Music. Art. Culture. Writing.
In April 2011, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra joined the ranks of bankrupt performing arts organizations around the nation, including orchestras in Albuquerque and Philadelphia. These recession-induced filings are part of a larger trend that includes reduced funding for the arts by state and local governments, schools, and philanthropic entities, and they underscore the impact of the Great Recession on communities around the country.
The bankruptcy filing of the Philadelphia Orchestra shocked music fans around the world, and elsewhere the filings have left audiences, musicians and administrators stunned. Musicians in New Mexico held on until the very end, willing to keep playing even after the funds had disappeared, and in Syracuse, musicians “rallied on stages from Fayetteville to Rome this summer (2011) to keep the music alive.”
In each of these cases, however, bankruptcy proceedings have resulted in restructuring and rebirth, fueled by the power of the arts and the human drive to create. The Philadelphia Orchestra never missed a beat and completed the 2010 – 2011 season, simultaneously implementing a successful fundraising drive called “Listen with Your Heart.”
In August 2011, closed doors negotiations in Syracuse resulted in a new organization called the Syracuse Philharmonic Society, thanks in large part to Syracuse University. From an August 9 article on Syracuse.com:
SU will form the new “Center for Live Music in the 21st Century” as a place to research and design a successful business model that can be repeated as classical music organizations struggle to survive across the country. The center can draw staff from SU’s business, communications, government relations and information technology schools.
“This could be the perfect opportunity to create something that becomes something else we’re known for at the university and in the community,” (Mark) Wladis said.
And in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported in June that “(A) second musical organization has surfaced in the wake of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra’s bankruptcy filing – the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus.”
In short, the show must go on. After all, the cyclical nature of economics and revenues is nothing new. A 1969 Time magazine article explores similar dilemmas facing orchestras more than 40 years ago. It’s helpful to remember that restructuring and change, while traumatic and challenging, might not always be bad news.
Last year, when examining the staging and performance innovations that arose after the closure of the Baltimore Opera, Ian Moss of Createquity asked the following: “Was the existence of the Baltimore Opera actually standing in the way of that innovation the whole time?” Indeed, sometimes it’s hard to break the grip of the status quo. Moss adds, “It’s an important thought to consider as we ponder how to offer stewardship to the arts community as a whole. As scary and depressing as the recession can be, sometimes starting all over again is the right thing to do.”
And so the future remains uncertain for orchestras around the country. Lee Streby argues that orchestras need to invest in building demand for classical music through advocacy and education. He also stresses that, “In the entrepreneurial spirit, where one sees major problems, therein also lies opportunity.” Like artists everywhere, these organizations will take what they have and make something new, and maybe the hard reality of economic decline will ultimately work in their favor.