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Austin Lyric Opera lays of 3 workers, cites declining donations

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

The Austin Lyric Opera, citing a continuing downturn in individual and corporate donations, has laid off three staff members.

General Director Kevin Patterson said one half-time and two full-time positions were eliminated in an effort to bring the organization's budget to $4.3 million as it heads into its new fiscal year.

That's down from $4.5 million in the most recent fiscal year, or a 4 percent decrease. After the layoffs, the opera will have 22 staff members.

The eliminated positions are in development, marketing and the box office.

"This was an extremely difficult decision to make, and we examined every angle to see if there was any way around making any of these cuts, but unfortunately there was not," Patterson said.

Patterson said the opera board voted to adopt the new $4.3 million budget in May.

"We've seen some improvement in contributions from individuals and corporations since (the downturn in 2008), but we haven't seen a full recovery," Patterson said.

Charitable donations to the arts are down across the nation, a June report by the Giving USA Foundation shows. Philanthropic contributions fell 2.4 percent in 2009. In 2008, giving to the arts dropped 6.4 percent, the report shows.

In Austin, the opera isn't the only institution that has had to make cuts. Last year, the Austin Museum of Art cuts its budget 10 percent.

Patterson said the eliminated positions will not affect artistic or educational programs. The opera will continue with its 2010-11 season as planned.

"We're still in a process of tightening the budget, but we don't want to sacrifice our artistic offerings," he said.

Last year, the opera cut its budget to $4.5 million from $5 million in response to declining donations and ticket sales. The organization carries a $600,000 deficit, Patterson said.

Patterson also noted that ticket sales have not returned to pre-2008 levels.

"It's very much a buyer's market right now in Austin in terms of entertainment, and there's just less disposable income in people's pockets," he said.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699