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Tulsa Ballet Integrated Fund-raising Campaign
Exceeding Expectations

by Gretchen Collins

Tulsa, Oklahoma

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon was right. Tulsa Ballet was making plans to grow despite an eroding economy. Then 9/11 happened. The company was two weeks away from opening their season with “Don Quixote.” Immediately after the attacks, the phones at the TB box office all but stopped ringing. Single tickets and subscriptions went unsold.

“Since that day,” artistic director Marcello Angelini says, “every company in the country has experienced audience loss and shrinking financial support. Lots of companies have closed, others are experiencing crippling financial problems. Tulsa Ballet was experiencing the same challenges, but our choices to solve the crises were different.” And so, TB’s Exceeding Expectations Campaign became a reality.

“We created and implemented measures,” Angelini says, “measures targeted to increase our income, we enhanced our education and outreach programs, and we opened a new school meant to fill a vacuum for professional, high quality dance instruction in the city and state.”

The results of the campaign were announced as it began its 50th anniversary season. The campaign was developed to assure the company’s next 50 years will be funded and secure. In the United States, where government does not support the arts in dollars, it is more important than ever to guarantee future capital improvements, operations, and endowment needs. The original goal was $9 million, but thanks to a strong board and amazing community support, it surpassed that with a total of $12.5 million.

“We are the talk of the national and international ballet scene,” Angelini says. “What happens when the going gets tough is most organizations will cut back on the very thing that
makes them what they are – their artistic product. Once you fiddle with the product, you damage the very thing that brings support to the company, its artistic integrity and quality. Your investors stop supporting you because they, very simply, get less for the money.”

Instead of cutting back the quality of their work or the dancers who perform it, indeed the very product that prompted the European press to declare during the 2002 Sintra, Portugal performances, “...Tulsa Ballet, one of the best in the world,” TB resolved to grow in the face of
adversity.

Jackie Kouri, Exceeding Expectations campaign chair, agrees with this, “The campaign wouldn’t be successful if we didn’t have a superlative product. And that Tulsa Ballet product is the result of many years of vision, planning, execution, and never giving up on our standards of excellence.”

The integrated campaign was devised by the TB board and staff. “We believe that growth is the oxygen of success in any business,” Kouri says. With that in mind, Exceeding Expectations contained not just a single component, but an all-encompassing campaign including funds for day-to-day needs, capital resulting in future revenue streams, and an endowment for an enduring future.

“In promoting the campaign over the past three years with individuals, foundations and corporations alike,” Kouri says, “the eyes of the community have been opened to the world-class artistry of our dancers, remarkable expertise of our artistic and administrative staff, economic enhancement to our business community, benefits of our education programs, and positive impact of our outreach initiatives in the lives of disadvantaged children.”

In the process of implementing Exceeding Expectations, Angelini says they discovered that Tulsa really cares about the company. “We learned that the expectations of the community
for our company are as high as the ones we, board and staff, have for the company. We learned that the funding community realizes how much we mean to the cultural, and financial stature of the city.”

The leading financial supporters for the campaign are SemGroup, LP, Tom and& Julie Kivisto Family Foundation, J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, ONEOK, Anonymous, Kathy and& Marcus Hilti, Anonymous, Marjorie Conley, Charles and& Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Anne and& Henry Zarrow Foundation, and the John Steele Zink Foundation. “We learned,” Angelini says, “that they are ready and willing to support, with their financial investment, this expanded the role of Tulsa Ballet for the community.”

Tulsa Ballet began its campaign with a “quiet phase.” Its primary component was the Center for Dance Education. CDE opened its doors in 2003 with three goals: professional dance instruction, training and outreach. Last year, enrollment reached 211 students.

Exceeding Expectations provides capital funding to expand its 38,000-square-foot facility to include a black box theatre with seating for 250 people, administrative offices, special events, production preparation, and storage space. Campaign monies will also permit completion of several postponed maintenance projects, and improve and expand the existing fitness center. Because Tulsa Ballet owns the building, they have chosen to add onto the existing structure for the expansion in order to continue leasing the remaining space.

Since every American company depends on financial support from its community to the tune of about 60 percent, Tulsa Ballet is still waiting to exhale. “While we are building the next fifty years on solid artistic and financial grounds,” Angelini says, “let’s not kid ourselves that the hard work, and need for support is behind us. The more we grow, the more we do for our community, the higher the necessity for support.”

Called one of the top 10 regional companies in the country by The New York Times, Tulsa Ballet intends to make that number smaller. “The Exceeding Expectations Campaign has projected Tulsa Ballet into the next phase of its development, providing the platform that the company needed to effectively bid for a place among the very top dance organizations in the country,” Angelini adds. “We are poised to make Tulsa Ballet, and Tulsa, into a leading artistic, creative, and educational force in the arts in America. We are ready to embrace the next fifty years of our existence in the name of excellence.”

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