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posted: 8/21/2012 5:24 PM

Schaumburg, Elgin weigh orchestra's fund requests

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Schaumburg's finance committee has recommended the village make a one-time, $25,000 contribution to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra for its four performances at the Prairie Center for the Arts this coming season.

If approved by the full board of trustees Aug. 28, the funds would come from the Prairie Center's $269,000 professional services budget.

The potential contribution comes as the city of Elgin weighs a $100,000 request from the ESO that's not only larger, but more complicated by the long-term decisions it impacts.

Central to the dilemma is the future of the city's The Hemmens Cultural Center, where the orchestra gives about half its annual performances. The center is in need of maintenance, and decisions must be made about its future viability, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said Tuesday.

Elgin staff have been assigned to look into the feasibility of the ESO's funding request. But it's going to take some time to untangle that knot with both the orchestra's and The Hemmens Center's futures in question, Kaptain said.

"For me, it's not as simple as it sounds," he added. "If we grant their $100,000 request, what does that mean for us next year?"

The orchestra's interim CEO David Bearden said some of the issues facing the 62-year-old organization involve the impact of the economic downturn on private donations and public grants.

"We think we've reached the bottom of that trough and are starting on the upswing, so that's the good news," Bearden said.

The ESO also experiences losses when performing at Schaumburg's smaller venue, which can't pack in as many as The Hemmens Center, Bearden said.

Schaumburg Trustee George Dunham, who chairs the village's finance committee, said the orchestra helps fulfill the purpose of the Prairie Center and justifies the use of a little more of its budget.

"A lot of people in Schaumburg come to the ESO concerts and enjoy them," Dunham said. "In this case, I'm convinced this is a good use of the funds the Prairie Center for the Arts already has."

The ESO is the only professional symphony orchestra in the state besides the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said co-sponsoring the ESO for four concerts a year is a more cost-effective way to bring such music to the village than the Prairie Center running a symphony of its own.

"It's very risky and very expensive to run your own symphony," Fritz said.

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