When You're Reduced to Spending $60 Million on a "Center For Future Audiences," it May be Time to Call it Quits in the Present

The yeah-yeah world-class Cleveland Orchestra has created a "Center for Future Audiences" because, like all creative types, they are sorely disappointed with the size and quality of their current audience. To its credit, the orchestra has raised $20 mil from a private source:

With a $20 million lead gift from the Maltz Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation (a $60 million fund for the project is the goal), the center will remove some of the most common obstacles to attending orchestra concerts -- ticket cost and access.

A sobering fact mentioned in the announcement of the initiative is that the average ticket price to a Cleveland Orchestra concert in the historic Severance Hall has increased more than 300% since the mid-1980s (it's now $50). That's one way to keep young people out.

More here.

I'm all for philanthropy, so the more private money that goes to anything the better. However, the Cleveland Orchestra, like most such ventures, is a money-suck for public dollars from groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Cuyahoga Arts & Culture group, all of which are funded through generous and involuntary donations from taxpayers like you.

Particularly in a time of extreme budget-crunching, such tax funding should be reexamined (the same goes for the enormous amount of money that publicly funded schools at all levels spend on goddamn shitty sports teams and a million other elective kindnesses that combine to kill the little guy and waste a huge amount of money). In fact, in flush times, such tax funding should be reexamined too.

Why is it considered legit to spend millions of public dollars are stuff that caters to a tiny number of people, whether we're talking Bach or baseball? Or the Browns or the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame? (Rick Derringer didn't need no tax dollars to create "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo" did he? He just trucked on out and spread the news.) Kudos to the Maltz Family for ponying up one-third of the desired amount to punish "future audiences" via ultra-sound concerts for fetuses or whatever. I'm sure the Maltzes know a couple of other rich people who can foot the bill to keep alive their preferred art form. But why the hell should anyone who doesn't give a hoot about an orchestra be on the hook for its preservation?

Past wrangles about the Cleveland Orchestra question here.

Earlier this year, Reason.tv released Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey, an hour-long documentary series that explored ways to "fix the Mistake on the Lake and other once-great American cities." Watch the whole thing here.

Drew and I were invited to talk with the Cleveland City Council afterwards. Watch a 10-minute highlight reel of our our nearly three-hour-long meeting with them.

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  • ||

    They're just taking a page from the government's playbook. After all, they're spending trillions on "Debt for Future Taxpayers".

  • ||

    But the Debt for Future Taxpayers will be so beautiful and culturally enriching! Especially if you like the Mad Max films.

  • Liberal||

    funded through generous and involuntary donations from taxpayers like you

    But it's such a tiny amount, the equivalent of one B-52 toilet handle!

  • Spoonman.||

    I will never understand how liberals justify arts funding when there are still food-insecure people in this country.

  • Liberal||

    You are the "pubic" in Pubic Radio.

  • American Delight||

    They would argue that they're for high enough taxes that can fund BOTH anti-poverty programs and the arts.

  • stupid republican||

    Don't be so insensitive......they are
    "Sustenance Challenged"

  • ||

    A sobering fact mentioned in the announcement of the initiative is that the average ticket price to a Cleveland Orchestra concert in the historic Severance Hall has increased more than 300% since the mid-1980s (it's now $50). That's one way to keep young people out.

    The beauty of price discrimination; it keeps the riffraff out. You don't think anybody really wants to see a lot of ignorant rubes when they go to see an opera, do you?

  • Angry Renter||

    +300% since the mid-1980s

    I know my beer costs 3X more than it did in 1985. And my rent.

  • Tao Chemical||

    My first apartment's rent (1980 - had a pool and other amenities) was $160/mo.

  • Angry Renter||

    Mine was about $260 in 1985. It's currently $1180/mo. That's with no increases the last two years. Yay Mortgage Meltdown™!

  • ||

    Obviously the real path to financial independence here is to have the world class Cleveland Orchestra perform "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo" at least once per show.

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    At least the Cavs are 1-0 against the Celtics. Can't say the same for Scottie Pippen 2.0 and the Heat, so you've got that going for you Cleveland.

  • Old Mexican||

    With a $20 million lead gift from the Maltz Family Foundation of the Jewish Federation (a $60 million fund for the project is the goal), the center will remove some of the most common obstacles to attending orchestra concerts -- ticket cost and access.

    The next obstacle to remove will be to actually make people go to see the opera. Or making them like it.

  • ||

    If only they would allow dancing...

  • Old Mexican||

    A sobering fact mentioned in the announcement of the initiative is that the average ticket price to a Cleveland Orchestra concert in the historic Severance Hall has increased more than 300% since the mid-1980s (it's now $50). That's one way to keep young people out.

    Actually the higher cost is to keep the musicians and theather worker unions well fed.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Here in Mpls we have to buy art for our libraries or face the consequences.

    A county policy requires that 1% of total project cost be added to the top of every large library project for public art

    A commissioner has been trying to fight this requirement arguing that spending $300K on art at this point in time is sort of stupid.

    But he lost

  • ||

    As a person who often attends the symphony and the opera, even I cannot justify this. A hundred years ago before really good quality recorded music, maybe you could justify sending some money out to the country to make sure people had access to such things. But now, what possible justification is there? Are you really better off seeing the local okay symphony or Opera when you can watch the Met or the BSO in high def at home? So much better off that your need justifies the rest of the country subsidizing your tastes? Hell no. IF half or more of the symphonies and operas in this country closed tomorrow, it wouldn't be a big deal to anyone except music majors. Culture would go on. What is this other than an employment act for near but not quite elite musicians?

  • ||

    But now, what possible justification is there?

    It's his money to do with as he damn well pleases?

    Symphonies aren't that expensive compared to opera, which is a fucklot expensive to put on. Thanks, in no small part, to all of the unions involved.

  • ||

    I meant NEA support. Private money can spend what it likes.

  • Jerry||

    According to the IRS filings of the Cleveland Orchestra, it has 111 people on the payroll making more than $100k.

  • ||

    Wow. Other than the conductor and a few of the better musicians who possibly deserves that kind of money?

  • Jerry||

    The median pays was $140k, if that makes you feel any better.
    http://www.businessweek.com/ne.....y-cut.html

  • ||

    It's competition for top talent- all the major orchestras have base salaries above 100k, and if you want to keep up with the others in that elite club, you have to pony up.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Jesus. That's fucking outrageous. The god damn tympani player's getting $500 every time he hits his drums.

  • ||

    I remember from back in high school band (french horn motherfuckers!), hearing often that timpani players were usually the highest-paid members of an orchestra. Apparently the required tuning precision isn't easily taught or picked up.

  • ||

    The horn!

  • ||

    If that Timpani player had to squeak by on fifty grand per year, he might be tempted to go into politics, or investment banking. So maybe there is some hard-to-quantify "social benefit" to having a symphony orchestra.

  • ||

    I love my Detroit Institute of Arts (been a member for more than a decade).
    I visit the Detroit Zoo a couple times a year.
    I visit the Detroit Historical Museum about once every two years.

    It's all highbrow entertainment that should no more be subsidized by the taxpayers than lowbrow entertainment (government funded titty bars anyone?).

  • ||

    Who needs a titty bar when you can see total nudity (not to mention hardcore copulation) at the zoo?

  • ||

    (government funded titty bars anyone?)

    *imagines Anita Dunn and Debbie Wasserman Schultz performing tag-team lap dance*

    No, thanks.

    *gouges out eyes*

  • Cyto||

    Fair point - if it were government-run there would be quotas and set-asides for favored groups, union hiring/firing rules that ensures that no workers can be let go. I'm fairly certain that within a few years you'd have nothing but 40+ year old, overweight, surly dancers of mixed gender, race and sexual orientation gyrating to politically-correct, government-approved dance music.

  • Cyto||

    Fair point - if it were government-run there would be quotas and set-asides for favored groups, union hiring/firing rules that ensures that no workers can be let go. I'm fairly certain that within a few years you'd have nothing but 40+ year old, overweight, surly dancers of mixed gender, race and sexual orientation gyrating to politically-correct, government-approved dance music.

  • ||

    "(Rick Derringer didn't need no tax dollars to create "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo" did he? He just trucked on out and spread the news.)"

    ..and it's writing like this that is the cherry on top a Gillespie article. Well done, sir, well done.

  • ola||

    has the sign ordinance been changed yet?

  • Cyto||

    These guys won't ever learn... they don't even speak the same language. This morning on NPR they had a discussion with several experts on Urban Renewal about a new initiative (new cities?) to spend $15 million in grant money to cities for city planners to initiate urban renewal. Never once was the underlying premise challenged (that being the idea that a central planning top-down method of development is best).

    They uniformly lamented the lack of federal dollars for cities and for private/public redevelopment projects. They even featured a nice lady from Cleveland who is using the $15 million for a private/public development effort and hopes it will act as seed money to attract another $30 million. I think it was going to build a 10 acre greenhouse facility in a poor neighborhood to become the largest hydroponic grower of leafy greens in the US. It would provide 35 jobs too! It sounds dumb on the face of it, and that's before you factor in the thought that you could have paid 35 guys $100k per year for 15 years to do nothing with that kind of money. Maybe that's why you needed a public/private initiative to get your little farming operation off the ground? Wanna take bets on whether those 35 jobs will outlive the annuity you could have bought to pay those same 35 workers at their full salary?

    I really wanted to be able to burst into their studio and force them all to watch the Reason.tv Drew Carey Saves Cleveland series.

    But that's really just deluding myself. Just like the councilmen that met with the Reason.tv crew to discuss the ideas presented in the series, they wouldn't even be able to understand what the discussion is about. Their underlying premises about how the world works are so different that they cannot fathom the idea that government might not be the source of jobs and development.

  • Mike Laursen||

    The whole thing is so ripe for mockery. I could see a subversive photo campaign of homeless people in Cleveland Symphony t-shirts, posed in front of litter-strewn, empty storefronts.

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