Fans of Skylark Opera were expecting something new in the pipeline when the company announced its search for a new Executive Director, but few were expecting a surprise cancellation of the 36-year-old company’s 2016 season. With little aplomb, Skylark Opera rolled out a letter from president Carrie Wasley announcing the news today.
“Over the last few months,” Wasley wrote, “The Skylark Board of Directors and our Managing Director have been diligently working behind the scenes on the finances of the organization. We have determined thoughtful and immediate action needs to take place in order to ensure the organization can continue. Skylark is at a crossroads: while we are in a challenging and serious financial situation, we hope that you will stand by our side during this time of discovery so we emerge reinvigorated.”
The decision to cancel the season (or, as Wasley optimistically put it, “to postpone” it) was made at a board meeting last week. This coincides with some small ripples in the Twin Cities’ classical singer community over the weekend – singers who were previously committed to the season announcing that they were available for June projects, some vague remarks on social media, etc.
Skylark Opera, founded in 1980, is one of the most venerable opera institutions in the state of Minnesota. Like opera companies across the country, its fundraising was impacted by the financial shocks of the Great Recession; the most recently available Form 990C for the company show small but persistent budget deficits that have steadily eroded its cash reserves. Similar erosions, left unaddressed, have caused dozens of American opera companies to close in the last decade.
Wasley’s announcement concluded with a hopeful note, stating, “We challenge ourselves to become even more artistically exciting and vibrant as well as fiscally strong.” If all goes well, the company will avoid the fate of companies such as Opera Boston and New York City Opera that suddenly shuttered mid-season, and instead reinvent and reinvigorate itself like San Diego Opera.
Skylark Opera was a FY2016 recipient of a Group 4 Operating Support grant for $25,273 from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Summary data from its 2014 Form 990C filing showed assets of $54,560, liabilities of $37,221, an income of $209,012, and $211,200 in expenses.