Guest Bloggers: A conversation with Dr. Tom Wolf

“Many financial approaches have been tried over the past 50 years to improve the financial condition of orchestras. Yet, the industry as a whole appears to be in the worst shape it has ever been in…If orchestras are to assume the undisputed pre-eminent position they once held in the American cultural landscape, they must begin to redefine themselves. This research on the financial condition of orchestras is clear. It tells us that the orchestra industry is probably not just caught up in a brief economic downturn. We are living in a fundamentally new society with new definitions of culture, recreation, education, philanthropy, and a new set of presumptions about the role of the arts in communities. All of these things will shape the financial context for orchestras in the future. We can ignore these realities, but we do so at our peril…”—The Wolf Report

In 1991, consultant Dr. Thomas Wolf and his associates carried out a comprehensive 25-year study entitled “The Financial Condition of Symphony Orchestras.” Commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, it became known as “The Wolf Report.”
The League followed up two years later with what was projected to the second of three installments, Americanizing the American Orchestra. Together, the two studies offered some stark truths about the sustainability of the 20th Century orchestra model. They generated much heated controversy.

Tom Wolf

Recently I talked to Tom on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of The Wolf Report.

Tony: It is 20 years since you undertook your study.  My recollection is that you predicted much of what has occurred in the interim.

Wolf: In a way, yes.  But remember, the study was primarily looking at the past, charting historical trends.  It was three volumes long.  Only in the introduction did I talk about what might happen if the trend lines of the previous quarter century got extended into the future.  I did predict the serious financial crisis and major deficits we see today.  So I guess you could say that much of what I predicted has occurred.

I would argue that the orchestra industry must undergo a paradigm shift –not a process of small-scale, selective tinkering but a basic transformation in the way business is conducted.—The Wolf Report

Tony: I remember there being quite a lot of controversy around the report.  Why was that the case?

Wolf: When I originally presented the results of the study at a League conference in 1992 at a plenary session, it was well received.  And initially the press was positive.  The New York Times and other major media reported the findings.  But in the next couple of years when people realized the implications of what was being said, it became controversial.  It got quoted a lot in negotiations as a rationale for keeping musicians’ salaries flat.  And then when the Americanizing the American Orchestra report came out from the League a couple of years later, a report that was a follow up to mine and one on which I worked, the press went wild, stating that orchestras would be ruined if they followed the prescriptions of that report.  Orchestra leadership did not like the bad press and an effort was made to get the reports buried and get on with business as usual.

“For all the report’s obeisances, this policy shows little allegiance to music or to the orchestra and almost total allegiance to commercial success and financial security. Cynically led by its managerial class, the orchestra is explicitly urged to lean toward pop and make courting audiences its primary activity. The only people being asked to ‘assimilate’ culturally are those who uphold the importance of the orchestral tradition.” “In bringing the racial politics of the streets into the concert halls, it may very well Americanize the orchestra into extinction. This report is a disgrace.”
On Americanizing the American Orchestra, Edward Rothstein, New York Times, July 11, 1993 

Tony: As I remember, there were also some people who tried to refute your findings including other researchers.  What was your reaction?

Wolf: As I said, the study was never intended as a statistically accurate predictor of the future.  It was primarily about the past and no one ever challenged our findings about the 25-year trends.  What bothered them were my predictions about the future and my recommendations for correcting the problems.  Ten years after the report was written, my predictions did look as though they were off.  Don’t forget the state of the economy in the 90s – it was a boom time.  The stock market went into the stratosphere.  Endowments were growing by double digits.  This meant that even when many orchestras took large amounts of money out of their endowments to cover short falls, their net worth kept growing.  So the problems that I had predicted were masked, though I continued to claim they were there.  Eventually it became clear that the growth was unsustainable.  September 11th, 2001 is a convenient date to mark the change and that happened around the tenth anniversary of the report. A decade after that, the bankruptcies and the bitter strikes we see today are the legacy.

“Where does the orchestra industry find itself 10 years after Thomas Wolf’s address to the League? For the 1999-2000 season—the season for which the Wolf Report projected a $64 million deficit—the industry posted, according to the League, an estimated $84.5 million surplus (extrapolated from 203 responding orchestras to approximately 1,800 orchestras). Total revenues and expenses for the season were, respectively, $1.267 billion and $1.183 billion. The Wolf Report projected 2000 revenues at $946.5 million and expenses at $1.01 billion, greatly underestimating the prospects for growth in the industry.”—The Wolf Report and Baumol’s Curse, Douglas Demster, 2001

Tony:  If you were to choose one factor that is responsible for the deterioration of the finances of orchestras over the 25 year period you studied, what would you choose?  Or isn’t that a fair question?

Wolf: It is absolutely fair and it is absolutely clear in my mind.  One factor above all others is responsible for the problem. Until 1965, the number of concerts offered by orchestras was in large measure predicated on demand.  But after that time, the push for year-round employment for musicians and the guaranteed service count for a certain number of weeks throughout the year, meant supply was no longer calibrated with demand.  The number of concerts offered increased exponentially.  Consider orchestras in the budget category of $5 million to $8.5 million in 1991 – one of the sub-groups I studied.  They went from an average of 40 concerts a year in 1966 to 157 concerts a year in 1991.  The assumption was “play concerts and they will come.”  But audience growth did not keep up.  This meant that marketing staffs had to be beefed up to find new audience members and there was more pressure on fund raising, so development staffs had to grow.  As a result, administrative costs also increased dramatically.  And ticket prices had to increase to cover the gap since the amount of the budget covered by ticket sales was dropping.  The whole system got readjusted around a formula that had unlinked supply and demand.  For the sub-category of orchestras I mentioned above, deficits increased over 11,000% in the 25-year period and even after adjusting for inflation they grew by almost 3,000%.

“…ICSOM, as well as many influential critics of the arts in America, find the recommended changes [in Americanizing the American Orchestra] to be profoundly wrong-headed…We and our member orchestras need to disassociate ourselves from this report, while simultaneously stating that we are willing to participate in intelligent and intellectually robust attempts to define institutional partnerships, in helping provide the public with accurate information about our orchestras, and in supporting a constructive examination of the role our art has in our culture.”—Senza Sordino, Official Publication of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, October 1993

Tony:  So despite what musicians said at the time, you did not claim that it was only musicians’ salaries that were responsible for the problem.

Wolf: No, it is actually interesting.  Artistic costs as a percentage of total costs did not budge during the entire 25 year period I studied.  But most people did not read carefully and assumed I was blaming everything on musicians.  Musician salaries grew in proportion to overall costs – but all of these costs were unsustainable.

Tony: Does this mean that you think the trend to provide guaranteed salaries to musicians with a certain number of services and weeks was a mistake.

Wolf: As with so many things, the instincts were right but the implementation was wrong.  There is no question that providing a living wage to musicians was one of the factors that increased the artistic quality of our orchestras.  I was all for it.  And even at current levels of pay today, I believe most musicians are underpaid for the skill levels they have attained.  So many of these individuals are amazing and I wish they were paid for the skill levels they have attained (I know since I played professionally for many years and couldn’t possibly attain the level that so many of our great musicians have reached.).  Finding a way to pay musicians properly might have been possible except for lack of imagination and vision.  The orchestra industry and the union assumed that the only way to do so was to increase the service count through more concerts and associated rehearsals.  But the market could not absorb it.

Tony:  So what should they have done?

Wolf: What should have happened is that orchestras should have explored other ways to offer musicians employment and musicians should have jumped on the band wagon to help them do so.  I wrote an article in 1993 about this in the International Journal of Arts Management. I spoke about the ideal orchestra and its musicians becoming the major purveyor of great music in a community.  The model I was espousing is not unlike what many are fighting about today.  Orchestras are gradually seeing the light.  But there has been great resistance on the part of musicians. And I suppose you cannot blame them.  They were trained to play concerts at a very high level.  They were not trained to be ambassadors for great music in their communities or to teach and coach and play chamber music as part of the orchestra contract.  It starts from the earliest moments in a conservatory.  If your role model is a soloist or a first chair player in a great orchestra, you are not going to value any other career track. It is people like you Tony who have to change that and I know you are trying to do so.

Tony: Do you buy the argument that this will compromise the excellence of the orchestra if musicians are asked to do things other than play concerts together?

Wolf:Frankly, I think the argument is nonsense.  I have even heard it argued that breaking the orchestra into small units for certain repertoire “compromises” its artistic quality.  It is well to remember that before 1960, virtually all musicians – even those in great orchestras – put together a free-lance life and many of them preferred it. My teacher was William Kincaid, the principal flutist in the Philadelphia Orchestra

William Kincaid

for decades and one of the greatest flutists of the 20th century.  He hated the 52-week contract and said that most of his first-chair colleagues had voted against it.  He actually thought it would lower the standards of orchestra’s playing.

Tony: You have actually written other books and monographs about orchestras.  Do they follow the same line?

Wolf: With Nancy Glaze of the Packard Foundation, I wrote And the Band Stopped Playing: The Rise and Fall of the San Jose Symphony.

And The Band Stopped

It is a very detailed look at how and why an orchestra failed.  It was well reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and is still available through Amazon. Unfortunately, it too was controversial.  In that book, I actually took funders to task for being enablers of bad practice.  There were also lessons about the importance of responsible governance and staff leadership.  Finally, I urged orchestras to be more careful in choosing music directors.  Just because someone got great reviews in Berlin does not mean he or she will be a great leader in a small community in the United States.  And indeed, music directors have to be community leaders if the orchestra is going to succeed.

Tony: You sound like a pessimist when it comes to orchestras.  Is that fair?

Wolf: No.  Orchestras represent one of the highest achievements of mankind and American orchestras are among the greatest in the world.  I spent my boyhood going to Philadelphia Orchestra concerts most Saturday nights between October and May.  I even got to play with that orchestra – one of the greatest thrills of my life. Orchestras will survive–not every orchestra, maybe, and not necessarily in the form we know them today.  But new life and creativity grows out of crisis and already there are promising signs of change. I am optimistic.

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15 Responses to Guest Bloggers: A conversation with Dr. Tom Wolf

  1. The solutions for funding orchestras portrayed here are so simplistic and reductive they are ridiculous. Orchestra managers and orchestra musicians are not idiots. If these ideas were workable they would have been implemented long ago.

    The ineffectiveness and dysfunctionality of America’s private funding system is why the financial problems of orchestras in the USA have no comparison anywhere else in the world. All other developed countries use comprehensive public funding systems, and their orchestras face nothing like America’s problems. Name one major orchestra in Europe like the Philadelphia Orchestra that has gone bankrupt. And this is to say nothing of Detroit, Syracuse, Hawaii, New Mexico, Kansas City, San Diego, Louisville, Colorado Springs, the Florida Symphony, San Jose, and countless others.

    And then there’s a major opera company like the NYCO gone too. We only have a handful of real opera houses, and they have only partial seasons. In terms of opera performances per year Chicago is in only the 62nd position, San Francisco 63rd, Houston 101st, Washington 121st, and Santa Fe 172nd. Los Angeles has the third largest Municipal Domestic Product in the world (behind only Tokyo and New York City) but it ranks 158th in per capita opera performances. The few other companies that exist in America have even shorter seasons. They usually do not have houses and perform in poorly-suited rental facilities with pickup orchestras and singers. This applies even to cities with metropolitan populations in the millions like Atlanta in the 272nd position, Kansas City at 275th, Baltimore at 322nd, and Phoenix at 338th. They are far outranked by even cities like Pforzheim, Germany which only has 119,000 citizens but occupies the 68th position and thus outranks even our nation’s capital, Washington D.C, by 60 positions. (These and many more valuable statistics are available at Operabase.)

    To its credit, America has become a society where a neo-feudalistic system of arts funding by the wealthy no longer works. That this basic problem isn’t even addressed by Misters Wolf and Woodcock illustrates how fundamentally parochial and brainwashed their thinking is. When perspectives that limited are so common, it borders on the Orwellian.

    The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra went bankrupt even though most of the orchestra was paid only $7800 per year. In fact, it was a pay raise up from about $6000/year that bankrupted them. If an orchestra can’t even manage pay that low, it indicates systemic problems with the American private funding system that go light-years beyond the superficial remedies addressed in this article. And to make this even more absurd, the American system creates such massive managerial problems that we accept that an orchestra manager, like in LA, needs to be paid over a million dollars per year. When Europeans hear facts like that they roll their eyes and think your making a joke.

    We should also not be fooled by neo-con propaganda. The reductions by American-styled rightwing governments in the UK, Holland, and Italy do not in any way show that Europe’s public funding system is failing. The disease is not public funding, but the debilitating effects of Americanization and the attempt to export neo-con financial policies.

    If anything, Mr. Wolf’s suggested solutions are symptomatic of the desperation people are experiencing while trying to maintain America’s private funding system. Think about it for a moment. We would need to audition orchestra musicians not only on their orchestral skills, but also on their teaching abilities, their public speaking skills, their capacity for arts advocacy, their qualities as chamber musicians, their administrative skills, and their abilities at fund-raising. This is just more grotesque twisting and turning as America’s unique and isolated neo-feudalistic funding system meets its well-deserved and absurd death.

  2. There is one other very important point I should mention. Mr. Wolf suggests that we have too many 52 week season orchestras. This is an odd view given international comparisons. For example, Germany has 133 while the USA with four times the population only has 18. In the USA, there are already 37 states that do not have a fulltime orchestra.

    We only have one 52 week season orchestra for every 18 million people. In Germany there is one for every 630 thousand. The per capita ratio in Germany for 52 week season orchestras is thus 28 times higher.

    Facts like these show how deeply one-sided and parochial Mr. Wolf’s arguments are.

    • That’s not a terribly odd view considering the ethnic makeup of Germany–the vast majority of German citizens have no immigrant background while the non-Hispanic [White] European-American population in the US is roughly to 66% of the total population.

      With no strong immigrant population, Germany’s Orchestras enjoy what is practically a hegemonic monopoly in Art music that the US, having a more ethnically diverse population with diverse Art music traditions to match, could never have. This would like be the case even if the US were to somehow morph into a publicly funded system.

      • Actually, the German-speaking countries do have large populations of minorities. Foreigners (mostly guest workers from Turkey) comprise 8.8% of Germany, 10.3% of Austria, and 20.7% of Switzerland. They are concentrated in urban areas. In Frankfurt, for example, over a quarter of the residents are foreigners, almost all non-European. This hasn’t hindered Frankfurt from having both a 52 week opera house and a 52 week orchestra. It’s also the home of Ensemble Modern, one of Europe’s premiere, fulltime new music ensembles.

        Switzerland is as rich in orchestras as Austria and Germany even though 1 in 5 residents is a foreigner – and again, most are non-European. As Tony Woodcock reported in an earlier blog, the Berlin Philharmonic has even developed special programs to reach Berlin’s ethnic minorities – an effort greatly enhanced by generous public funding.

        It’s true that American classical music is overwhelmingly white. Many Americans rationalize this situation with the naive (and smug) assumption that African-Americans have their own rich musical traditions and are simply not interested in classical music. Such views, of course, are absurd and racist. They represent a form of aesthetic segregation. It is grotesque that one would even need to explain that the talents of African-Americans are as manifest in classical music as in jazz and pop. We practice musical racism through bourgeois essentialism that presumes to define black and white forms of taste and ability.

        These racially informed perspectives are strengthened by our plutocratic method of funding the arts. Most of our funding comes from donations by the wealthy, which inevitably allows a racially based class system to strongly influence our cultural lives. Elite white interests, as represented by institutions such as Lincoln Center, are where the money goes, while the cultural needs and identities of the poor and colored remain mostly ignored.

        We see that wealthy white people obviously trend toward funding the interests of wealthy white people, while a public funding system is inherently more diverse and democratic. Public funding also has an inherent orientation toward education and outreach that includes diverse communities and increases the interest in classical music. And let us not forget, classical music is part of every American’s heritage.

    • fireandair says:

      “For example, Germany has 133 while the USA with four times the population only has 18.”

      What are the attendance figures for these 133 orchestras? If they are similarly low, are you suggesting that the government, for want of a better way of putting it, buy up unsold tickets or something and let the orchestras play to echoing halls?

      • In Germany for the 2008/9 season there were 4,053,629 tickets sold for orchestra concerts and opera performances.

        Here are the percentages of seats sold by genre for that season:
        Opera 72.8
        Ballet 75.5
        Operetta 73.0
        Musicals 74.9
        Orchestra Concerts 75.5

        These percentages have hardly varied since 1993. It is important to understand that in Europe an attempt is made to find a balance between popularity and substantive programming. In 2004, the London Philharmonic sold about 82% of all tickets for its concerts, and many events were sold out.

        The LPO’s artistic director, Mr. Timothy Walker said it would be possible to raise attendance to 90%, but he would be:

        “…worried that our program was not adventurous enough. If we program in a conservative way, with great conductors and soloists, we are confident we would sell out the concert hall. With new, edgier work, and younger artists, the risks are higher. Orchestras are very fragile organizations. It is always difficult to balance the commercial and creative aspects of the orchestra.”

        Mr. Walker stressed that public funding gives the LPO the freedom to find a reasonable balance between popular and innovative programming.

        It is also important to consider that orchestras in Germany sell 75% of their seats, even though there are 28 times more 52 week season orchestras per capita than in the USA. 72% of opera tickets were sold, even though Germany has 83 year-round houses while the USA has zero. (Even the Met only has a 7 month season.) The reason they sell so many tickets is because of education, outreach, the nearness of orchestras and opera houses, and the affordability of tickets. Every city in Germany with about 500,000 people has a local 52 week season orchestra, so concerts can be reached with a short drive. And tickets for concerts and operas in Europe are generally about 4 to 5 times less expensive than in the USA. These differences are created by public funding.

      • Anne Midgette talks about the situation in Germany with regards to the increased audience attendance in a recent piece:

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/classical-beat/post/orchestras-in-germany-snapshots-of-a-crisis/2011/05/11/AFNFUBrG_blog.html

        Granted, with fewer orchestras (down from 168 Orchestras to 133 after unification), there just a slightly higher likelihood of attendance per event than you would expect, which is actually resonant with what Dr. Wolf is talking about above.

  3. The racial and ethnic divide isn’t just a black/white issue, though obviously African-Americans do constitute the largest minority from a relatively well defined region (Hispanics and Latinos are larger, but the regions they come from are a bit more wide ranging–Central/South America, European Spain and the Atlantic Island nations). But the issue isn’t that Germany doesn’t have any minority populations, which it surely does, but the ethnic make-up of the non-immigrant German population. In the US the white population is comprised of primarily European Americans with ancestral ties to Germany, Ireland, France, England and (depending on who wants to count them, Italy). All countries of which have different ties to Western Classical music culture. For example, La Societe Philharmonic (which was actually composed of “free people of color”) in Louisiana’s past (mid to late 19th and early 20th century) focused primarily on Operatic repertoire (since the Mediterranean countries of France and Italy have deeper ties to the Operatic traditions than Germany does).

    On the non-Western spectrum, however, there were no less than 11 Chinese Opera companies (most from China) that toured throughout the US that almost invariably began their tours in the Bay Area, during the mid to late 19th century. New York City, during the 1920s and 30s had no less than 5 Chinese Opera houses in operation that actually flourished during the Great Depression despite not having the same opportunities for Federal funding that all the WPA [Western] Orchestras had. Today, in the Bay Area, which has a population of roughly half a million Americans of Chinese ancestry, there are close to two dozen traditional Chinese Orchestras (including two youth symphonies as well as a k-5 chinese orchestra feeder program). Similar numbers of non-Western Orchestras can be found in other regions with dense populations of non-European Americans (Arabic Orchestras and ensembles in greater Detroit and Chicago Metro areas, for example).

    While it’s true that, say, Asian-Americans (mostly East Asian) are over-represented in Orchestras (compared to African-Americans and Hispanics), the members in the US Chinese Orchestras are almost completely comprised of Chinese-Americans (though there was that Washington Post article about the 9 year old African-American Chinese Opera singer some time ago).

    To my knowledge, there are no Turkish fasli ensembles in Germany despite the fact that 1) the immigrant Turkish population numbers nearly 8% of the population and 2) Turkish Classical Music (formerly referred to as Ottoman Classical Music) has paralleled the growth of Western Classical Music, which has a huge body of notated works that date back to the 9th century (via the Eastern Roman Empire). Some 3000 of the scores (as well as an index of incipits of nearly 24,000 other scores) can easily be found archived in Mus2okur.

    I do very much agree with you that the existing funding system in the US certainly allows for some more variety in what arts get funded–but the alternative, with a European public funding model could very well shift the non-Western art music traditions out of the equation just as easily to a European-American majority as well. The question then would be, whose arts do we fund? What would be the backlash if the New York Arabic Orchestra and South Bay Chinese Orchestra were to start getting the same level of public funding as, say, the New York Phil or the San Francisco Symphony? Western Classical Music isn’t as much a part of some American’s heritage as many of us would like to think.

    • You’re making a numbers of a priori assumptions that are completely false. I’ll mention three of the most important:

      First, there is no reason to assume that European countries that have relatively isomorphic cultural traditions would set the model for how public funding would be applied in the USA.

      Second, your assumptions about Germany (and Europe) are false. Most of the public funding in Europe comes from the municipal level. Significant sums are reserved for the various regions of cities and are devoted to ethnic diversity. The Green and Socialist parties in Europe (which make up most parliamentary majorities) are especially vocal about support being diverse. Some examples of groups supported are Turks in Germany, North Africans in France, and Indonesians in Holland.

      Third, it would be ridiculous to say that the American funding system by the wealthy has protected or supported our ethnic cultures. If anything, it has worked to destroy them. This is clearly illustrated if we look at the cultural status of areas such as Harlem. Due to its remarkable history, Harlem should be one of the great artistic centers of the world, a cultural Mecca visited by millions around the globe each year. (It should also be a cultural goldmine for NYC.) The reality is almost the opposite. Instead of being the pride of New York City, for over half a century Harlem has been decimated by poverty, degradation, and neglect. The area must continually struggle to maintain its cultural existence. The Eurocentric perspectives of our private funding system by the wealthy has inured us to the sexist and racist values that shape institutions like orchestras. And worse, they create forms of racist neglect and contempt that actually destroys culture.

      That is what our private system funded by the wealthy has done. A public funding system could quickly change all of this by making support more diverse, while at the same time also giving classical music far more funding and educational support.

      • First, If the funding model for Europe are as dedicated to ethnic diversity as you say, then I would think that we would want a US public funding model to be more like European ones. To my knowledge the Jungenē Philharmonic Orchestra is the only orchestra in Germany that brings together Turks and Germans as well as Western and Turkish repertoire. Sadly (from what I’ve been able to tell and I may be completely wrong which would delight me), the Turkish repertoire happens to be compositions written by Turkish composers in a Western style and with Western instrumentation not in Turkish Classical Music style with the instruments found in that kind of ensemble. Playing a symphonic composition by one of the ‘Turkish Five’ with Western forces isn’t the same thing as playing an Ottoman Classical composition by Tanburi Cemil Bey with the normal instrumentation of a Turkish traditional orchestra (Ouds, santurs, darbuka, riqs and Strings).

        Second, diversity isn’t just a matter of integrating immigrant or non-Europeans into a European Symphonic context. Funding that kind of initiative isn’t much less Eurocentric than not bothering to integrate populations. Supporting a composer like de Falla and his work which incorporates Flamenco and other Andalusian art music styles in his compositions isn’t the same thing as supporting and raising the status of (as de Falla attempted, though failed) Flamenco and Andalusian Classical Music at the same level as the European Art music tradition he was composing in.

        Third, I don’t disagree that the wealthy majority has, with its philanthropy trends, destroyed or at least impeded the arts and culture of minorities. The problem is not that public funding would, in principle, do the same, but given the voting power wielded by that same majority they also have the potential to influence public funding. Since there is an emerging Demographic Racial gap in the US, as Sam Roberts mentions:

        That development may portend a nation split between an older, whiter electorate and a younger overall population that is more Hispanic, black and Asian and that presses sometimes competing agendas and priorities.

        “The new demographic divide has broader implications for social programs and education spending for youth,” said Mark Mather, deputy director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan research group.

        “There’s a fairly large homogenous population 60 and older that may not be sympathetic to the needs of a diverse youthful population,” Dr. Mather said.

        We’re already finding that those states that spend the most of their gross state product in education also tend to be the most homogeneous (ie mostly white) which just, as John Derbyshire notes:

        This reinforces a number of findings from recent years suggesting that people are much more willing to be taxed for the benefit of people like themselves than for the benefit of the Other. Old people already grumble about paying taxes to support extravagant educational establishments. As the racial generation gap opens up, with the oldsters being noticeably more white and Anglo than the kids being educated, the grumbling will escalate into action — most likely, the simple action of yet further residential segregation, the old and white-Anglo living here, the young and dark Hispanic living there.

        It’s not a far stretch to see this attitude extended to tax moneys going more to arts funding. Why would the older and wealthy members of the white majority want to support an orchestra of Erhus, Pipas and Guzhengs as the Chinese-American population in the Bay area is obviously doing (both with public and private funds). If public monies for education, the arts, and arts education follows the trend of being elevated in homogeneous white regions of the US, then that’s just going the diversity in very particular ways. Putting us people of color into Western Orchestras isn’t the kind of ethnic diversity I’m talking about at all, it’s the kind of diversity that ethnic groups have in relationship to the types of arts institutions they have and are more likely to fund.

        “The Eurocentric perspectives of our private funding system by the wealthy has inured us to the sexist and racist values that shape institutions like orchestras”–that’s precisely why I mentioned the WPA and the Federally funded Orchestra program even during a time when some ethnic ensembles were holding their own without that federal support (the Chinese Opera houses in NYC I mentioned above). If public funding is just for European orchestras no matter the ethnic make up of the musicians, that’s going to be no less Eurocentric than what happened during the WPA [Western] Orchestra era.

      • Am posting this reply sans links to facilitate the discussion as the other comment is being held in moderation (sources in parentheses).

        First, If the funding model for Europe are as dedicated to ethnic diversity as you say, then I would think that we would want a US public funding model to be more like European ones. To my knowledge the Jungenē Philharmonic Orchestra is the only orchestra in Germany that brings together Turks and Germans as well as Western and Turkish repertoire. Sadly (from what I’ve been able to tell and I may be completely wrong which would delight me), the Turkish repertoire happens to be compositions written by Turkish composers in a Western style and with Western instrumentation not in Turkish Classical Music style with the instruments found in that kind of ensemble. Playing a symphonic composition by one of the ‘Turkish Five’ with Western forces isn’t the same thing as playing an Ottoman Classical composition by Tanburi Cemil Bey with the normal instrumentation of a Turkish traditional orchestra (Ouds, santurs, darbuka, riqs and Strings).

        Second, diversity isn’t just a matter of integrating immigrant or non-Europeans into a European Symphonic context. Funding that kind of initiative isn’t much less Eurocentric than not bothering to integrate populations. Supporting a composer like de Falla and his work which incorporates Flamenco and other Andalusian art music styles in his compositions isn’t the same thing as supporting and raising the status of (as de Falla attempted, though failed) Flamenco and Andalusian Classical Music at the same level as the European Art music tradition he was composing in.

        Third, I don’t disagree that the wealthy majority has, with its philanthropy trends, destroyed or at least impeded the arts and culture of minorities. The problem is not that public funding would, in principle, do the same, but given the voting power wielded by that same majority they also have the potential to influence public funding. Since there is an emerging Demographic Racial gap in the US, as Sam Roberts (NYT “New Demographic Racial Gap Emerges” May 17, 2007) mentions:

        That development may portend a nation split between an older, whiter electorate and a younger overall population that is more Hispanic, black and Asian and that presses sometimes competing agendas and priorities.

        “The new demographic divide has broader implications for social programs and education spending for youth,” said Mark Mather, deputy director of domestic programs for the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan research group.

        “There’s a fairly large homogenous population 60 and older that may not be sympathetic to the needs of a diverse youthful population,” Dr. Mather said.

        We’re already finding that those states that spend the most of their gross state product in education also tend to be the most homogeneous (ie mostly white) which just, as John Derbyshire notes (“Towards a White Minority” National Review Online, May 25, 2007) :

        This reinforces a number of findings from recent years suggesting that people are much more willing to be taxed for the benefit of people like themselves than for the benefit of the Other. Old people already grumble about paying taxes to support extravagant educational establishments. As the racial generation gap opens up, with the oldsters being noticeably more white and Anglo than the kids being educated, the grumbling will escalate into action — most likely, the simple action of yet further residential segregation, the old and white-Anglo living here, the young and dark Hispanic living there.

        It’s not a far stretch to see this attitude extended to tax moneys going more to arts funding. Why would the older and wealthy members of the white majority want to support an orchestra of Erhus, Pipas and Guzhengs as the Chinese-American population in the Bay area is obviously doing (both with public and private funds). If public monies for education, the arts, and arts education follows the trend of being elevated in homogeneous white regions of the US, then that’s just going the diversity in very particular ways. Putting us people of color into Western Orchestras isn’t the kind of ethnic diversity I’m talking about at all, it’s the kind of diversity that ethnic groups have in relationship to the types of arts institutions they have and are more likely to fund.

        “The Eurocentric perspectives of our private funding system by the wealthy has inured us to the sexist and racist values that shape institutions like orchestras”–that’s precisely why I mentioned the WPA and the Federally funded Orchestra program even during a time when some ethnic ensembles were holding their own without that federal support (the Chinese Opera houses in NYC I mentioned above). If public funding is just for European orchestras no matter the ethnic make up of the musicians, that’s going to be no less Eurocentric than what happened during the WPA [Western] Orchestra era.

  4. The key issue is that public funding systems make far more funds available to all, including ethnic minorities. (It is also misleading to think that the racial dynamic in America today is the same as it was in the 1930s.)

    Culture is by nature local, and Europeans localize their funding systems, both in terms of raising funds and their distribution. The NEA is slowly learning that it should distribute most of its funds to the states, and states are learning that most arts funding should be administrated municipally. In terms of localizing funding, much could be learned from European experience.

    Localization of funding empowers local culture and its inherent connection to ethnic communities. Under this system, white areas might fund orchestras, but ethnic communities would also get their share to fund their own forms of expression. Politicians who distribute funds unfairly would lose votes.

    Funding by the wealthy does just the opposite. It centralizes funding in a few financial centers, and especially New York. And due to our racially informed class system, the sources of funding are almost exclusively in white hands, and with very few mechanisms of accountabililty in place.

    • I would hope that could be the case and I really do agree that locally funding the arts is a much better proposition, provided that funding could get to the minorities. What would tip the scales in favor would be if there is enough of a minority constituency (or constituency base that favors supporting ethnic minority arts) to make the voting difference, which may be difficult given an ethnic majority holding more voting power. I suspect much of that would also depend on how the funds are earmarked for distribution especially in areas where if the ethnic minority populations as a whole is still outnumbered by the ethnic majority population.

      The sad thing, going back to the homogeneous white states that do spend more on education, almost none of the top tier orchestras or orchestras with significantly long seasons exist so it’s unclear how much even the arts funding would be shifted into the arts.

      The exciting thing is that despite the fact we don’t have a significant public funding system for the arts, there has still been explosive growth in the number of non-Western Orchestras throughout the country–and as I said, in those areas with significant ethnic populations with indigenous large ensemble art music traditions but predictably, those ensembles are also tied to the ethnic minorities who as a whole are financially well off (e.g. Chinese-Americans). There seems to need to be a critical mass, with regards to population size, as well as economic means in conjunction to a native large ensemble tradition to necessitate the emergence of these types of orchestras. This partially explains why despite the Hispanic/Latino and African-Americans being the largest ethnic minorities in the US, they don’t have [many] orchestras (which is one reasons I was thrilled to know that NEC graduates have started the Boston Latin-American Orchestra).

      In the end, none of this really helps the legitimacy and financial situation of the existing European styled Orchestras, and in some ways may hurt their bid for being more ethnically inclusive since for many ethnic groups there are plenty of alternative orchestras that will more closely meet their needs. There are only a handful of orchestras in the US and Canada that try to cross the repertoire and style divide (e.g. Multi Ethnic Star Orchestra in LA and The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra) in ways that European styled Orchestras can’t or are unwilling to do, but I think in the end as Mr. Wolf says:

      Orchestras will survive–not every orchestra, maybe, and not necessarily in the form we know them today. But new life and creativity grows out of crisis and already there are promising signs of change. I am optimistic.

      I am optimistic too, but I think for very different reasons than he is!

  5. Regarding the article above by Anne Midgette about German orchestras after unification:

    It’s true that in the 1990s Germany eliminated a number of orchestras, but this had nothing to do with a cultural crisis, but with technical aspects of unification, which was a singular, unique event of historical proportions. It did not in any way reflect a normal or continuing pattern in German thought about orchestras or cultural funding. It is important that we note this, because neo-cons grasp at every opportunity to try to discredit Europe’s public funding system.

    Often small towns only a few miles apart were divided by the wall. Each had their own orchestra. When the wall came down orchestras so close to each other were redundant. It was only natural to merge them. The personnel in the two orchestras were usually combined and the orchestra gradually reduced to its original size through retirement attrition.

    The second reason is that East Germany had the highest concentration of orchestras per capita in the world. The purpose was to show that communism was better at supporting the arts. Even many people in the arts world knew that the concentration of orchestras was artificial and redundant and so some of them were phased out.

    This is illustrated by the longitudinal data for the elimination of German orchestras. Most of the eliminations took place in the first decade after reunification. In the last decade very few German orchestras have been terminated. The number has remained close to 133 and will likely remain relatively stable for decades to come.

  6. We should note that when Germany reduced its number of orchestras after unification, the circumstances were very different from what Mr. Wolf is suggesting for the USA. Germany has 28 times more 52-week season orchestras per capita than the USA, so reductions here take on a very different character — a move from an impoverish cultural landscape to one simply exterminated. And the USA does not even remotely face the sorts of funding redundacies that were created by communism in East Germany.

    Here are some of the basic reasons public funding systems work better:

    1. Funding is very consistent because it is an established part of government budgets (which are far more stable than donations by the wealthy.)

    2. Governments do a better job of controlling costs because they generally bargain with all of the country’s orchestras at once.

    3. Governments have an inherent desire to connect their cultural institutions with the public (the voters) through outreach programs.

    4. The governments see an inherent connection between culture and education and organize their orchestras along those lines.

    5. Governments fund all areas of the arts and thus make sure that orchestras receive their due share but not more. (Orchestras are not allowed to hog resources like the top orchestra do in the USA.)

    6. Governments make sure that all regions of their country have decent orchestras, not just the areas where wealthy donors are concentrated.

    7. Subsidies allow the ticket prices to be far more reasonable, thus allowing the arts to reach a much wider demographic.

    8. The subsidies allow for more independence from the market thus allowing for a better balance with unusual programming and new music.

    9. The orchestras are far more efficient financially because they do not need huge, expensive development departments that have to reinvent the funding wheel every year.

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