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February 1, 2014IM -
Carla Lehmeier-Tatum – Regional Orchestra Players Association President and President of Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM)
News of the Minnesota Orchestra contract ratification was received by the industry with great relief for our brothers and sisters in the Twin Cities. The solidarity and endurance that these musicians displayed was remarkable. The frustrations and hardships they endured during their 16-month lockout are difficult for the outside observer to truly comprehend. Congratulations to the orchestra committee, the musicians, and Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN) for their bravery and determination to maintain the world-class organization that they have attained.
When I look at the recent negotiations in the Twin Cities, it reminds me of the importance of musicians’ efforts to connect to their organization’s true owners, the community. One cannot assume that a board member or member of management will always represent the wishes of the community. It is clear that at times, we as musicians, have to step forward and become the stewards and advocates for our art institutions as others may try to tear them down.
This fall, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Some Arts Institutions Deserve to Fail.” The author of this contribution cited articles questioning the future existence of midsized regional arts organizations. In the article, the author questions “if regional orchestras make artistic sense.” He stated that “for a fast-growing number of Americans the answer is no.” He argued that many such orchestras are rendered obsolete by digital downloading, which makes it possible to hear classical music whenever and wherever you want.
I purposely have not included the author’s name because I don’t wish to give this individual any credit for his simplistic viewpoint that represents a shortsighted minimization of the contributions symphonic organizations offer to their communities. In many ways, this is an elitist viewpoint that contends there are some smaller communities that are undeserving of what symphonic orchestras have to offer. If someone were to ask if people in rural communities deserve to have the utilities afforded to individuals living in larger cities, we would, of course, say that electricity, water, and sewer services were basic conditions of a civilized society. These services are administered by each state’s public service commission. Roads, police, fire service, and airports are not economically feasible for smaller communities, yet the commonwealth of citizens provides the same things that are afforded in larger communities. No community, no matter what size, should be faced with an agenda that would eliminate an orchestra within the community.
“Some Arts Institutions Deserve to Fail” brings forth a viewpoint that is consistent with past arguments to downsize orchestras within a community. It is void of the contributions the arts make to educational achievement or the alternative career fields offered to aspiring youth. The arts also create equal opportunity for citizens in every part of the nation, allowing all to experience what we are rich enough to offer ourselves. The article fails to mention that successful regional orchestras have accomplished great achievements through ownership and pride from their community, in many cases for 75 years or more. The author sets up his premise with the following quote: “Everyone who keeps up with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts data knows that high-culture attendance numbers have been shrinking, across the board, for more than a decade. Opera, theater, dance, symphony orchestras, even big-city art museums: all are drawing smaller crowds.” However, the Survey of Public Participation reports that attendance to classical music events has held steady since 2008.
The stock negative phrases have no place in the future of our orchestral institutions. Working with our communities to uphold the pride and ownership realized by many orchestral institutions must remain a priority. As musicians, we may have to be on the front line, sharing our outreach and impact with citizens of all ages. It is inspiring to hear the success stories of ROPA orchestras who have managements that celebrate their attributes and contributions. They have valued their musicians and have identified them as the heart of their institutions. Some orchestras may face challenges. Skewing negative data that is part of a concessionary demand package, while treating orchestral musicians as dispensable employees, has been proven to be counterproductive.