Performing arts groups in limbo after Neurosciences ends lease

Concertmaster William Preucil leads the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra during a performance at the Neurosciences Institute in 2011. Each year, the venue hosts more than 100 free concerts and lectures. Photo by J.T. MacMillan.
Concertmaster William Preucil leads the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra during a performance at the Neurosciences Institute in 2011. Each year, the venue hosts more than 100 free concerts and lectures. Photo by J.T. MacMillan.
photo
Concertmaster William Preucil leads the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra during a performance at the Neurosciences Institute in 2011. Each year, the venue hosts more than 100 free concerts and lectures. Photo by J.T. MacMillan.

Don’t miss out

To experience the renowned Neurosciences Institute auditorium, visit

nsi.edu

for a list of upcoming performances.

By Pat Sherman

Some 40 San Diego performing arts organizations learned last week that the top-tier La Jolla performance space they have been using for free may not be available to them any longer.

Since the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) began operating at its facility near UC San Diego in 1996, nonprofit performing arts and education groups have been the beneficiary of the research institution’s largesse, receiving regular, gratis access to NSI’s 352-seat, acoustically superior concert venue.

Scripps Research Institute owns the auditorium and the two adjacent buildings leased by NSI.

Scripps spokeswoman Stacy Rosenberg said NSI’s lease was set to expire in 2014, though the institution asked to be released from the lease early. The property will revert back to Scripps control on Oct. 1.

Rosenberg said Scripps Research Institute does not have the funds to allow arts organizations to continue using the space for free. During the past week, she has met collectively and individually with representatives from many of the affected groups to work out a solution. However, she said, the halcyon days of free use are most certainly over.

It costs about $350,000 a year to operate the auditorium, given its current usage, Rosenberg said. Scripps also would need to find money to pay for a part-time employee to oversee the performing arts program, she said.

An annual fundraiser called Minding the Arts was organized to help offset the cost to NSI of operating the auditorium, though last September’s event netted only about $100,000 said the institute’s research director, Dr. Einar Gall.

“Minding the Arts each year has been a source of very significant support, but it has not covered all of our costs,” Gall said of the upscale event, tickets to which cost $150-$250.

Rosenberg said the funding that Scripps Research Institute receives — as much as 85 percent of it from government sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) — does not include money for the arts.

While the Neurosciences Institute’s vision and research was more aligned with music and the arts — including research into music’s effect on the brain — Rosenberg said Scripps “is a very different kind of science institution.”

“We’re struggling, like all other not-for-profit institutions,” she said. “We’re looking at a threatened federal funding climate, because there have been major cuts to the NIH.

photo
The austere exterior of the auditorium at the Neurosciences Institute (NSI), designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates of New York City. The NSI is “considered one of the architectural gems, not only of San Diego, but of the country,” said its research director, Dr. Einar Gall.

“We also are obligated under the terms of our mission to devote any funds that are raised for Scripps Research to biomedical research,” she said.

Mainly Mozart has been using the Neurosciences space since 1996, and has annually held up to 17 performances there in recent years.

Though getting audiences and performers to venture to the isolated auditorium was a risk at the onset, Mainly Mozart’s executive director, Nancy Laturno Bojanic, said concertgoers eventually grew to love it.

“Unlike most other venues, people’s decision to participate has a lot to do with that venue,” Bojanic said. “There are thousands of people who use the Neurosciences Institute as a primary venue for their concert-going. … The size of the theater for chamber music and for what many others produce there is really lovely.”

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