Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Times editorial calls for board finance disclosures on the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra musicians' pay struggle

Excerpts from the Times editorial on the symphony pay crisis:

Finances once again jeopardize the Shreveport Symphony, threatening the quality of a longtime artistic treasure, if not its very existence.

The outcome very much will reflect the priority this community places on the arts and specifically symphonic music. In fact, the recurring brinkmanship scenario we continue to play with local assets — whether minor league baseball or the fine arts — reflects a collective just-get-by attitude for quality-of-life components rather than an expectation of excellence for our community. Rather than begging for support in a community of substantial means, it should be flourishing.

The irony is that while season ticket sales are up, symphony revenues from admissions only reflect about 20 percent of the necessary annual income. The symphony is undergirded by the generosity of benefactors — individuals and institutions — that understand its value to the community.

The symphony continues to eat into its endowment to sustain the symphony, leading to a $500,000 shortfall accumulated over the past six years, says management. The current issue is a decision to eliminate salaries and benefits for its 24 full-time players. Around these core players, which was downsized from 29 in 2002, other musicians are added on a per-service (rehearsals and performances) basis.

The symphony proposes paying all musicians on a per-service basis, a level that would fall short of the annual salary by 75 percent, according to the musicians union. Full-time and part-time musicians took substantial pay cuts as recently as 2006.

Though the area is blessed with many fine musicians who play part time, elimination of the full-time positions risks the departure of core musicians who provide a quality framework on which to build each season. Their annual salaries of $12,683 already require these musicians to weave together other sources of income.

While both sides work to get their messages out to the public, it's especially important that the symphony board take a transparent approach with its finances.

Fresh in the public's mind are other nonprofits that have over-extended their revenues through undisciplined management or disengaged boards. So the public can understand the tension between revenues and expenses, can appreciate a focused board making tough decisions. But the public needs a clear picture of the symphony's finances. How are private donations tracking over the past 10 years? How much of the budget comes from special fundraisers and how have they been trending? Break down the expenses of the administrative overhead.

In the end let us hope that such disclosure can combine with sufficient public appreciation and donor generosity to keep the symphony playing for not only another year, but many years to come.


Anonymous said...

I doubt you will ever see what you are asking for; short of a court order, and even then, I am sure much will come up "missing."

If you ever do see it; you will be horrified; I promise!

I have to applaud you for finally asking...thank you so much for that.

Anonymous said...

Poor Scott Green.........$75,000.00
Shouldn't that buy some outstanding talent?

You know, the musicians even volunteered in the office for two years to help the staff do its work.


Anonymous said...

What about Michael Butterman? What's his take on all this? He makes more than the Executive Director and gets a raise next year, but we haven't heard a word from him!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I thought Poling was just fine; and I know for a fact most of the concert goers agreed.
I am suspicious of Butterman's opinion, since he has been so loathe to speak it. He leaves next year, so why would he be afraid to state his opinion, if he were pro musician?
I have never understood them,(board), bringing Mr. Butterman here, if they were not going to use him to promote the orchestra. If they have been plotting to cut the full time members out, and the real reason was a lack of funding, they would have been wise not to hire someone so expensive. I am not saying Butterman is not worth his pay, merely that they seem to want to throw money in every direction but where they actually need it.
I guess the mystery will be solved if this latest stunt will avail them enough cash to convince Mr. Butterman to stay after his contract is up; I think if that happens, then you will have your answer as to where he stands.

trudeau said...

Anon, I agree re Michael Butterman. Since he and his wife are both professional musicians and well-traveled, I would expect them to help the city define a solution.

I have written several times that Butterman is an uber-cool performer who could be part of leveraging the community back to the concert hall. He should be a fixture in local media , helping people - especially kids - appreciate the music, a la Leonard Bernstein.