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.