Myra Daniels: 'Disgustingly honest'
The Phil owes no apologies, CEO says
The Naples Philharmonic is committed to quality, and that takes money, and owes no apologies to other arts groups or speakers series, so says Myra Daniels, founder and CEO of The Phil, who is this week’s guest on Comcast’s "One on One with Jeff Lytle.’’ Daniels also defends remarks about The Phil being "the proven’’ local arts leader and her future as its hands-on leader in her interview with Lytle, editorial page/Perspective editor of the Daily News.
The entire 30-minute program airs today at noon on Comcast CN14. Video highlights and partial transcripts of this and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone.
Lytle: You say we’re in tough times, including for the arts, yet this is the right time to start a $10-million fund-raising campaign.
Could you tell us a little about that?
Daniels: Well, it’s simple, Jeff. We have been very fortunate up until the last couple of years. And then the market, as you know, hit everybody. We all tightened our belt, and we’re proud to say that we have turned that around and the $8 million that we lost from our endowment we have almost regained. So that is not the problem.
The problem is that the cost of doing business with over 400 employees, and the cost of the artists we had Kiri Te Kanawa. You know, we just don’t have someone who plays in a bar room, though there’s nothing wrong with that. We had Renné Fleming; we had Itzhak Perlman. We’re going to have them back.
We had the best in dance, not just dance. It’s a very carefully picked program. It is a program that has something for everyone: every age, every interest. And you may not like it all, but those costs have been going up.
Admissions (ticket sales) account for about 58 percent of the income. And admissions are a little slower than usual all over the world. Most orchestras are down 30 percent. We aren’t. We’re down about a third of that, but we’re down.
People are thinking twice about how many shows they can see, and we have not cut our quality. And like everybody, once in a while we skin our knees, and the next day we say "never again.’’
Lytle: Let’s talk about the details of your annual report. There are four main points that we could go through one at a time and look ahead.
The first point that seems to be attracting most of the letters to the editor would be your decision to go with the experienced accomplished Sarasota Opera as opposed to the Opera Naples group, which is getting started, and would like to have partnered with you. One of them went so far as to say that’s an insult, and they would have appreciated the boost and the opportunity to excel and rise to your level.
Daniels: Let’s just go back in history. In 1989 we employed the New York City Opera, a very good opera company. And we were happy with them for a few years, and then they decided not to tour. And the Metropolitan Opera Company thought about doing it, but they decided not to tour.
We were always looking for a very high professional company. We were lucky when we met Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet, our first year, and Villella is a good example of a Florida company that has made it to the top. He’s in the top five. And we have helped him. We have truly partnered with him, and we appreciate that company.
But we have other dance companies come in; like we had Pilobolus Dance Theater last night.
I think that it should be clear that this is not that we want any harm to Opera Naples.
The Sarasota Opera is the best fit for our audience.
We had three meetings with Opera Naples and I listened and I asked questions. They wanted some things that were impossible.
Lytle: Like facilities, or money?
Daniels: Well, I think that’s pretty confidential. But what they wanted was, for example, two performances. Well, we have a 1,475-seat hall, and we sell out now for our opera.
Lytle: You mean performances per production?
Daniels: Every time they would present a program, they wanted to do it twice. Well, they haven’t filled that and we didn’t think that could happen. That was one.
There was some talk about our orchestra not maybe being good enough.
Daniels: I think they got over that. But everybody has a right to do what they want to do, and we have no grudge. But we had the opportunity to find the finest little opera company in America. Fifty-one years old.
Lytle: They’re not new to this. They’re accomplished.
Daniels: Yes, and we know about how many people from our area go there to see them
Lytle: And Sarasota is a pretty serious arts community.
Daniels: Yes, I spoke there yesterday. I spoke to their philanthropy group, and there were a lot of people when I mentioned the name Sarasota Opera, they stood and applauded. And so I was pleased. And they’re going to come and see us here.
It is not to harm anyone. It is to keep the high professionalism and someday we may never be able to ignore Opera Naples.
But they told us they wanted to build a building for rehearsal because they needed five rehearsals.
Lytle: They’ve announced those plans.
Daniels: Yes, but now it is a center for the arts, if you read carefully. So I gave them my plans when they asked for it.
Lytle: Your plans for what?
Daniels: For our hall. They have our architectural plans for the stage. So we’re not unfriendly. Mr. Goldberg called me and was very nice over the phone, and I have no problems with them.
The people who are writing are people who don’t understand the whole scope of it, and it’s much to do about nothing.
Lytle: Is Mr. Goldberg the architect?
Daniels: No, Mr. Goldberg is their executive head.
Lytle: Are there any fences to mend there? Or we just move on?
Daniels: I’ve said more about it today than I’ve ever said. What is there to say when you are just trying to do a good business job and one things fits and another thing doesn’t?
Lytle: Let’s move on to your speaker series. Wow. The first year will include former President Bill Clinton. Can the marketplace absorb another top-shelf speaker series? We already have so much, like Naples Town Hall.
Daniels: We already have our own speaker series every year. We have had it for 20 years.
Lytle: But this is in a different league, it seems.
Daniels: Well, we were fortunate to have those offered to us, and we decided to bite the bullet.
I heard Clinton speak many years ago, and he is charismatic and he’s not politicking now. He’s doing other things, and I think he will talk a little bit about his Haiti charge with former President George H. W. Bush. Whatever he has to say is interesting for Americans to hear no matter what your politics.
Lytle: Can the other, established speaker series survive and continue to do well with the addition of this one?
Daniels: Why not? We’re much cheaper because we have more seats. Everybody has the same opportunities. I’m sure they could have gone out and spent their money on this. It wasn’t an exclusive to us.
Lytle: They had a former president themselves this past season.
Daniels: We’re not out to put anyone out of business.
You know, Jeff, I have always felt that if you have the right product with the right timing, no one can stop you. No one can stop you.
Lytle: Is that the secret to your success?
Daniels: I don’t know that I’ve had that much success.
I believe, and I believe fervently, if the idea is right, you have to find a way to keep it. And I took my hand at some ad writing again after a million years because I wanted the story told in our words. I’ve been disgustingly honest with my public, and they have responded.
Lytle: The writing you refer to is in the ads that were in the Daily News headlined, "Together We Can Do it." And you encourage readers to join you yet again in a fund-raising campaign, this time for $10 million.
Daniels: Over a five-year period.
Lytle: You’ve had 10 million visitors to the Philharmonic since it opened, so it’s a nice round number
Daniels: Yes, yes. Of course some of those people probably came back a couple of times, but we have had those people.
We’re very businesslike; possibly that’s a plus, but it may be a minus too. We have one mission — to bring the best in entertainment that we can afford, and to have a well-rounded program of entertainment and education.
The speakers session — there’s no party politics there — is an educational series.
Lytle: The advertisement that you cite mentions "the best investment in the arts is an investment in a proven product." And this is what’s attracted some attention to your message.
Daniels: It’s true.
Lytle: And you were quoted as saying that the Philharmonic is "the proven product in a crowded field.’’ That makes some other large organizations — or so they tell us — feel slighted or say, "Hey, we’re here too.’’
Daniels: Well, they are. And now they have to do their proving.
We can all have ideas. When we started out, and you know the history because you were with the paper, weren’t you?
Daniels: And I had my life threatened even, and it was an amazing thing. I never had been in small-town politics. I never entered anything like that. So I decided to hold the course.
You know, we haven’t written any letters. We haven’t had our musicians write because it is better to remain silent and not pick a fight and be thought a fool perhaps, than to speak and remove all doubt.
I think we’re not taking from anyone. We’re saying that we are the proven product.
You know, a couple of years ago, our area was labeled as the No. 1 arts community, and the book that this man wrote — I can’t remember his name — said that it was because of the Phil. Now, it was also because we have many good people in this town who love the arts.
The problem: It’s just a statistic that I want you to keep in mind. It’s pretty tough when you are the proven product to keep your head above board, but it’s really tougher to try to duplicate unless you have a big bankroll. It’s one thing to build; it’s another thing to maintain. We are debt-free.
Lytle: You always have been. You opened debt-free.
Daniels: Yes, but that is not going to be if we splinter and have false starts.
Lytle: In our story about the same annual report announcement, you reported as saying, "Everybody who has an itch wants to go into the arts business. They ought to go to a druggist because the arts business is a tough business."
My question to you is, what did you mean?
Daniels: I don’t know. I ad-lib a great deal. I never write a speech. And I meant that you have to do your homework before you start. And we did our homework.
Lytle: But if you go to the druggist, what drug should they get? Should they get Calamine lotion or Prozac or what?
Daniels: I was saying an itch and I don’t even know what you get for itches. I’ve never had an itch.
I’ve had a lot of ideas because that’s where I come from, the creative field. And most of them go in the waste basket, because you can’t carry them out.
Now, I think there are some good things happening, and I encourage them. But I also think that when people go out and say they need so much money, they’d better have the right backing.
Lytle: You have to follow through.
Daniels: One failure, and you’ll have to take a rest for a couple of years.
Lytle: Talking about taking a rest, before we go to a break, how many more years can you continue to give your hands-on attention to all this? I mean, you have your hands around everything. How many more years can you do it?
Daniels: Jeff, do I look that bad?
Lytle: That’s a question to a question.
Daniels: You’re asking questions on age. Muriel Siebert is a friend of mine, and I heard her say recently that age is a number on a page that I pulled out of a book and lost.
People age differently. If I’m doing my job, and if I’m happy in it — selfishly, I have to be happy. And I’m deliriously happy.
And you have to be producing. If you can’t produce, it’s time to be put out to pasture, and if I found the right man or woman that could do better than I —
I don’t have any control over it. My board is what will decide that.