“It Takes a Village” (Part 2) – Heartfelt sacrifices of the BSO

Based on the article, “Musicians accept pay cut to help struggling BSO: New contract follows a series of concession made by the players in 2009,” by Tim Smith for the Baltimore Sun (03/25/2010)

Following the national recession in 2008, the Baltimore Symphony musicians donated part of their salaries and benefits to contribute to the revival and sustainability of the organization.  As discussed Giuliano’s article, “It Takes a Village,” the orchestra also proposed and participated in a fundraising campaign, which brought in an additional $24,000 for the organization.  The musicians’ donation ($1 million) and contributed funds represented an eight percent decrease in salary and benefits scheduled for the 2009-2010 concert season.[1]

The sacrifice made by the musicians was not short-lived, unfortunately.  With the prolonged effects of the recession on the economy and fundraising climate, the players agreed to a salary freeze for the 2010-2011 season, followed by a 16.6% pay reduction for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.  The musicians’ salaries will be roughly the same as they were in 2001.  The reduction in base pay for the musicians put a damper on morale, but the overall sentiment among the orchestra has remained strong.  The spokesperson for the Players’ Committee, and an English horn player for the Baltimore Symphony, was quoted saying:

…This sets us back a decade.  We have everything going for us.  The talent is on the stage and in the (administration).  We have a music director committed to expanding the orchestra as a resource for the community.  We have a collaborative spirit.  So it seems impossible to us that we have not been able to thrive as a major American orchestra in one of the wealthiest states.

The orchestra has been able to maintain their full-time, year-round status, however, which is a “point of honor” for the musicians.  The BSO is one of seventeen U.S. orchestras with that 52-week a year performance status.  The musicians love their jobs and the organization and only want to see the orchestra succeed.

The aggregate effects of this loyal, passionate, and collaborative spirit have paid off.  With the budget cuts, salary reductions, fundraising efforts, and allocated endowment funds, the orchestra managed to wipe out its debt.  Meecham applied what he calls “tough love” because he knows the orchestra cannot solely depend on the community and/or funders to successfully weather the recession.  Although the community rallied around the organization in 2008-2009, they cannot be expected to continue to provide the same level of support year after year, especially if the organization were to incur another large deficit.

In this way, the article reinforces my understanding of funder relations in the arts, particularly in regards to the notion that funding organizations and individuals are more likely to contribute to a nonprofit arts organization that has little or no debt, demonstrating sound and effective financial management practices.  Although it is not ideal to cut the salary and funding of the artists and programs, the orchestra was able to reverse its debt in collaborative, purposeful way and garner the support of the surrounding community.

[1] Giuliano, Mike, “It Takes a Village,” 2010, Symphony: 39.


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