letter from Ken Schoon
February 2, 2011
Dear members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Board,
I am deeply disappointed in your actions during the now five months’ strike of the DSO musicians. Under your best proposal, the DSO may at best be able to attract inexperienced musicians seeking to fulfill their career elsewhere. Detroit cannot afford to see its best talent continue to leave for other cities. I believe that you are doing what you think is best, but I also believe your actions are based on false premises.
The suggestion that Detroit cannot afford a better proposal is blatantly untrue. Detroit’s much smaller, Rust-Belt neighbors, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, have been hit just as hard by the decline in manufacturing, and yet both cities have renewed their commitments to having top-ten orchestras in the economic recession. Metro Detroit is the size of Greater Cleveland and Metro Pittsburgh combined. Minneapolis and Cincinnati are no boomtowns, but they maintain orchestras that round out the top 12. The Detroit region is also the size of the Twin Cities and Greater Cincinnati combined. Detroit remains home to some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country, including Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, the Grosse Pointes, and much more of Oakland County, where the orchestra’s true financial base lies.
The question is not whether Detroit can afford to maintain a destination symphony orchestra but how much Detroit values its orchestra. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have determined their orchestras to be important assets to their turnaround strategies. If Detroit plans to take another path, what is it? Is Detroit willing to see its best artistic talent participate in the turnaround of these other cities?
The national economic crisis has hit Detroit hard, but the city cannot simply cut its way out of decline, lest it cut out its heart and soul. Detroit’s peers and competitors in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are managing cuts at the same time that they are building a future independent of heavy industry, in which continuing support for art and music plays a central role. Detroit can do it, too.
Detroit has lost many of its best and brightest, its most talented and creative. Let us not let the 85 musicians of the DSO be the next to go.