AMMAN — Despite a major recent donation from a local philanthropic group, the cash-strapped Amman Symphony Orchestra (ASO) remains in danger of closing within months if it cannot secure long-term funding commitments from public or private sector institutions.
The Social Solidarity Society (SSS), a Jordanian women’s group founded in 1982 to help the Kingdom’s disadvantaged, held two benefit concerts in May with the ASO and singer Zain Awad and managed to raise JD30,000 to benefit the orchestra.
Rima Al Shaer, one of the society’s 11 members, noted that this figure mostly came from ticket sales, with some larger donations from companies, stressing that all proceeds of SSS events go towards the causes they are held to support.
“We could have done better, but we were short on time,” she said.
Shaer and her fellow SSS members, she explained, had read on Facebook that the orchestra was trying to raise much-needed funding and decided to help.
“We have to do something. [The ASO] is a national institution and we should be proud of it,” she told The Jordan Times over the phone on Sunday. “A country without music is like a body without a soul.”
The SSS, she added, is ready to provide the orchestra with continued in-kind support by helping promote its events and sell tickets in order to boost its revenues and visibility.
She also expressed confidence that the society’s efforts would encourage other parties, such as government institutions and companies, to support the ASO.
Nonetheless, this influx of cash, while welcome and needed, does not even come close to meeting the ASO’s financial needs, according to Kifah Fakhouri, director of the orchestra’s parent organisation, the National Music Conservatory (NMC), itself a project of the King Hussein Foundation.
“Such amounts will not sustain us, but will help pay salaries,” Fakhouri told The Jordan Times in an interview on Sunday.
The SSS donation, like all donations the orchestra receives these days, was spent immediately on back salaries, but ASO members are still awaiting their salaries for the month of May, while those employed on retainer contracts have yet to be paid for March and April.
The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has been the orchestra’s main stakeholder since its inception in 2007, but as GAM underwent restructuring to curb a mounting budget deficit, half of the JD300,000 the municipality had allocated to the orchestra for the 2011 fiscal year was lost.
As the ASO’s annual budget is around JD800,000 — covering only its operating costs — the loss of this funding has been devastating.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether GAM will be able to renew its financial support for the orchestra in the coming year, and while several public and private sector institutions have expressed interest in supporting the orchestra, Fakhouri said, none has made a commitment to do so.
“Until now, we have hopes, but nothing tangible yet.”
With its players’ contracts up for renewal at the end of August, Fakhouri has found himself in a difficult position, with little time left before he has to tell members either that their contracts will be renewed and the orchestra will continue, or that they should look for new jobs.
The ASO employs over 90 people, the NMC director told The Jordan Times previously, and at least 500 future job opportunities would be lost if it were to disappear.
Yet if the orchestra does not receive sufficient commitments for sustained support by August, he warned, it will be forced to close down.
In the meantime, the orchestra is playing out its season, with a concert scheduled for tonight and others on June 20, July 2, and at the Jerash Festival on July 8, and soliciting donations to make up its remaining funding gap.
Fakhouri lauded the SSS’s endeavour, which he called “a perfect civil society initiative”.
“We did not beg them to do it,” he pointed out. “They did it because they felt it was their responsibility to support this national institution.”
Other supporters of the orchestra are also still trying to raise funds and awareness. Victoria DeKlerk, wife of Netherlands Ambassador Piet DeKlerk and founder of the support group Friends of the ASO, said the group was to hold a benefit concert of its own tonight, at which it hoped to raise some JD10,000.
However, she also acknowledged that the individual giving that the Friends of the ASO promote would not be sufficient to sustain the orchestra.
“Structurally, you can’t base a symphony orchestra on individual donations,” she said, expressing hope that institutional supporters would step in.
While the ASO has yet to secure the long-term financial commitment it needs, Fakhouri said he sustained some hope that the needed support would come through by the looming deadline of August.
“The problem,” he sighed, “is the time”.