A Message of Hope for Columbus

The arts are alive and well all around the country, especially in Columbus, Ohio.

The non-profit culture industry provides over 5.7 million jobs and accounts for over $166 billion in economic activity every year, including over $330 million in Greater Columbus alone! That's 11,000 jobs in Columbus.

Attendance is up, downloads are rising faster than for any other musical genre, and the New York Times is proclaiming that this could be “the Golden Age for Classical Music. The Columbus Symphony, led by the charismatic Junichi Hirokami, is playing better than ever.

But for some reason, Columbus has been told much the opposite about the arts in their city. The citizens of Columbus have been led to believe that classical music is dying, that funding is drying up, that it can no longer afford its fine orchestra, and the burden has been placed squarely on the musicians of the orchestra.

The truth is, the problem with the Columbus Symphony is not its musicians. They are playing at levels deserving of much higher salaries. Musical reviews have been rave; attendance is way up.

Total musician expenses fell by $0.9 million over the past 4 years. The cost to maintain the "heart of the orchestra" has been under-budget or on-budget for 3 of the last 4 years. When their portion of expenses went over by 18% in 2004, the musicians took an 11% paycut in 2005 to save $1.3 million, which more than covered that gap.

The real problem for years has been gross mismanagement of the non-musician part of the budget. Over-spending their own budget by $6.5 million in the past four years, management has failed the organization by an obscene margin.

Just a few examples of these cost overruns:
157% ($1.7 million) over budget in marketing expenses in 2004,
134% ($635,777) over spending in development expenses in 2004;
70% ($969,218) in the red for marketing again in 2005,
62% ($979,738) over budget in 2006.

Overall, management overspent their own budget by over $3 million in 2004, nearly $1.5 million in 2005, $1.3 million in 2006 and $736,000 in 2007. None of this overspending was caused by musician costs.

That's $6.5 million in non-artistic cost overruns in 4 years.

The musicians have proposed a solid plan with the hope of taking us all forward. To keep within the confines of a $9.5 million budget, they are offering to take 7% paycuts to produce savings of $500,000, even though their portion of the budget for 2007 is 4.5% ($297,637) in the black. (*see source footnote below)

I hope citizens would agree, management needs to take responsibility for its own huge cost overruns and to find ways to cut the non-artistic budget by $2 million. Fairness still counts for something, doesn't it?

Then we can all move forward and get back to the music. Whole communities of volunteers are eager to help; grassroots organizations have already begun to prove their ability to gather support. All of Columbus wants to see Picnic with the Pops, and to see TBDBITL play their hearts out with the Symphony. What would a Columbus summer be without Picnic with the Pops?

The musicians of the Columbus Symphony have offered their commitment to the future of the orchestra and to serving the community of Greater Columbus, which deserves the best.

The citizens and political leaders of Columbus must ask why this board and management, while charged with serving their community, is promoting such a negative view of the future of the arts in your city. If you see negative connotations in the news of the musician's reasonable proposal or its logic, ask Mr. Buzz Trafford to resign as board president so someone else can really save the Symphony.

(*sources: details of CSO budget research by Dan LaMacchia, orchestra comparisons and the musician's proposal can be seen at Symphony Musicians website)

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3 comments for “A Message of Hope for Columbus

  1. Sue Dayton
    May 22, 2008 at

    Buzz Trafford needs to show some passion for the orchestra – if the board president doesn’t have it – what is he doing on the board period?

  2. Beau Davis
    May 21, 2008 at

    Right on! That is the truth of the problem. I hope you get wide readership of this message. Beau Davis

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