"I cannot remember a time when so many US orchestras were simultaneously in such difficulty. Whatever patchwork solutions are achieved in the month ahead, system changes are required across the sector in the long term. These are not isolated instances so much as symptoms of an underlying paralysis."
--
author, broadcaster & cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht, 9/6/12

 

Chicago Symphony Orchestra reaches a deal after a weekend strike
Mark Caro & Heather Gillers, Chicago Tribune, 9/25/12

[Monday night,] CSO musicians and management [announced they have] reached an accord for a three-year collective bargaining agreement. [The musicians went on] strike Saturday shortly before that evening's subscription concert, which was abruptly canceled. The strike became the latest in a series of labor disputes among big-city American orchestras. The tumultuous six-month Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike ended in April 2011 with the musicians accepting a reported 25% pay cut. The Philadelphia Orchestra emerged from bankruptcy protection in July and still faces formidable challenges. Members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have been locked out since Aug. 25, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians have been locked out since Sept. 8 amid management proposals of large salary and benefits cuts. The Minnesota Orchestra's musicians and management were meeting with a federal mediator Monday, six days before the union's contract was set to expire, with management initially proposing to slash musicians' average salaries from $135,000 to $89,000. The CSO management said it was not calling for salary or pension-contribution cutbacks. CSO President Deborah Rutter disclosed the organization's offer called for a 4.5% salary increase over the life of the three-year contract -- but also a significant jump in the amount musicians would pay for health insurance. "People are paying a larger percentage of their health care," Rutter said before negotiations resumed Monday. "We're asking them to do what every American who has health insurance is doing." The musicians [have argued their] health care costs had remained "relatively flat," so they should not face such "exorbitant increases." The CSO has been feeling financial pressure. Expenses exceeded revenues by $15 million in 2008 and $8 million in 2010. In 2009, revenue exceeded expenses, but barely. The CSO's figures show deficits of $927,000 for 2011 and $1.3 million for 2012. The CSO [also] owes about $145 million in loans, borrowed for the Symphony Center renovation completed in 1997. And Rutter said the CSO has $16.4 million in pension liabilities.

 

Locked-out Atlanta musicians offer to accept pay cuts - if management does, too

Ernie Suggs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/24/12

The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra -- locked out since Aug. 25 with no paychecks or insurance -- are willing to accept $5.2 million in salary and benefit cuts if it means they can get back on the stage soon. But as both sides try to come up with an agreement that would help erase a projected debt that could top $20 million, there is one caveat. Christina Smith, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association, said that once the new, lower base salary for musicians is established, all administrative staff members making above that figure should also take a pay cut. "They would also share in that sacrifice," said Smith, the orchestra's principal flute player. ASO President Stanley Romanstein would not comment Monday afternoonon on the musicians' latest proposal. But he previously rejected the notion that management should be included in the cuts, arguing that administrative personnel had already taken substantial reductions in salaries and benefits. Under the last contract, which expired last month, the beginning base salary for an ASO musician was $88,400. The average compensation was $131,000, which included free health and dental coverage, free instrument insurance, pension benefits and eight weeks of paid vacation.

 

Commentary: Should musicians take an active role in running their institutions?

Diane Ragsdale, ArtsJournal.com blog Jumper, 9/24/12

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the recent turmoil at a few orchestras in the US which garnered comments. [What] seemed to provoke the most discussion was the statement: "I must be hopelessly na´ve because I want to believe that if you go work for a nonprofit you're not doing it for the money." More than a few said this was a potentially damaging idea for us to perpetuate as it seems to translate into a justification to pay both artists and administrators far less than a living wage. But the point about "in it for the money" was meant to be read in context of the three points that followed: "(2) if you go work for a nonprofit that the nonprofit leaders are also not doing it for the money; (3) that nonprofit leaders are going to do the best they can to fairly and equitably compensate everyone involved in the nonprofit and; (4) those same leaders are going to expend resources in line with the values of the institution (e.g., art, artists, community, education)." Asking people to [work] for love and not money only works if everyone is on the love boat. Arts administrators cannot pay themselves rather decently and expect everyone else to happily work for non-living wages. Many Americans have had to accept much lower wages in recent years (and many have lost their jobs entirely). Those working in the arts cannot expect to be immune from this reality. Is it troubling that society places less value on orchestras and theater companies and dance companies than it once did? Deeply. Do we have to face this reality and respond to it? Yes. But if orchestras have reached the point where they need to dramatically reduce wages and [performance] weeks, I too would feel better if I saw administrations being radically restructured as well. Indeed, I'd go one [step] further and say that BEFORE we start cutting wages to artists we should perhaps pursue all possible ways to restructure the administration of the organization. Is it completely crazy to think that one way forward is for musicians to take a more active role in running their institutions? If there is only enough "concert" work to support a 20-week contract, could musicians be paid the remaining weeks of the year to do (not only) education and outreach activities but also to help run the joint? Moreover, is it possible that these entrepreneurial musicians would be more fulfilled in their work than the majority of musicians or administrators are at the moment? Is this a better option than shuttering our orchestras when they finally collapse under the weight of their asset intensity ratios?

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