(Note Tony Beadle's comparison of the Columbus Symphony to the Indianapolis Symphony as a model to achieve. Indianapolis has a robust budget and very fair musician salaries. I believe Tony and Columbus musicians are now on the same page. Thank you Tony. Let's hope any future negotiations continue with this kind of thinking.)
Contract clash puts fate of Ohio symphony in doubt
7/26/2008, 1:12 p.m. ET
By JULIE CARR SMYTH
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Sentiment these days surrounding the 57-year-old Columbus Symphony Orchestra is not so much Beethoven's "Pastoral" as the "1812 Overture."
The orchestra's board of trustees suspended operations on June 1 and canceled the popular summer pops series and at least 10 fall classical concert performances, citing a projected $3 million budget shortfall. Managers and musicians have clashed over the next union contract and what direction to take the organization in the future.
If there is a future.
"It's sort of like we've been at the brink," said executive director Tony Beadle. "And now we have to go together hand in hand and illuminate what an orchestra does and what it means to a community at large."
Fellow musicians have weighed in with their view.
"One of the great American cultural accomplishments of the 20th century was to bring access to top-quality performing arts to cities across the country," the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony and world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra wrote in a letter of support for Columbus players. "The loss of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra would represent a setback for the 21st century."
A recent study by the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium found that arts and culture in greater Columbus is a powerful economic engine, generating $22 for every dollar spent in central Ohio compared with the $7 national average.
The analysis estimated that $330 million is spent each year in the region by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences, with the Columbus Symphony being in the top tier of the city's cultural food chain.
"Many people look to the arts as an indicator of the quality of life in this community. This does not help that mission," Beadle said.
"But, over and above that, is that the Columbus Symphony as a musical ensemble is fantastic. It's just one of those lucky circumstances that all the right components were put together on stage to produce fantastic music."
Musicians credit better salaries with attracting the quality players that have built the orchestra's critical acclaim over the years. The lowest paid Columbus Symphony musician makes $55,200 a year, compared with $75,400 for the Indianapolis Symphony, $91,900 for the Cincinnati Symphony, $101,452 for the Pittsburgh Symphony and $110,760 for Cleveland, according to data from the American Federation of Musicians.
"I think it's taken decades to build the Columbus Symphony into the high-quality organization it is," said Douglas Fisher, president of the Central Ohio Federation of Musicians, which represents 53 symphony musicians. "Forcing us to accept the Draconian cuts proposed by the board basically would destroy everything we've built."
Board president Robert Trafford has said reaching a new agreement with the musicians' union is the only way to rescue the symphony.
The board's initial proposal sought to reduce the symphony's annual expense budget from $12 million to $9.5 million, or 12.5 percent, and the number of full-time orchestra musicians from 53 to 31. Paid weeks per year would fall from 46 to 34, cutting the playing season by a quarter.
"The orchestra has had a history of a structural deficit, which means, all other things being equal and without outside gifts, you're outspending what you're taking in," said Beadle, who spent seven years managing the Boston Pops.
Beadle said Columbus musicians need to look to peer orchestras — such as Indianapolis — when determining whether their salaries are fair, not to the likes of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the "Big Five" orchestras in America.
"I maintain everybody here would like to pay them as much as we possibly can, because we honor the profession and honor what they do, but start benchmarking yourself to your collegial orchestras," he said.
Fisher said the orchestra's structural deficit cannot be blamed on how much musicians are paid. After musicians agreed to an 11 percent pay cut in 2005, the Columbus Symphony's budget for artistic expenses has remained on or under budget every year, according to a financial analysis commissioned by the union. Last year, ticket sales were up 24 percent.
"We agreed to $1.3 million in cuts in exchange for the promise of a new director, a new executive director and other changes," he said. "They didn't do the things they promised. It's really a problem of governance, and that will continue until the right people are given the keys to the organization."
Last year, the symphony joined with other area arts organizations — including Columbus' ballet, opera, art museums and adult and children's theater companies — in a joint fundraising effort aimed largely at making the best use of big donors' dollars in a shared funding arrangement.
But the effort may have come too late for the symphony. Without a contract by Aug. 31, the 2008-2009 season will be canceled and, Fisher fears, reviving the orchestra could be impossible.
In hopes of retaining community interest and keeping musicians from relocating for other jobs, symphony musicians have put together self-funded summer concerts under the name Musicians of the Columbus Symphony.
Beadle is optimistic a compromise will be struck.
"We need to find it within ourselves to find the commonality of wanting to have a symphony orchestra, provide a lively community for musicians and serve the city of Columbus," he said.