A Wall Street perspective on Detroit Symphony’s financial situation

Posted on: September 20, 2010

In Saturday’s (9/18) Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout writes, “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? … We like to think that great symphony orchestras and museums are permanent monuments to the enduring power and significance of art. … But when a city’s character undergoes profound changes, as has happened in Detroit, the institutions are bound to reflect that transformation.”

Posted September 20, 2010