Keep the Music Going
Top local musicians come to the rescue as the Outpost hosts five benefit concerts
A few weeks back, Tom Guralnick, executive director and resident visionary at the Outpost, was onstage introducing David Sánchez when he mentioned that the internationally recognized saxophonist had appeared at the Outpost previously. He couldn’t remember when, though.
Of course, when you’ve produced more than 1,500 concerts at the Outpost over the last 20 years, not to mention dozens of concerts at other venues and an annual jazz festival, some details are bound to get a little fuzzy.
What’s not fuzzy is that over the last two decades, the Outpost has established itself as a major cultural institution in Albuquerque. It’s grown from a no-staff organization operating out of a storefront with a budget of $10,000 into a $700,000-a-year model nonprofit operation with a beautiful concert space, a small staff, a vigorous education program and an international reputation as a top-drawer venue for live music.
Now, after a period of especially strong growth, it finds itself in a serious financial crisis. “Here’s the thing about arts organizations,” says Guralnick. “Like most working individuals in the country, they exist on a shoestring. When something falls out of place—whether it’s ticket sales, grants, sponsorships, whatever—it becomes a real problem. That’s what’s so scary about these economic times. We’re all living on the edge.”
With the help of top local musicians, the Outpost is reaching out for the community’s assistance with a series of five benefit concerts this season to raise money to keep the music happening. Participating headliners include Rahim AlHaj, Hillary Smith and Hip Pocket, Jazz a la Carte, Paul Gonzales and Friends, and the Doug Lawrence Quartet.
“Even in the best of times, 40 to 60 percent of our income comes from money that we raise through grants and sponsorships and memberships and private donations and so forth, and all of that money is harder to come by.”
In the last few years, the Outpost has grown into a major producer of concerts and ventured into ambitious jazz programming that’s featured international megastars. Unfortunately, some concerts have not drawn as expected, and when artist fees are measured in tens of thousands of dollars, it’s easy to lose lots of money fast when seats go empty. That drain on the organization’s resources has been compounded by the global financial meltdown.
“Even in the best of times, 40 to 60 percent of our income comes from money that we raise through grants and sponsorships and memberships and private donations and so forth, and all of that money is harder to come by,” says Guralnick.
Guralnick and the Outpost board have gone to work to recoup the losses and get back on firm financial ground—not easy in the current climate.
“We’re in the process of finding an economic plan to get back to even and raise funds in this depressed economy,” says Lynn Slade, board president. He’s optimistic because the board has responded to the crisis with renewed energy, meeting every other week for the last several months—“something unheard of for a nonprofit organization,” he says. In addition, Outpost membership and individual donations have remained strong.
“We’re looking to strengthen our business, corporate and foundation sources, and we want to work on expanding membership and attendance—all the revenue streams,” Slade says.
Despite strong misgivings about asking musicians to play for free, Guralnick reached out to local players for help, and they’ve responded.
“I got a letter from Tom, simply stating that right now the Outpost is in need of a little bit of assistance, and did I think I could get enough musicians on board to do a benefit concert,” says vocalist Hillary Smith. “It’s the first time I ever heard back from everybody I contacted, on the same day. The resounding response was ‘Absolutely. No worries. We’d do anything for Tom.’ It was a beautiful thing.”
For saxophonist Doug Lawrence, who’s achieved international recognition as a featured soloist in the Count Basie Orchestra, it was also a no-brainer. “Of course I agreed to do it, because Tommy’s venue is really the only venue in New Mexico that supports jazz as well as other music on a regular basis. It’s the least I can do to give back to the community and to Tommy specifically.”
If you want to give something back to the Outpost—and help guarantee that you can continue to see folks like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dave Holland, John Hammond, Chris Smither, Danilo Perez, Omar Sosa, Zakir Hussain, Luciana Souza, and the list goes on and on—you have five splendid opportunities to do so.