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Classical Notes

A Tale of Two Orchestras

Posted at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2008 by Gillian Martin (3 Comments)

Two smaller American orchestras have been on the brink of collapse this spring. Last week, one got closer to the edge while the other got something of a lifeline.

First, the Columbus Symphony:

Citing a lack of money and a potential deficit of $3 million next year, the board announced Thursday that the Picnic With the Pops series was canceled and the orchestra would shut down June 1. Only a new, money-saving labor contract could save the 2008-09 season, the board said.

That was May 10 (find the whole article here).

A few days later, the symphony was dealt another blow. The Greater Columbus Arts Council cut them off:

"We shouldn't be giving operational support to an organization that's not going to be here after June 1," said council President Bryan W. Knicely.

The Symphony has an annual budget of $13.5 million, and the Arts Council gave them about $260,000 last year. That's only about 2% of their budget, but it sure does set an ominous precedent for other funders.

But things look sunnier in Honolulu--don't they always? The Honolulu Symphony is also in dire financial straits, but it hopes it's now building momentum of a different kind. Last week an anonymous donor gave the orchestra $1.175 million.

That doesn't fix the problem--the symphony is now only 4 weeks behind on payroll instead of 11--but it does help. The administration is hoping that gift will spur donations from others. Time will tell...


Comments (3)

There is an unfortunate decline in support for classical music in this country. Perhaps it has to do with lack of support from benefactors, institutions, and others. A friend recently made me aware of a book, "The Death of Classical Music".
It is an awful reality. The only way to keep it alive is through education and cultural awareness. It needs our support!

Posted by David Miller | May 19, 2008 7:35 PM


I don't see this as a decline in support of classical music as much as pure economics. I can remember when the state of Michigan came close to cutting off all funding for the State Arts Board until it came to their attention that by doing this, the Detroit Symphony and many long standing cultural institutions would face total collapse if they went ahead. Cooler heads prevailed. But the simple economic facts are that if a symphony orchestra, an opera, theater, museum, or any arts organization is not able to develop and maintain a consistent base of financial support as well as manage those resources over the long term, there is the risk of losing all support and the demise of the institution. In short, artists need to either learn basic economics or hire someone who can do this work for them.

Posted by Lisa R | May 20, 2008 12:55 PM


In Columbus, the Symphony's musicians held a press conference earlier this week and released their own suggestions for a new budget for next season. Find out all about it here.

Posted by Gillian Martin | May 23, 2008 9:55 AM