Earlier this week, as the members of the Philadelphia Singers were warming up their voices to rehearse a holiday program, board vice president Michael Mills told them the group will dissolve in May.
“The reaction was silence,” said Mills.
The operating budget of the professional choir was largely dependent on the William Penn Foundation, which recently pulled its funding. Without William Penn, Mills said, the organization cannot survive.
“Big picture: We’ve seen this coming for years,” said Mills. “There has been a hand-to-mouth existence gong back to 2005 when we canceled more than half the season to eke by. It has been evident in recent years that general operating grants are rarer and rarer, and coming with more stipulations.”
In the last few years, the William Penn Foundation and another large regional funder, the Pew Foundation, have shifted their priorities, encouraging organizations to be more independently sustainable and less reliant on single deep-pocket foundations.
Julie Hawkins, a professor of arts administration at Drexel University, says those changes reflect national trends.
“Certainly anything that happens at Pew and William Penn is going to have impact, and I think they are very conscious of that,” she said. “But the shifts that are occurring are tied to a larger conversation in the field: How can you best be structured in a world where the economy is changing rapidly around you?”
Key to survival is diversification, which means more than having a portfolio of funding sources; it means having different kinds of money – readily available, liquid funds and more stable, restricted funds. Those who cannot do that risk collapse.
As for the Philadelphia Singers, they will perform their remaining concert season this winter and spring.