Letter from Cornelia Pokrzywa
Dear DSO Board,
As we enter 2011, I implore you to consider new approaches to solving the current crisis. Whatever negotiations are taking place at this time are clearly not working. We need a new approach. If the Board has a plan in place to bring the strike to a conclusion that both sides can accept, now is the time to bring that plan to the bargaining table.
On a middle class income, I attend about 10-15 concerts per season. Some recent concerts that I attended include Hilary Hahn, DSO concert master Emmanuelle Boisvert’s solo performances, Olga Kern, Lang Lang, and Sir Roger Norrington. We enjoyed the DSO sold-out concerts at Greenfield Village, at the Ford Mansion, at Meadow Brook Music Festival, and at Kensington Metropark. We attended pops concerts and DSO at the movies, including The Wizard of Oz and the Mary Pickford special event. While I might be content with the current programming, attending as many concerts as I can afford, I agree that it’s possible the DSO still has untapped markets to reach. In this case, cutting the orchestra schedule and offering reduced concerts hardly makes sense.
We keep hearing about the troubled economy, and there is no doubt that people in southeastern Michigan have taken a hit. Yet, entertainment dollars are still being spent. Luxury items are still being purchased. If you view DSO tickets as a luxury item, then perhaps Mr. Frankel (who can attest to the robust sales at his Somerset Collection, where you can find $400 handbags and $50 steak dinners and $100 yoga pants and $800 iPads being purchased by southeast Michigan consumers every single day) can advise you on creating a more effective marketing strategy. His customers aren’t tourists, but residents. And if residents aren’t buying enough concert tickets to preserve the DSO then it’s time your management figured out a way to offer more diverse programming and get people interested in buying tickets. Stop giving your product away with vouchers, discounts and $99 Friday night subscriptions and get to work creating demand for your product. Don’t tell me that people can’t afford c
oncert tickets; it’s your job to create programs that will lead people to the concerts, lined up the way that Apple has them lined up for $300 phones and $90 per month calling plans! I don’t see the private sector (including Board members’ business interests) throwing up their hands and cutting their product value in order to lower costs. The most successful businesses concentrate on meeting the demand of the market, creating new demand, and increasing revenue. If the Board wants to apply business principles to the arts, then perhaps this is the lesson.
Of course, economic viability is important but there are many ways that arts institutions differ from business. Cultural institutions have a special obligation to the public, particularly disadvantaged populations. The DSO is proud of its educational programs, programs which certainly don’t generate revenue but just as certainly attract donors and lucrative grants. Indeed, Orchestra Hall is where my children have had the opportunity to hear concerts and participate in educational programming. They not just hear but meet their idols, including Hilary Hahn, Midori, and others. The world-class DSO musicians have been their teachers, their mentors, their inspiration. The culture surrounding the DSO has given rise to an environment where a child can absorb the influence of great symphonic music. We are raising the next generation of DSO audiences. You have an obligation to ensure the continued artistic integrity of this institution.
We keep hearing about viability but if management’s plan was viable, it would have been accepted by now. Do you believe that musicians (by no means wealthy) could afford to forfeit three months’ salary on a mere whim? To be difficult? To satisfy curiosity? What is the final cost of continuing the strike and ultimately destroying the orchestra? There is still time to negotiate in good faith, to bring the musicians back as truly respected stakeholders who are committed to keeping the orchestra viable and relevant. Thus far, your consultants haven’t offered any advice that moves the two sides closer to a solution. It’s time the people on the Board started listening to the community leaders, the musicians, and the audience: please return to the bargaining table.