're offering us money to pave new roads… Development is great, but not at the expense of what’s already been built. We aren’t asking for more money, we’re just asking for the City to put their support where we need it the most.


(In case you think we’re complaining, we’re not. Yet. Better go to the store before Question # 4, because you’ll need some cheese to go with that whine.)


crowd at concert

3) Why don't your Main Series concerts count as projects?

Because these concerts are revenue generators. We sell tickets and use the profits to pay our staff and musicians, along with money raised through sponsorships and other fundraising activities. City-funded projects do not earn the RDSO revenue and are offered for free (or very low admission fees).

Why don't we just charge more per ticket? If we sold out each Main Series concert each season, our break-even cost would be over $130 per ticket! For those prices, you might as well see Nickelback or something.
4) Why should the RDSO get City money?

Because we’re awesome. Duh!


Centuries ago, when kings and queens ruled from palaces and courts, orchestras were retained as a status symbol: The larger and more skilled your group of musicians, the more wise, well-educated, and respected you appeared. Henry VIII might have had commitment issues, but he knew how to put a band together.


Fast forward through a few hundred years of wars, plagues, and other world-altering events, and you arrive at the present, where most monarchies have been replaced by governments (and beheadings are generally frowned upon). Now, rather than being directly employed by the head of state, orchestras across the world receive funding from their governments. In Europe, most are funded entirely by federal, local, and state governments; in Canada, multi-level government funding and philanthropy-based tax deductions produce a combination of private- and public-sector financial support.  


The RDSO is a unicorn among mid-size Canadian cities, especially in Alberta, yet we only receive funding from two out of three levels of government (Federal and Provincial). This gap in local support actually impacts how much help we get from the Government of Alberta - the more money we receive locally, the more we receive provincially - and telling the people at the G of A that we get a whopping $0 from the City is not a good look for anyone.


We are also Red Deer's largest Arts & Culture presenter by every measure, and give Red Deerians a reason to stay in town instead of traveling to Calgary or Edmonton for concerts and events. This helps support the local economy, rather than having evening and weekend business outsourced to the big cities as people look elsewhere for entertainment. We don’t just add intangibles like “quality of life” or “happiness”; we also bring real benefits to Red Deer and the people that live there.


orchestra working with conductor

Case Study


Red Deer loves competing with Lethbridge, so let’s use them as an example: Lethbridge has a semi-professional orchestra that relies on volunteer musicians to fill its ranks. (They also receive over $50,000 from the City of Lethbridge each year. Go figure.) The RDSO is fully professional - all our players are unionized and paid accordingly - and we have more performances and free community programs per season than the Lethbridge Symphony.


TL;DR  “But Mom, Lethbridge gets municipal funding!!”


5) How Can I Help?

There are many ways you can help the RDSO secure this much-needed operational funding from the City of Red Deer, including:

  1. Talk to your Councilors: Call, email, snail mail, or drop by City Hall for a visit!

  2. Fill out our petition letter and send to City Council to express your thoughts and concerns.

  3. Support the RDSO by donating directly to the orchestra.

  4. Share this news! Let others know what's going on by sharing this blog post or one of the news articles at RDNewsNow or the Advocate.


Stats & Other Nerdy Stuff

Does your pulse race at the sight of a perfectly-proportioned graph? This is the section for you! Here's where we break down the numbers. Buckle up.


Click on an image to view in fullscreen mode.


Thanks for reading! Have any questions or comments? Let us know!

The RDSO logo

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