Chicken Little travels back to the future

From United Press International, 1970

25 Orchestras Doomed to Die

NEW YORK – (UPI) – Among events forecast for the 1970’s you can now include the demise of the some 25 symphony orchestras maintained in middle-size American cities out of civic pride in local culture.

The forecaster was a research organization without aesthetic commitments and interested only in monetary outgo and income and other telltale statistics. Its conclusion was that in the ’70’s local philanthropy will no longer be able to meet inevitably mounting deficits.

The forecast was a projection from detailed studies of income-outgo of nine orchestras, those in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Louisville, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle, by the Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City.

Its study indicated $1 million a year was the most any orchestra could expect to raise in subsidizing funds from all sources and even this figure is “optimistic.” By projecting the rate of deficit increases during the 1960’s into the 1970’s the statisticians arrived at their conclusion of doom.

It specifically set the demise of the Atlanta and Houston symphonies for the early ’70’s, that of the Baltimore and Dallas orchestras for the mid ’70’s, and of the Seattle Symphony for the late ’70’s. Shortages of money also caused Dartmouth College and Stanford University to cancel their summer music festivals this year.

The orchestras have one alternative to “going out of business,” the report said. That is to “reshape” – either by reducing the size of orchestras from 100 to 90 musicians or by shortening seasons. Either would be extremely difficult.

“In past years, as long as the musicians were underpaid and the service income was nearly equal to cost, the economical anachronism of the large symphony orchestras remained hidden,” the report said.

“Now, in an age of near socialism, with musicians unionized and asking for proper compensation in return for skilled services, the economic crisis of the symphony orchestra is becoming painfully evident.”

Symphony orchestras, the report said, have “become frozen in shape and structure, ceasing to evolve. Consequently the American symphony orchestra has become an unwieldy and inflexible bureaucratic and financial nightmare.”

In “Pollyanna-like fashion” they’re “still hoping for a light in the wilderness.” Further grants from the Ford Foundation, for instance. These grants will “hardly register in the widening gap between income and expenses,” the report said.

The idea of two cities sharing one orchestra is not likely to be workable, it found. Nor is that of “community arts funds.” It considered hope for federal government subsidies to be a vain one, in view of the “overwhelming social and economic problems” with which government must cope.

The study was made for the Kansas City Performing Arts Foundation which undertakes to support, among other civic cultural endeavors, the Kansas City Philharmonic. Its crisis is immediate.

By shortening its current season it met pay demands of musicians but this postponed the showdown until next season when musicians will expect to be employed for a longer season at the same or increased pay.

The study did not include the orchestras in the largest cities – those in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. But it “presumed that an analysis of these orchestras would show a similar picture with respect to performance income and cost.”


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