Updated: National Philharmonic Leaders Vote To Accept Businessman’s $500K Funding Proposal

Updated: National Philharmonic Leaders Vote To Accept Businessman’s $500K Funding Proposal

Orchestra president, board chairman replaced at Saturday meeting

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National Philharmonic

Photo via National Philharmonic

National Philharmonic leaders on Saturday afternoon voted to accept a proposal from a local businessman that will bring $500,000 in cash and savings to the orchestra and chorale, helping avoid closure.

Under businessman and musician Jim Kelly’s plan, he will take over as president as the Philharmonic accepts a cash infusion for the next two years.

The National Philharmonic, Montgomery County’s largest presenter of classical music, last month announced it would close after 14 years in residence at the Music Center at Strathmore. Its president, Leanne Ferfolia, said a decline in ticket sales revenue and increase in cost to produce shows as insurmountable.

One week later, National Philharmonic announced it was launching a last-ditch online fundraising effort, hoping to raise $150,000 in one week. The fundraiser was successful, reaching its goal.

At the same time, Kelly proposed a funding plan that he said would provide more than $500,000 in donations for the orchestra this year and next year.

The caveat: Kelly had to be named the orchestra’s president in place of Ferfolia and Board of Directors Chairman Todd Eskelsen had to step down.

On Saturday, the board held a special meeting and voted to accept the plan and Kelly’s terms.
Harris Miller was elected the new chairman, according to a statement from Eskelsen on Sunday afternoon.

“I wish National Philharmonic and its new leadership well … and hope that the music continues to inspire and uplift,” Eskelsen wrote.

Ferfolia could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

In his statement, Eskelsen cautioned that the infusion of money “is only a beginning” and National Philharmonic’s new leaders need to focus on fundraising and increasing ticket sales in the coming years.

Kelly’s plan calls for $275,000 in donations and $240,000 in savings as he and other leadership staff members have volunteered to work for free.

In fiscal year 2017, Ferfolia received a salary of $92,000 according to National Philharmonic tax filings.

Kelly, the owner of Takoma Park business Potter Violins, said in an interview Monday morning, that he is pleased the orchestra has “finally figured out a path forward” and he is looking forward to the season starting.

Kelly said he will accept his role as president without pay for the first year, but that could change in future years, once the orchestra becomes financially sustainable.

“If I am to remain on, and those decisions have not been made at this time, it might turn into a paid position,” he said.

Kelly said he recognizes the difficulty some in the organization have had with such immediate leadership changes occurring at once.

“In general, change is difficult for everyone. They’re working so hard to keep the National Philharmonic on stable ground. So anything new needs time to digest. But I think they came around and saw a path forward and here they are today,” he said.

Kelly declined to comment on whether there would be any further personnel changes prior to the upcoming season, saying that it was being “evaluated.” But he said there would be no changes to the musical direction of the orchestra.

Kelly said he currently has 12 donors lined up.  He said the organization plans to hire a director of development to build a base of large donors, instead of relying heavily on ticket sales and county funding.

“If we work on fundraising and do what we need to do to build a donor base, which we haven’t done in the past … if we’re able to do that, I’m very confident future seasons will be stronger,” he said.

Kelly declined to discuss the cost of the new position.

Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker wrote a letter Wednesday asking the 19-member board to approve Kelly’s plan because the orchestra’s “current challenges are too great to continue with the same business model and operations.”

On Saturday, Hucker said the orchestra is a “treasure that needs to survive and thrive in Montgomery County.”

“I am so relieved that the Board made the right decision to begin a new chapter under Jim Kelly’s leadership,” Hucker wrote in a text message. “Jim is a visionary, successful business owner in my district who has the training, the experience and the energy to make the National Philharmonic succeed.”

National Philharmonic’s 14-show 2019-20 season is scheduled to begin in September.

Staff reporter Dan Schere contributed to this story

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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