Park City Institute, in financial distress, seeks funds to continue operations

Crews build a stage used by Los Lonely Boys for one of the Park City Institute’s St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights concerts last July at the Quinn’s Junction recreation field. Park City Institute is asking the public for donations so it can continue to present performing artists and speakers to local audiences.
Park Record file photo | The Park Record

For the past 20-plus years, the Park City Institute has brought entertaining and thought-provoking dance companies, musicians, authors and speakers to town.

Local audiences have seen the award-winning choreography of Alvin Ailey II, felt the passion of violinist Lucia Micarelli and, earlier in December, absorbed the insight of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward.

The list of presentations the Institute has offered is long. But the nonprofit is at a crossroads. The Institute recently informed donors that it is in a financial crisis and must raise $250,000 by Dec. 31. Executive Director Teri Orr said the money is necessary to keep the organization afloat. The organization had raised $100,000 as of Thursday morning, Orr said.

“This year has been the most difficult in our more-than-20-year existence,” Orr said. “A series of unfortunate events has resulted in a perfect storm, and we need help to light the way to a bright future.”

One of those events was the Park City Institute having to relocate the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights concert series from the Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater, which was the venue for 14 years. Deer Valley elected not to renew its contract with the Institute and instead created its own concert series.

The nonprofit held last summer’s concerts in two temporary locations — the recreation complex field at Quinn’s Junction and City Park.

Having to build and take down pop-up stages for each of the nine shows cost a total of $100,000, according to Orr.

“The city also mandated we hire buses to accommodate the concert-goers, and that total cost was $80,000,” she said.

Lower attendance at the organization’s events is another reason Park City Institute needs the public’s help, Orr said.

“There has been an increase in large stadium-style concerts and Broadway touring shows in Salt Lake City that are drawing ticket buyers and supporters away from small local presenters like ourselves,” she said. “Many of the people who bought tickets and drove up the canyon from the valley to attend and enjoy our shows don’t do that anymore because of those opportunities.”

Park City Institute’s annual budget is $3.2 million, according to Orr. Three-quarters of the budget is for programming — split roughly evenly between winter and summer — and the other quarter is for administrative costs, she said.

Orr said there are a handful of common misconceptions people hold about the organization. The organization doesn’t receive large gifts from anonymous donors to fund deficits in the budget. And ticket sales don’t cover the cost of presenting performances — particularly as the Institute distributes a portion of tickets to students, senior citizens, military members and underserved individuals. “We have tried to make arts accessible to all the community, and we do that by giving away more than $450,000 in tickets to the community,” Orr said. “We believe we create community by inviting our underserved neighbors as our guests into the theater, and we also believe we have changed the trajectory of students’ lives by presenting free student outreach classes and workshops with emerging dancers and musicians.”

On average, ticket sales cover about 1/3 of the cost of a single performance or appearance of an artist or speaker, Orr said. The organization also relies on grants. But a large source of funding comes from donors, most of whom contribute moderate amounts.

“In the past 20 years, there has been one multi-year, million dollar match campaign,” she said. “And 10 years ago, a donor helped us by with a donation of $300,000, which front-loaded the costs of the performers for that winter season. Since then, we have received no single gift greater than $100,000.”

The public can help the Park City Institute by buying tickets, donating, sponsoring seats and underwriting shows, Orr said.

“Every dollar from ticket sales and donations will help,” Orr said. “We also have a program where people can buy a seat for $500 and their names will be displayed on an engraved brass plaque.”

Asking for donations is part of Orr’s job as executive director, but this year’s request is the most important one she has made throughout her career, she said.

“We’ve never asked for donations like this before, because we have been self-sufficient for more than two decades,” Orr said. “I think we’re one of the few ski resort towns that has a performing arts organization. It’s one of the unique attractions that people love to talk about, but it needs support to continue.”

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