Signs of financial rebound seen at Britt

Britt Festivals finished its 50th anniversary season with more grants and improved attendance per show as it seeks to "regain its financial footing" after a $1 million loss since the economy crashed five years ago.

Britt expects to meet its projected deficit of $83,000, but won't know until accounting is finished in late October, said Executive Director Donna Briggs. This will leave Britt with about the same overall deficit of $1 million, which she hopes to chip away at over the coming years, she said.

"We're going at it one year at a time ... The board is pleased with the past year," Briggs said.

About 61,000 people attended Britt's 37 concerts this year, making the average attendance 1,650. Last year, it had 40 concerts with 62,000 attending, averaging 1,550 people per concert.

This season it improved grants for operations by 14 percent, up to $115,000. It raised $325,000 in grants dedicated to capital improvements, a new fundraising category.

The nonprofit raised $175,000 from business partners, a 35 percent hike from last year, and got $500,000 from memberships, about the same as last year.

It had 12 sellout shows compared to eight last year, and was able to negotiate more favorable contracts with big-name musicians, Briggs said.

A highlight of the season was a 23 percent jump in attendance from last year for the three-week Classical Festival, fueled by the "unique buzz of the 50th anniversary" and the "hugely successful" one-time classical concert for $5, Briggs said.

Britt banned carry-in alcohol for four shows that appealed to younger audiences: Primus, Bush, the Avett Brothers and Slightly Stoopid. The policy will continue with select shows next year.

"Other than that, the board decided to continue the old policy," she said. "Absolutely, we encourage you to bring picnics, wine and beer." There will be on-site sales for shows.

The season lineup included Huey Lewis, Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley, Brandi Carlile, blues stars Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Michael Franti, among others.

Britt has a budget this year of $3.3 million, compared to $3.2 million last year. It had a $200,000 deficit in 2010 and, after that, doubled the price of the lowest memberships.

Britt has an endowment fund of $1.5 million from the Oregon Community Foundation, whose earnings it uses for operations; it took $60,000 in revenues from it this year, she said.

Ticket sales cover just over 60 percent of Britt's operating expenses for the pops season, and 33 percent for the Classical Festival. The organization is focusing much more heavily on donor income, Briggs said.

"It's clear that the revenue improvement strategies we implemented over the past several years have put us on the path to a more stable and sustainable future," Briggs said.

In her first year on the job — and as the fourth director in five years — Briggs said, "I like it very much and I plan to stick around."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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