An Interview with Intiman's Board President: "Can One Man Bring Down an Entire Theater?"


Sorry, Brendan - I call bullshit when I see it.

This is board-level incompetence at the highest highest level. The theatre and board's position (which seems to be "Gosh, what was happening??") reveals a level of incompetence that I cannot even fathom.

Two of my friends are on the boards of two different large theaters in town and they attend meeting after meeting of finances, audits, committees. It's an endless parade of stewardship.

These board members were not stewards of the organization and Intiman will not see a dime of my money until the board reveals the extent of the finances, including the size of the endowment, and until their Artistic Director lives FULL TIME in Seattle.
How about some questions about the also-departed Finance Director? That's the position that should have been making sure that bookkeeping was being done and income was being represented accurately to the Board. I find it quite odd that all these financial issues are being tied - even in legally-neutral ways - entirely to Colburn when there was a FD on staff. How could the FD have not known about these things?
Maybe this is a good time to start pushing for groups like this that run on the goodwill of the community to have totally transparent finances at all times.
Gotta agree with @1: Colburn was on-staff at Intiman for a mere 20 months, and it's been one of Seattle's worst kept secrets for far longer than that that Intiman was in deep financial doo-doo.

This is a guy who held the same position at Pasadena Playhouse for more than five years, during which he oversaw a major capital campaign, so it's not exactly like he was incompetent at his job. Perhaps there were some personal issues that affected his performance, it's certainly possible. But at the same time, one can't help but wonder if the Intiman Board is simply using him as a convenient scape-goat; as I said, they've been barely keeping themselves above water financially for years, and my guess is that Colburn simply was unable to extricate the organization out of a financial mess that began long before he came on-board.
@1 - no, board-level incompetence at the highest level is when your board allows the Finance Director to write and sign checks (going against pretty much rule #1 in NPO accounting) and then is shocked - SHOCKED! - when that person embezzles $200K. And then plays the whole episode to the public as a "fundraising opportunity".
@5 - Yes, you got that right. I just can't get over this level of profound bullshit "shock" on the part of board members.

Question for the crowd: If you were an experienced donor would you give Intiman a dime?

And question for Brendan: Are you really believing all of this? Can you not see through it? It seems that your publisher should give you - oh 5000 words - on the background here.

@6 - I was referring to the 2007 debacle at Bellevue Art Museum.
@4 - within a year of Colburn leaving, Pasadena Playhouse filed for bankruptcy and closed it's doors (only to reopen 4 months later). While I do think Colburn is becoming a scapegoat for this story and I believe that the lack of board governance had a lot to do with this announcement, you've got to wonder about that track record. Nothing i can find in the news ever linked Colburn to the Playhouse demise, but maybe they are just classier in Pasadena.
@8: Read the LA area coverage of this story. The local press there totally refutes the idea that Colburn damaged the Playhouse. That place was held together with glue.

And Colburn has already told the NY times that he denies giving the board intentionally incorrect numbers.

You want to know who to blame? It isn't the staff. We work harder than dogs.
Wow...layer after layer of bullshit from Intiman.

Did Mr Colburn SPEND the money?


And, it's a Board's responsibility to keep a tab on finances, ESPECIALLY in this economy.
I think it is safe to assume Brendan Kelley to so far up the a@@ of the Board that he has forgotten anything about balanced journalism, nor does he understand the power his words can have. A simple Q and A is not what I would consider journalism with integrity. Yes, the Board seems to be throwing Colburn under the bus. Yes, the Board may even have a reason to throw him under the bus. But a true journalist would not simply give an open and unedited forum allowing the Board to do so. Blame should be share here, do you know nothing about how a theater is organized? Shame on you Brendan.

Wait a minute...

"We want to take the records we've now reconstructed and have them audited, and they (sic) audit will give us further information.

We expect that audit to be finished in June and then we'll know more."

...but they want $750,000.00 by June? Really?
I understand the right we the public have to be upset, incredulous, and even skeptical, but when do we move past this phase into concern for one of our own arts organizations which is on the verge of collapse? Have we become so sarcastic that we're unable to see the big picture here? Intiman is flawed, yes. But in the past decade, Intiman has far outgrown its little-sibling-of-the-Rep status, finding its voice, earning national attention for its work, garnering the regional Tony... And now, yes, it's financially crumbling. Why is our reaction so cynical? Why does it have to be such a "whodunit", or "they had it coming" or "just goes to show". Can we pause for a moment and remember that these things don't matter in the long run, but the death of a significant arts organization, the second biggest theatre house in our city, would be a terrible loss for the arts and culture of our city?
there's no way that one guy brings down an organization like this unless there's criminal theft. No one is saying that, so the board definitely bears responsibility. "But we just joined the board so we could meet other rich people and go to shows. We never thought we would have to review finance reports."
@13: I disagree. These things do matter and they matter quite a lot. We have some lovely theatres in town, but you seem to believe that we live in a city that has unlimited resources and where something that has been around for 30 years is such a complete part of the landscape that it cannot be altered.

Theatres fail all the time, even somewhat mid-sized theatres, like Intiman. And given their seemingly endless financial disarray (and all you have to do is go back a few years to see other "we have to raise funds now!" appeals), they simply do not deserve to survive.

When they die, another company (perhaps New Century or Shakes or someone else) will step in and take their shot.

When Intiman pulls 2 MILLION DOLLARS from the pool of arts dollars just to get back to the place where they can say "OK, now we're broke" then we, as a city, have to stop and say "What the fuck is going on??"

The Intiman is not the second biggest house is you look at the big picture of things. There are bigger theatres (the fifth avenue sells probably 10 times as many tickets), and there are more consistently BETTER theatres that could benefit from the 2M in resources you propose goes to this poorly run, constantly broke, and (to be really candid) 2nd tier dramatic institution.

This season sucked and the box office and the market have spoken.

Let it die and let other, better, organizations live.
The board clearly has some responsibility. How'd it get so bad if there wasn't criminal theft? and why is the finance director now in charge? Are you saying no one has been able to talk to colburn? "Well, we joined the board to meet other rich people and never imagined that we would have to manage anything"
18 months after Colburn leaves Pasadena, and that playhouse is in trouble. And from what I HEAR about the Intiman, Brian Colburn was the only one willing to stand for the integrity of the theater, and the board is full of a bunch of wanna be boobs. It seems to me and a lot of folks that theaters don't do well when they either aren't smart enough to listen to Briian Colburn, or don't do what they need to keep him.
And in 2007: "We're not a sinking ship," managing director Laura Penn said. "But now it's time to go public and say we need to raise $1.3 million by Nov. 1 and another $1.5 million by April 1, 2008, or we can no longer do the kind of programming our audience expects of us."…
@ all the anonymous commenters:

How about one of you loud-mouths email me at (or call me at 206-323-7101) and tell me what you really know.

As of now, I have a board president who's willing to talk to me, an ex-MD who is taking all the blame but is AWOL, and a lot of rumor-mongers and blowhards whispering in my ear and posting anonymous comments on blogs.

You know so much and feel like the world needs to know about it, too? Tell me about it. I'm not a psychic. But my phone lines are wide open.
I know nothing of this situation, but I might hazard to guess that so many of today's business people and administrators came up during the economic bubble, and had no idea of how to build reserves and keep an eye on the bottom line.

Perhaps the thought process was to not worry because you could always count on WAMU or some patron to bail them out.

Sister Vel-DuRay was a development director for the local chapter of a well known national medical charity in another city. She kept warning the board and the director (comprised entirely of the sort of grade z socialites and low-witted corporate types that occupy such positions in third tier cities) that their reserves were insufficient and that corporations were tightening their belts. When their annual fundraiser fell short, she was the one put on the chopping block. That was three years ago, and they still haven't exceeded the money she raised on that dog of a fundraiser.
@19: Brendan, if the Times ran a story about your boss's boss, would you jump up and grab the phone to talk to a reporter, especially when you work at a place that is so willing to throw people under the bus??

Why didn't you ask about the board's fiduciary responsibility through all this? Who hired Brian anyway?

Where are the minutes to their finance committee meetings? Those are public documents.

Where are the minutes of their monthly board meetings?
Those are public documents.

What specific board members sit on their finance committee and what are their specific responsibilities? Why are they still on the board?

How much of the Intiman's endowment is actually left in cash? Is whoever took those funds from the separate charity (it is its own foundation) being prosecuted for fraud?
Why/why not?

How much in bills is specifically outstanding? Not "we have made arrangements" but the exact amount of still unpaid invoices?

Why are you not auditing until after this campaign?

Come on Brendan. THINK. You've been mopped by their "access" and "transparency" and don't even know it.
@21: To the best of my knowledge, the internal documents (minutes and financial reports) of a 501(c)(3) organization are not public, contrary to your assertion. Private non-profits are required to release their annual Form 990 tax return, but other than that they are a private organization like any other company. (This can be very frustrating to a donor who thinks the board is screwing up, I can tell you.)
@19 I don't know one side from the other, have never so much as bought a ticket at this particular theatre, and I haven't even lived in the area for nearly a decade, but at this point (while everyone's going to ground) the next place I'd look is to their suppliers, not their insiders.

Ask how long it takes to get a payable filled. Do they toe the line on net 30 - or gone so far as to ask for net 60 or 90 quotes? Has any supplier had to tighten payment terms - down to net 10 or even cash? If it's a short term change, then that points to short term issues. If it's always been bad, it's a long term issue. In the very unlikely case that it's always been good - for example frequently taking advantage of early-payment incentives - then they're cash-rich and the story lies somewhere else.