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The Atlanta Symphony locks out its musicians.
 
The Indianapolis Symphony cancels its first two weeks of performances.
 
The Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have both proposed pay cuts for musicians.
 
Strings Festival Orchestra
 
 
It’s startling that all of these well-known orchestras are running into financial trouble all at the same time. At first glance, it may appear that the problem is due to the recent recession. But the CEO of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra admits to having financial deficits for nearly a decade. The Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy last year, which requires more than just a few years of financial troubles. Although the fall of 2012 is surging with failing orchestra headlines, it’s not really the current economy that’s the problem. It’s 10 years earlier.
 
Ten years ago, at the height of the dotcom boom, orchestras were slow to latch on to new technology. While for-profit businesses moved to take advantage of social media outlets and develop user-friendly websites, many arts organizations were reluctant to enter the online world, claiming that it would be too confusing for their patrons and that orchestra goers weren’t interested in arts organizations online.
 
Yet 10 years later, we see the effects of this poor planning manifesting itself in huge budget deficits. All those people who couldn’t get information on a website or buy tickets online took their business elsewhere, which certainly contributed to the problem orchestras face now.
 
Of course the easiest way to alleviate budget problems is to cut the biggest line item. In this case, that is musician salaries. Musicians have protested the pay cuts and gone on lengthy strikes, claiming that lower wages would devalue the arts. However, if changes to the structure cannot be made, musicians will have more to worry about than a pay cut.
 
If orchestras cannot solve their financial troubles, musicians may be in jeopardy of losing their entire career. Looking at the long term situation, musicians should be working with orchestra management instead of against it to resolve the budget crisis. Musicians and arts administration staff have the same vested interest in presenting quality arts performances and therefore should work together to keep arts and culture a viable economic factor.
 
EmcArts, an arts and culture strengthening organization, has found examples of orchestras changing their structure and showing positive results.

The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra has involved orchestra members in the planning cycle. Including perspectives from both musicians and staff creates a plan that works for both groups. Additionally, when musicians want to take on more orchestra management duties, there is potential to eliminate positions. Hiring one person to do two jobs rather than two people to do two jobs can cut down the budget without decreasing salaries.
 
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is becoming involved in the local community. Yo Yo Ma is reaching out to youth in underserved areas through the Citizen Musician program. If orchestras are seen as a vital part of the community, and not just existing for tourists and the upper-class, the community will again start to value the arts.
 
 
 
While most orchestras now have a website and other online capabilities, they are still significantly behind other businesses. However, The Met not only embraced technology, but took it to the next level. You can now subscribe to a digital broadcast of a concert, either live or after the concert occurs. The Met can now reach an audience that is broader than the population of New York City.
 
The death of the classical orchestra may not be as near as people think. If orchestras adopt a business mindset and implement innovative ideas and creative solutions, arts and culture will rebound, giving citizens a higher quality of living. 
Posted on September 19, 2012
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