In a press release from February 26, 2008 the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Musicians voted to allow a live recording of an upcoming masterworks concert featuring Symphony No. 5 and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Tchaikovsky for Denon, which intends to release it on compact disc. According to the PR, the musicians voted to accept a reduction in payments that would allow the organization to produce the recording "for a tenth of what a normal studio recording of the same program would cost" at the personal request of Music Director Junichi Hirokami. And from the player’s perspective it may be one of the CSO’s last hurrahs…
According to Douglas Fisher, CSO bassoonist and President of the
Central Ohio Federation of Musicians, the Musician’s Union the
musicians are concerned that the CSO board’s proposed financial plan
will irreparably erode on the CSO’s artistic accomplishments.
Although the Musicians will be paid far
less than usual for this recording, we want to memorialize the artistic
summit achieved by the CSO, which has taken decades to reach, before it
may be destroyed next season by controlling members of the CSO Board
and Executive Director Tony Beadle, who are publicly advocating the
firing of 22 Musicians at the end of this summer", said Fisher.
If you take the time to read the CSO’s proposed financial plan (available from the orchestra’s website),
it looks as if supporters might have more to fear than just immediate
reductions in the level of artistic output. Although the CSO’s proposed
financial plan predicts that a 25 percent budget reduction will result
in a financially stable organization it fails to acknowledge the
following dynamic consequences from such aggressive cuts:
- Lack of growth = lack of momentum.
It is one
thing to suggest a reduction in the operating budget when accompanied
by an eye on recovery but it is another matter to do so without any
plans past implementation. In the case of the CSO’s proposed financial
plan, there are few indicators as to what the organization plans to do
from a strategic sense if the cuts are enacted. There are some vague
references to starting an endowment drive as well as (curiously)
building a new venue for the orchestra (shades of Miami immediately
come to mind) but there is no mention of restoring and cuts. Malaise is
not an orchestral organization’s friend and just like most sharks, an
orchestra needs to move forward or sink.
- Donors/supporters/ticket buyers/potential board members gravitate toward excitement.
best, the CSO will experience what they have defined as fiscal
stability in the proposed plan for a few seasons. Historically,
organizations that have enacted similar plans have discovered that much
of the promised initial financial support dries up after a few years
because those supporters inevitably move away from the organization to
be closer to groups that are delivering a consistently improving
product. More to the point, although the proposed financial plan
declares that "expanding artistic excellence is at the heart of every
symphony orchestra’s core mission" and "top-quality artistic output" is
a critical component in reaching that goal, the CSO’s music director
has publicly declared that the proposed downsizing would be
- Nonprofits compete.
The proposed financial plan
trumpets that the CSO is currently the "ﬂagship performing arts
organization in Columbus." However, if the proposed cuts are enacted,
this not only moves the CSO out of the number one position, but it
sends a clear message to other nonprofit performing arts organizations
that the CSO’s traditional donor base is up for grabs. In fact, it
would be surprising if the previous points didn’t conspire to
accelerate this consequence, meaning the other performing arts
organizations in town which are experiencing a natural growth cycle
will use this momentum to woo away current and prospective CSO donors
and board members.
The cumulative result from these events is that the
organization will come full circle to the point where the financial
pressures it sought to relieve are right back within a few seasons. It
doesn’t take much to see the sort of cyclical pattern instigated by a
plan that calls for severe cuts with no details for recovery.
Consequently, if the CSO board is expecting local donors to support the
plan primarily on the stability it promises, they may be disappointed.