United, they survive - and, with hope, thrive. More than at any other time, leaders agree, the largest arts organizations in central Ohio are finding strength in joint productions.

United, they survive - and, with hope, thrive.

More than at any other time, leaders agree, the largest arts organizations in central Ohio are finding strength in joint productions.

The 2012-13 season stands out with three notable pairings: one each between BalletMet Columbus and the Columbus Symphony, Opera Columbus and Shadowbox Live, and CATCO and the Columbus Museum of Art.

By comparison, the previous half-dozen arts seasons each featured, at most, one high-profile joint effort.

"There's a tremendous spirit of collaboration in this community," said Jami Goldstein, spokeswoman for the Greater Columbus Arts Council, which provides grants and operating support to arts and cultural organizations.

"We didn't need to push that. . . . In a period of economic challenges and scarcer resources, the main benefits of collaboration are sharing resources and sharing costs."

Arts groups also cite other reasons for teaming: to raise their visibility, stretch their talent and reach new audiences.

"We can't continue to do business as usual if we're going to survive," said Stev Guyer, president of Shadowbox Live. "If arts groups continue to each live within their own divided houses, we will fall."

Ideally, collaborations generate enough excitement to become must-see events.

A case in point: Opera Columbus and Shadowbox Live's nontraditional La Boheme, which continues through next Sunday at Shadowbox's Backstage Bistro. After attracting capacity crowds, the hourlong English adaptation of the Puccini opera will receive an encore run with the same cast from mid-February through April.

"The wonderful surprise of La Boheme is that we've been enriched so much artistically," said Peggy Kriha Dye, general manager of Opera Columbus. "Opera can be so focused on the singing, but Shadowbox has freshened us up a bit and made opera more entertaining with an equal focus on the script.

"Anyone can get stuck in a rut," she said, "and it's nice to learn from other talents."

After the success of La Boheme and the collaboration last year with BalletMet Columbus on 7 Deadly Sins, Shadowbox is talking with the Columbus Museum of Art about a collaboration for the 2013-14 season.

"We get to reach an audience we wouldn't reach otherwise with collaborations - that's big," said Guyer, who staged La Boheme. "We also get to work with a group of artists and artistic directors who have a different sensibility - . . . which jump-starts our creative juices."

Among the most notable joint projects of this season will be BalletMet and the Columbus Symphony's celebration of the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring.

In three performances March 22-24 at the Ohio Theatre, the groups will bring to life Stravinsky's edgy ballet-orchestral work with dancers performing new choreography by James Kudelka as more than 100 musicians play onstage.

"Having the musicians onstage with the dancers will be electric - totally different than when the symphony is in the pit," said Cheri Mitchell, executive director of BalletMet.

"We have collaborated with the symphony before, but this epic production is the most extensive effort - the first time, I believe, where we are jointly producing and creating together."

Such a project, Mitchell said, has the potential to become the event of the season. Still, she said, the cooperation is beneficial for a more important reason: "to do something artistically that each organization couldn't do - or not do as well - on its own."

CATCO and the art museum, meanwhile, are gearing up for a joint tribute to modern painter Mark Rothko.

"The gods of collaboration were smiling down on us because the museum and CATCO were separately planning an exhibit and play, and they fit together in wonderful ways," said CATCO Producing Director Steven Anderson.

"Today, it has become smart to work together and cross-pollinate audiences."

During the museum's Feb. 1-to-May 26 run of the exhibit "Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade," CATCO from Feb. 13 to March 3 will present Red in the Riffe Center's Studio One Theatre. In his 2010 Tony-winning play, playwright John Logan dramatizes Rothko's work preparing his enormous color-block canvases for murals for New York's Four Seasons restaurant.

"Serendipitously, the exhibit ends (in marking Rothko's creative evolution) where Red begins," Anderson said. "We hope that people will see Rothko's art, begin their conversation at the museum and then come to the play."

Such partnerships, the museum's Sarah Rogers says, have become more the rule than the exception in the past five years or so.

"Collaborations are much more part of our DNA because they allow us to expand our audiences and the content we can present and stretch our marketing dollar further," said Rogers, a museum deputy director.

"With today's greater financial pressures, we are all trying to work as efficiently and effectively as possible."

Yet collaborations can present challenges - as Shadowbox learned in working with BalletMet on 7 Deadly Sins. Miscommunications and misunderstandings arose between the choreographers, accustomed to choosing their own music, and Shadowbox musicians, who were composing an original score. (Ultimately, the show blended the new and the old.)

"Two different arts organizations have to invest energy in finding a common language," Guyer said. "Often, you don't realize there's a problem until you're well into it."

And, even with careful planning, not all collaborations will succeed, said Bill Conner, president and CEO of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, the Columbus partner for Broadway Across America and the administrative partner for the opera and symphony, among other groups.

"A good collaboration is like a good marriage," Conner said.

"The artistic companies have to have similar values and see the positives. And your staffs have to have similar goals, in terms of what's best for the audience and the artists."


A who's who

Capsule portraits of Columbus' largest arts groups, based on the budgets for the last completed seasons:

• BalletMet Columbus: With the recent departure of Artistic Director Gerard Charles, the troupe launched a nationwide search in May for a new leader and hopes to announce its choice by January. The 34-year-old company used reserves to make up a $46,500 deficit in its 2011-12 budget of $5.6 million.

• CATCO: The professional Equity theater troupe, which stages plays and musicals in the Riffe Center's Studio theaters, had a $9,000 shortage in its 2011-12 budget of $1.5 million. With help from hit shows such as the musical Avenue Q, which sold 98 percent of available tickets, the troupe hopes to balance its 2012-13 budget of $1.6 million. Producing Director Steven Anderson is working to reorganize and re-brand the troupe after the recent departure of veteran manager T.J. Gerckens and a controversial 2010 merger between CATCO and Anderson's Phoenix Theatre for Children (recently renamed CATCO is Kids) that ousted co-founder Geoffrey Nelson.

• Columbus Association for the Performing Arts: The association, which offers shows through the Broadway Across America and "CAPA Presents" series, ended the 2011-12 season with a small surplus on its $14 million budget. CAPA operates venues such as the Ohio, Palace and Southern theaters and the Riffe Center and handles ticketing and accounting for the Columbus Symphony, Opera Columbus and other arts groups.

• Columbus Museum of Art: Founded in 1878, central Ohio's oldest arts institution is known for its works of European and American modernism. Under the leadership of longtime Executive Director Nannette V. Maciejunes, the museum balanced its 2011 budget of $8.1 million. The museum has raised $55.5 million toward a $90 million goal for its endowment and capital campaign, which has made possible renovation of its historic Broad Street building; it expects to break ground next spring on a new wing.

• Columbus Symphony: Under the leadership of Jean-Marie Zeitouni, named music director in 2010, the symphony ended its 2011-12 season with a surplus of $112,000 on a $7.7 million budget. Increased income from contributions and ticket sales helped; so did reduced expenses, made possible by a shortened 26-week season and other cost savings under an administrative partnership forged in 2010 with CAPA.

• Jazz Arts Group: Although Byron Stripling remains artistic director, Press Southworth was named in October to oversee the company, which includes the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Academy, a contemporary "Inside Track" performance series and a jazz-in-schools program. Southworth expects to end this season with a $50,000 surplus on a $1.93 million budget. The group, however, ended last season with a $170,000 shortage on a $1.9 million budget, requiring the company to tap reserves to end in the black. Some savings are expected from a recent staff reduction and office consolidation.

• King Arts Complex: Under Demetries Neely, promoted in June to executive director, the 25-year-old cultural center at 867 Mount Vernon Ave. has bolstered its black programming, cut expenses and balanced its budget for the first time in three years, ending 2011-12 with a $146,000 surplus on a $1.4 million budget. The group ended the previous season, Neely said, with a $73,000 deficit.

• Opera Columbus: The company ended last season with a small surplus on its $778,000 budget, which is expected to rise slightly this season. General Manager Peggy Kriha Dye, recently promoted from director of artistic and educational programming, leads the opera's third season under a five-year management agreement forged with the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts that triggered a leadership transition, staff cuts and a shift to more touring productions and collaborations.

• ProMusica Chamber Orchestra: The company balanced its $1.2 million budget while facing a leadership transition. Founder Timothy Russell is in his last season as music director, with renowned Austrian conductor David Danzmayr (who will visit in January and February) due to replace him in 2013-14.

• Shadowbox Live: Under the steady leadership of co-founder Stev Guyer, the sketch comedy, music and theater troupe is prospering in the Brewery District, where it moved into expanded quarters last year. After balancing its $2.8 million budget in 2011, the troupe expects to thrive on its 2012 budget of $3.2 million - partly because of an "extraordinary" year in which ticket sales and other earned income were 15 percent over estimates, Guyer said.

• Wexner Center for the Arts: The Ohio State University-based multi-arts center, under the longtime leadership of Director Sherri Geldin, is internationally known for its exhibits, film series and presentations of music, dance and theater groups. Operating on a balanced budget of $9 m illion last season, the center is on track to balance its 2012-13 budget of $10.2 million.

- Michael Grossberg