Turmoil resurfaced this week at Miami City Ballet. Executive Director Nicholas Goldsborough, hired last fall to improve fundraising and management, is out as of Saturday. And staff at the company and its school have been told they will receive pay cuts and unpaid furloughs in the face of serious financial troubles.
The moves come as unrest over the unexpected early resignation of founding director Edward Villella, announced last fall, was beginning to recede.
Goldsborough, reached Friday morning in California, said he could not comment on his sudden departure.
“Apparently that is correct,” Goldsborough said upon being told of a Thursday email announcing his resignation.
The email, from MCB Board President Jim Eroncig, said Goldsborough’s resignation would take effect Saturday, when CFO Jonah Pruitt will become acting executive director.
Pruitt said Friday that Goldsborough’s departure was part of an effort to cut costs.
“The ballet is in a cash crisis,” Pruitt said. “It’s part of the board being fiscally responsible due to the urgent need to reduce expenses. … We’re trying to be responsible so we can remain the internationally acclaimed company that we are.”
The ballet did not give details on its financial situation, but minutes from a February board meeting show the troupe was $2 million in debt, and money intended for other uses is going toward basic operating expenses, several MCB sources said.
Eroncig did not respond to telephone messages Friday.
Goldsborough was hired as executive director largely because of his fundraising track record, including major successful campaigns for Disney Concert Hall, Carnegie Hall and Harvard University.
Goldsborough had told MCB staff about the furloughs and salary cuts — of 3 to 15 percent — at a June 21 staff meeting. The troupe’s dancers will not be affected. A letter distributed at the meeting signed by Goldsborough said “Miami City Ballet is faced with a cash crisis … if we are to continue to survive, we are forced to make immediate cost cutting shifts to payroll and to some operational expenses in order to address the cash shortfall and to balance the budget.
“Given the uncertain times, we may adjust these steps as the occasion warrants.”
Goldsborough also announced at that meeting that Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center in Washington and a renowned arts administrator and consultant, would be brought in to consult on fundraising and ticket sales. Two sources said Kaiser would be paid between $125,000 and $150,000. Pruitt would not confirm the sum but said Kaiser would be paid from a separate foundation grant and would start in July.
Pruitt said budgets for marketing and fundraising are being slashed. Marketing Director Bill Miller said he found out when he came to work Tuesday that his job had been eliminated.
Ballet staffers say the situation has left them confused and demoralized.
“We’re all terrified — we don’t know if we’re going to be fired,” said one company staffer. “We don’t know what’s going on.”
“If they got rid of Nick like that, they can get rid of anyone,” said another.
The events come after months of rumors and turmoil since the ballet’s board of governors — the executive committee of the board of trustees empowered to make decisions at the ballet — announced last fall that Villella would resign in April 2013. Since then a number of sources have said the board of governors forced Villella to resign earlier than he had planned, asserting that major donors and funders would not contribute to the ballet unless his early departure was assured.
A former star at New York City Ballet, Villella has led Miami’s troupe to national and international acclaim, with successful appearances in Paris, New York and Washington.
Because donations and ticket sales dry up, summer is a financially precarious time for the ballet. “It’s always been a struggle,” says Mike Eidson, a longtime major donor and former president and chairman of the ballet’s board of governors.
Eidson asserted that the board of governors was in control of the situation and would raise the money needed to get the company going.
“You have a core group of people working behind the scenes now,” Eidson said. “This thing is temporary. … I don’t see the Nick thing as being a big deal.”
But the ballet’s difficulties seem to have been exacerbated by uncertainty over who is in charge and what their plans were. Luis Cordero, a board member and attorney who has handled immigration paperwork for the troupe’s dancers for more than 20 years, said earlier this year he would resign along with Villella because he was so upset about the way his departure and the company were being managed.
“Things are being done very differently than in the past,” Cordero said. “Things are not as open, and decisions are being made very hastily.
“There’s always been a camaraderie, a cohesiveness, it’s always been run as a family … and it was very successful. All of a sudden there are these factions, infighting, secret meetings. Why?”