A Positive Note-Things Aren’t as bad as you think! An interview with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM)
by Melissa Trier Kirk, Lyric Opera Orchestra violist. As published in the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra Newsletter and Website.
I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM). Bruce, a bassist with the North Carolina Symphony and tireless advocate for the arts, has been travelling the country this summer, talking with musicians and spreading the positive news that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high, and that many orchestras have emerged from the economic downturn of 2008 stronger than ever. This news runs counter to conventional wisdom, since what we often hear in the press is that U.S. orchestras are floundering and classical music is dying. Bruce’s message is that symphony and opera orchestras are more relevant than ever. Every year about this time he creates a list of positive developments for orchestras.
What inspired you to become an arts advocate?
Music fundamentally changed my life. My mother had a vinyl record collection that wasn’t so large but huge in variety including many classical recordings. As a child I had a terrible speech impediment and found school difficult. I loved the Beatles tune, “I Am the Walrus” which begins with classically hypnotic cello and bass lines, and Rachmaninoff ‘s “Variations on a Theme by Paganini”. In training my ear to replicate the music I was hearing I was able to overcome my speech impediment. Studies show that studying music as a child keeps students in school and improves mental health for folks well into their 80’s. My personal experience made me realize how critically important the arts are and that music is a force for good and beauty.
Why do you say that orchestras are more relevant than ever?
Symphony Orchestras build communities. Imagine the number of school children that the musicians of ICSOM reach on a daily basis. What I am seeing is that symphony orchestras are more necessary than ever. It is the nature of the press to write a negative story because that’s what sells. In 1970, UPI published a piece which predicted that 25 American orchestras were doomed to die. Today they are all still in business. The story that needs to be told especially coming out of the recession is how resilient American Orchestras are and how well they have survived. We rarely study our successes. Yes, some orchestras fail. According to American Express, 90% of new restaurants fail in their first year of business but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to eat! The fact is that charitable giving to the arts is at an all time high. In 2014, charitable giving to the arts was the fastest growing category of giving in America.
Talk more about the resilience you are seeing.
Many orchestras are thriving and advancing. The Cincinnati Symphony added $26 million to the endowment and will add 14 new musicians to the roster in the next few years. The simple fact is that people will give to organizations that inspire them and they don’t give to organizations that question their own sustainability. Orchestras that are putting out a positive message about what they mean to their community are seeing tremendous growth. People say that our audiences are aging, but the Cleveland Orchestra has doubled the number of students attending concerts in the past couple of years. They’ve done this by reaching out, inviting them in and creating a more appealing atmosphere. An organization that says it’s going to be around for along time serving its community into the future is far more likely to attract donations and audience members. No arts organization or business has ever solved its financial problems by offering an inferior product. Cutting and lowering our presence in the community doesn’t help.
Click here to read the entire interview at Chicagolyricoperaorchestra.com
By Tom Barnes August 14, 2015.
Humans have been making music since the beginning of time.
More recently, science has helped us start to understand it — everything from how its waves move through time and space to how it heals and empowers us. The more we discover, the more we recognize its importance and power. But the more we know, the more questions we have.
The past few years have produced some groundbreaking findings in our music knowledge. Here are seven of the most impressive:
1. Learning music has a positive effect on teenagers' brains.
When budgets are tight in America's schools, among the first areas cut are often music class offerings. But that is to the detriment of our children's futures, as a June study out of Northwestern University underlines.
Previous research has uncovered numerous benefits of music education for young children, including how it improves spatio-temporal reasoning, verbal skills and impulse control. The June study proves that musical training can have similarly powerful neurological impacts right up through adolescence.
Researchers found that music accelerates neural development and can improve phonological awareness language skills. "Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as 'learning to learn,'" Nina Kraus, senior study author and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication, said, according to Medical Xpress.
Click here to read the complete article at Music.Mic
From the blog: Mask of the Flower Prince.
The nonsensical ravings of a singing archaeologist. Really.
by Scott Chamberlain
Ah, “sustainable.” It is a buzzword of the moment, showing up in discussions ranging from the environment, manufacturing, agriculture… even the arts. Of course, everyone wants to be sustainable, thinking that they, their product, or their service will stand the test of time and last forever.
Like all popular buzzwords there is value to it, and I applaud the notion that we have to look at both the long-range prospects and the long-range effects of the things we do.
But as often happens, the term has been misused by people who fundamentally misunderstand its meaning.
I’d like this willful misuse of the term to stop—particularly among arts organizations.
A Misunderstood Concept
Over the past few years, labor disputes have rocked a number of performing arts institutions, including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera. And new labor disputes have continued to pop up like dandelions, in places like Hartford, Connecticut and Binghamton, New York. In each of these cases, management explicitly argued that the organizations’ operations, programming, and labor contracts were no longer “sustainable.” In their words, these things represented a huge financial drain on the organizations and were killing the organizations from the inside. Similarly, leaders of the San Diego Opera used this same rationale to liquidate the company altogether.
How so? Three reasons come to mind.
First, their understanding of “sustainable” was far too narrow, focusing exclusively on a particular, financial criterion. Second, they were inappropriately using an understanding of the term derived from the for-profit arena, and trying to graft it onto their non-profitorganizations. And finally, in each and every case, they tried to make their organizations “sustainable” by imposing a simplistic set of solutions to the problem: sharp cuts in the compensation packages of their union musicians and workers, plus an equally sharp reduction in programming.
With respect, this is no way to build sustainability. On the contrary, this a recipe for disaster.
I propose a different way of looking at sustainability—using more holistic criteria that can better ensure that arts organizations can, in fact, thrive into the future.
The Arts as Non-Profit Businesses
First, a couple of points. Many people seem to think that non-profits, and non-profit arts organizations in particular, are not businesses. They are. Absolutely. An ensemble like the Minnesota Orchestra employs around 90 musicians, a similar number of full-time staff, and a comparable number of part-time staff. These are real people working at real jobs, who pay taxes, have mortgages, buy cars and other durable goods, go to school, and in all sorts of ways contribute to the economy. Plus, the Orchestra not only generates revenue itself, but serves as a catalyst for other economic activities such as restaurants and parking. The City of Minneapolis estimates it lost $2.9 million in parking, dining and other business as a direct result of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.
And it’s not just the Minnesota Orchestra that has an impact. Each year, the City of Minneapolis produces the Creative Index report that analyzes the economic impact of the creative sector, including music, theater, and the arts as a whole. In 2013, the arts contributed $830 million into the city’s economy, with $311 million coming specifically from non-profit arts organizations. Also, approximately 5% of the entire workforce of Minneapolis worked in the creative sector, primarily as photographers, musicians, and writers.
These are real numbers, and it is clear that arts organizations—and non-profits generally—play a critical role in the economy and in the community.
But at the same time, a point that I’ve hammered home again and again here on my blog is that non-profits have to be recognized as non-profit businesses. They are fundamentally different from for-profit enterprises, and thrive by following a very different business model. Based on my own experience as President of the Board at an arts non-profit (the Minnesota Chorale), I’ve found that leading a nonprofit requires a whole different type of skills and strategies than are needed in for-profit business.
Non-profits stand apart in that they are designed to meet a critical social need, or provide an important service to the community. They are driven by a stated mission, and their success or failure is ultimately determined by how effectively they live up to that mission. Yes, there absolutely is a business and financial aspect to doing this, but the business and financial strategies and decisions are always in service of the outcomes, not the profits.
In recognition of this special status, the IRS grants non-profits 501 (c) (3) status, which creates a special tax status and allows them to fundraise to support their operations. This is key—a non-profit that engages in fundraising has very different set of income streams than a for-profit business, and has to act accordingly.
Fundraising is not a sign that the organization’s business model has failed, and it is not a last-minute, shameful attempt to balance the books. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the organization’s business model and overall financial strategy.
So again—to be clear, an arts organization like the Minnesota Orchestra or the Minnesota Chorale is a business. But we cannot lose sight that it is a non-profit business. And that changes the equation as to what makes it “sustainable.”
Click here to read the entire article at Mask of the Flower Prince