Symphony in D: Detroit's Troubled Orchestra

You might be surprised to learn that, for all its troubles, Detroit retains its old-line arts institutions, including a world-class symphony orchestra. You will not be surprised to learn that the orchestra is not long for this world, at least in its present form. Terry Teachout has the gory details:

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is staring into the abyss. In order to survive a fix-it-or-else financial crisis—the DSO is expected to run up a $9 million operating deficit by the end of 2010—the management wants to slash the pay of its musicians by nearly 30%. The musicians have responded by voting to authorize a strike, and it is widely feared that this may lead to the orchestra's demise.

Does anybody care? Yes—but probably not enough to do anything about it.

The numbers tell the tale: Nearly two million people lived in Detroit in 1950. The current population is 800,000. Forty of the city's 140 square miles are vacant. Downsizing is the name of the save-Detroit game, and Mayor Dave Bing, who is looking at an $85 million budget deficit, wants to slash civic services drastically and encourage Detroit's remaining residents to cluster in the healthiest of its surviving neighborhoods.

Can a once-great city that is now the size of Austin, Texas, afford a top-rank symphony orchestra with a 52-week season? Does it even want one? The DSO, after all, is not the only one of Detroit's old-line high-culture institutions that is sweating bullets. The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Opera Theater are also in trouble, and the editorial page of the Detroit News recently declared that Detroit is "no longer a top 10 city by any measure. The reality may be that this region can no longer support a world class orchestra, or art museum, or opera company. . . . They are remnants of an era when the city was awash in automotive cash."

The symphony's musicians - who are among the highest paid and well regarded classical musicians in the US - have reacted in the classic Detroit Way: they have authorized a strike should the orchestras trustees slash the payroll from $100,000+ down to $75,000. A brilliant maneuver sure to generate sympathy in a city that has no money, and has been destroyed by the sort leftist "solidarity" represented by strikes and unionism. (actually, Detroiters probably think their city was destroyed by the Japanese, Ronald Reagan and "them," but they still won't be sympathetic towards a bunch of long hairs).

The death of a great American city continues...

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