The 4/1/2009 edition of The Arizona Republic published an article by Jahna Berry that reported news about revenue woes at the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra (PSO). Unfortunately, the article is short on details although it does report about some revenue shortages. At the same time, there is mention of some cost cutting measures already enacted by the PSO…
According to the article, the PSO has enacted measures to reduce their budget by 8.3% which include eliminating six staff positions and cutting administrative salaries. There are no details regarding what sort of artistic cuts are being proposed other than the opening sentence.
“Phoenix Symphony musicians could become part time workers under one of the cost-cutting proposals being considered by 60-year-old organization.”
The article attributes this information to “a labor union” which in and of itself, is a very odd reference. One might assume the reporter is referring to American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which represents the Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, but since the union isn’t named, there is no definitive answer. In all my years in this business I have yet to encounter a media outlet that failed to refer to the AFM by name. Nevertheless, the author does include quotes from a musician spokesperson and in those instances she makes the AFM connection.
Regardless, if the part time proposal is accurate, it would be one of the most dramatic cuts proposed by a professional orchestra in recent years; including recent events in Columbus, Charleston, and Shreveport. Currently, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra employs 76 full time, or salaried, musicians so reducing those players to part time status, or per-service, would indicate a proposed reduction in operating expenses in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 percent.
According to a statement from a Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony spokesperson, the organization has managed to operate with balanced budgets over the past five years so the need for such drastic cuts would be highly unusual. In fact, without having access to better details, the $1 million in non-artistic budget reductions seems equally as drastic. Answers may not be forthcoming anytime soon as both parties have agreed to a press blackout while they discuss these issues.
In due course, if the organization is in as bad of condition as the article suggests this may not bode well for the institution’s leaders when one considers the mountain of existing labor problems which one Phoenix reporter described as “legal challenges involve[ing] lawsuits, complaints to federal agencies, charges of wrongful termination, allegations of retaliation, and the charge that the symphony’s top, veteran players are being forced to take demotions or leave the symphony…”
In short, it is tough for an orchestra’s executive, board, and artistic leaders to build the level of credibility needed to generate public support for implementing significant changes in strategic direction when facing legal challenges of that magnitude. Hopefully, this artilce is blowing details out of proportion a bit and the impending meetings between administrators and musician representatives will produce solutions other than the type alluded to in The Arizona Republic.