In an audit of The Egg in Albany, the state Authorities Budget Office was critical of the organization’s board of directors, and rightly so. It lacks direction, leadership and even bodies, with no permanent chairman, multiple vacancies and consistent absenteeism. It has failed to raise funds or bring in new revenues to offset The Egg’s deficit — a deficit that the auditors also found fault with.
But the deficit, $139,000 last year, is relatively small for an arts organization. In fact, there would be no deficit if the state hadn’t cut The Egg’s subsidy from $540,000 to $220,000 between 2009 and 2012 (most arts operations have seen similar cuts in subsidies and grants during the state’s fiscal crisis).
It is also important to note that the auditors found no fault with the Egg’s programming — again, rightly so. Because that programming is extraordinary in its variety and quality. As a performance venue, The Egg is a showcase for the arts in the state’s capital, accessible to and enjoyed by the people of this region as well as visitors. Whatever happens to it organizationally, that must be preserved.
And what will happen to The Egg, which has been operating as a nonprofit, public benefit corporation since 1979? The auditors recommended the authority be dissolved and the facility taken over by the state, with the Office of General Services either running it or allowing another entity to do it.
For a model of the latter, the auditors cite two examples. One is the Times Union Center, which is owned by the county and managed by a private company for a fee, with the county getting a guaranteed level of income and sharing any additional revenues. The other is the Palace Theatre, which is owned by the city of Albany and operated by a nonprofit, with the nonprofit responsible for routine maintenance and repairs and any additional revenue going into the operation and management of the theater.
Either of these could work financially, as could OGS taking over full control. It already maintains The Egg, and already markets, hosts and manages publicly attended activities at other venues around the Empire State Plaza. Having one entity and staff do all these things would be more efficient and cost-effective.
The danger is artistic: The Egg, particularly under a private manager, could become a venue for popular, money-making shows. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen — and needn’t. As the audit points out, the shows at The Egg are well-attended and take in more than enough revenue to cover their costs.
The focus should be on saving money through organization and administration and maintaining the artistic excellence. Whoever runs The Egg can accomplish that by keeping its current executive director, Peter Lesser, to manage it.