Delays in payments by the City of Cape Town and the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) have created such a serious cash-flow problem that the survival of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and its vast outreach and education programme is threatened.

Like all orchestras in South African and most internationally, the CPO is dependent on regular public funding; this three-tier funding has been a critical stabilising factor in the orchestra’s sustainability over the past 18 years.

The CPO needs R30 million per year to present symphony concerts, run its outreach and education programme which is training orchestral musicians for the future (and providing a viable prospect for many talented youngsters from the disadvantaged communities), and many other facets of its operation. About one third comes from public funds (R10m), the rest from box office income, hire-outs to organizations like Cape Town Opera, Cape Town City Ballet, Starlight Classics, musicals (in total R5m), corporate and individual donors (R15 m). The national government’s DAC contributes more than R7 million a year, while the Western Cape’s DCAS and the City each contribute R1,5 million. Additional income is derived from the CPO Endowment Trust and potential interest in years to come from the Duet Endowment Trust which was established to sustain both the CPO and Cape Town Opera. Bequests also add an important boost to revenue.

But this year is different. The City of Cape Town’s promise of R1,5 million last year remains unpaid and there has been a deadly silence about the annual R7,5 million from central government (usually paid each June). This has almost depleted the orchestra’s savings.

Since the CPO met with Arts and Culture Min. Nathi Mthethwa in June 2017, neither the Minister nor any official in his department has been forthcoming about the orchestra’s current or future grants. After many attempts to reach the Minister, CPO Board Member Judge Dennis Davis, finally received an answer at the beginning of August 2018 that the minister is prepared to meet. A month later, we have not been able to set a date or get another reply from his office.

Doubling ticket prices could increase box-office income but the risk of alienating a loyal concert-going public through making concerts unaffordable would be counterproductive to the CPO’s aim to keep the symphonic concert culture alive and well in Cape Town.  It would take years to cultivate a healthy concert culture again.

The CPO has weathered many a storm but this one is the most critical and potentially fatal.  The lack of cash flow since June – necessitating selling off some of the “family silver” (a loan from the CPO’s Endowment Trust followed by the sale of shares) – is deeply worrying.  Management and board members are working non-stop to access corporate funding, but funding for anything other than the CPO’s huge outreach and training programmes (for which the CPO offers full Article 18A tax benefits) is almost non-existent. New funds even for outreach are hard to come by.

Due to the continued dearth of public and corporate funds, the CPO is being forced to face the fact that the country’s oldest orchestra (established in 1914) may soon be no more.  This will have an impact on a generation of young musicians in outreach programmes; and the universities whose students (and teachers) will have no orchestral employment opportunities. Cape Town will simply be taken off the map as a world-class cultural city. We cannot let this happen.

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