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County Council Considers $400,000 for National Philharmonic

Part of proposed grants would pay consultant to help create new strategic plan

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The National Philharmonic performs at The Music Center at Strathmore

National Philharmonic

Updated at 5 p.m. – The largest and most active county-based professional orchestra appears to be facing significant financial difficulties, based on a request for $400,000 County Council members will consider Friday.

The National Philharmonic, the ensemble-in-residence since 2005 at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, hosts more than 30 performances annually and puts on free annual concerts for all second-graders in the county’s public school system, among other educational programs.

According to a County Council memo published Thursday, the organization is facing a $200,000 shortfall for fiscal year 2016, which runs until the end of June.

County Executive Ike Leggett is expected to ask for a supplemental appropriation to the county’s fiscal year 2016 budget in order to cover the $200,000 shortfall, plus fund a $26,000 advance on the orchestra’s annual grant award from the county’s Arts & Humanities Council and $24,000 to pay for a consultant “to assist with strategic plan development.”

National Philharmonic President Kenneth Oldham Jr. said Thursday the organization began talks with Leggett last summer.

"With a professional orchestra and a 180-voice volunteer chorale, the National Philharmonic is a major provider of musician employment and volunteer opportunities. Nearly two-thirds of the organization’s performers reside in Montgomery County,” Oldham said in a prepared statement provided via email. “As such, the National Philharmonic represents Montgomery County on stage at the Music Center at Strathmore. We will continue our role as a vital and accessible community resource at Strathmore."

Council member George Leventhal, who during a Wednesday committee meeting on another topic called the appropriation a “bailout,” told Bethesda Beat on Thursday he’ll support the request on the condition the National Philharmonic hires an outside expert to develop a new strategic plan and updates the council on its progress in six months.

Council members met on the matter in closed session last week and could meet in a second closed session Friday, according to the council committee agenda.

“We don’t want them to close. I think they’re an asset and an important part of our cultural landscape,” Leventhal said. “But they’ve got to adopt a turnaround strategy and come back in six months as a condition to getting this money.”

Leggett has also recommended another $150,000 for the organization in his fiscal year 2017 budget, in addition to the regular grant funding the orchestra will likely get from the county’s Arts & Humanities Council. If the additional funding is approved, it could nearly double the amount of the orchestra’s county funding for the next fiscal year.

The Arts & Humanities Council, the group tasked with distributing about $3 million in county funds to arts and humanities nonprofits, gave National Philharmonic a $166,457 grant this fiscal year, a $185,288 grant in fiscal year 2015 and a $201,068 grant in fiscal year 2014.

The National Philharmonic was created in 2003 after the merger of the locally based Masterworks Chorus and National Chamber Orchestra. It performed at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville until it moved to Strathmore in 2005.

Its mission is to “make classical music and concert going a part of daily life for young people,” thanks in part to free admission for children aged 7 to 17, according to its website.

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