Eight months ago, the Miami City Ballet was a mess. The remarkable Edward Villella was beginning his last season as artistic director, the organization had run out of cash, its executive director had left and the survival of the institution was truly in doubt.
Recently I went to a board meeting of the organization where the new artistic director laid out her ambitious plans for next season and for the expansion of the school, the new executive director reviewed anticipated changes to marketing and fundraising strategies, a budget was approved for the next fiscal year without much fanfare and a marketing partnership with the Miami Heat was unveiled. Oh, and Nutcracker ticket sales were $150,000 higher than last year and an upcoming gala in Palm Beach had outsold last year and ticket sales for the next two sets of performances were outselling last year as well. Special gifts of $7 million had also been received.
And the New York Times recently gave the company a great review. Alastair Macaulay wrote, "It's always a delight to revisit the company; these dancers flood the auditorium with warmth, finesse and pride in their work."
There are many heroes in this epic drama: Ana Codina Barlick, the Chairman of the Board, has maintained her steadfast commitment to creating a sustainable institution. She is one of the best and most courageous board officers I have ever encountered. Several major funders, most notably the Knight Foundation, have stepped up to fund the turnaround plan. Lourdes Lopez, the new artistic director, has approached this challenge with grace, energy and talent and Dan Hagerty, the new executive director, has worked hard, despite great cash flow pressure, to change the narrative of the organization.
That is not to say that the turnaround is finished. Cash flow is still tight, the fundraising effort still needs a boost and marketing efforts must be expanded substantially. There are still many aspects of the organization's plan that must be implemented before the turnaround can be completed.
But the change in just a few months is extraordinary and illustrates one of the amazing aspects of turnarounds: the entire culture and mood of an organization can change in just a few months.
And this mood change is not simply cosmetic.
As the board and major donors become more optimistic, they also become far more willing to engage their friends and associates in the work of the organization. Good news definitely begets more good news in an arts turnaround.
That is why turnarounds can happen in just a year or two; we only need a few major gifts, an exciting artistic program, some good news to announce and a plan to build momentum.
Of course, without the remarkable dancers of Miami City Ballet, who were selected and trained by Edward, the turnaround could not have happened, and would not have been worth the effort.
But this story will have a happy ending and Miami will have a robust dance company to call its own.