Billion Dollar Business

The Chicago Tribune published an article by Charles Storch which reports that Chicago’s “arts are playing a leading role in Chicago’s economy and performing big time”…


In particular, the article goes on to describe “that Chicago’s non-profit arts and cultural industry and its audiences generated $1.09 billion in spending in 2005.” Naturally, this report takes into account all nonprofit performing arts organizations operating in the Chicago area, but how does that stack up against US professional orchestras?

During the same approximate time frame as the Chicago area report (2004-2005 season), America’s 75 professional symphonic orchestras cumulatively spent $1,062,436,899. Keep in mind this doesn’t include opera (like the big-budget Metropolitan and Chicago Lyric Opera organizations), ballet, or commercial ensembles.

That figure represents a 13.84 percent increase over expenditures from the 2000-2001 season, which came to $933,234,513; as illustrated in the chart to your left (click to enlarge). Although those inside the business may likely not be surprised by these figures, when I talk to people outside of the business they are often astonished that the business of professional orchestras collectively moves that much money through the country on an annual basis.

If anything, increasing awareness about just how much money flows through US professional orchestras can serve as a useful tool with regard to just about every component of this business. As such, it would be in every manager’s best interest to think about how disseminating those figures would best serve the needs of their respective organization.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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