Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: It's time for Mayor Ballard to take the baton

September 29, 2012

A few weeks ago in this space, we called for someone—anyone—to step forward to take a leadership role in resolving the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s labor dispute.

The silence has been deafening.

Ideally, a civic leader who cares deeply about the arts would intervene and help forge a way forward for the symphony, which has an artistic reputation larger than the city it represents. In a bygone era, it might have been someone like the late businessman Tom Binford, who repeatedly came to the rescue when one of our city’s treasures was threatened.

But it’s a different time, and no hero has emerged. Absent anyone from the private sector with the stature and willingness to lead, the task should fall to Mayor Greg Ballard, but he seems to be looking the other way.

He’s been widely quoted as saying he wishes both sides well but considers the stand-off a management/labor dispute. There’s no sign, at least publicly, that the mayor has attempted to intervene.

His lack of involvement is a mistake. Ballard, who in words has been a champion of the arts community, is missing out on a golden opportunity to send a message to the world—by his deeds—that this isn’t just a sports town.

But maybe it is.

When the Indiana Pacers or Indianapolis Colts get into a financial jam, city government jumps in to make sure there’s a resolution. Mayors from Richard Lugar to Ballard have intervened on behalf of our treasured sports franchises.

Granted, the city has a more direct stake in the fortunes of the sports teams, who play in city-supported, multimillion-dollar venues. From a dollars-and-cents perspective, there’s certainly less riding on the future of the ISO. But should the mayor look the other way simply because the financial stakes are lower?

The symphony is arguably the city’s marquee arts organization. That should count for something. And the task at hand shouldn’t be especially daunting for the mayor.

With considerably less time and treasure than has gone into helping private sports franchises, Ballard could play a huge role in preserving the symphony, which is threatened with becoming a part-time orchestra with fewer musicians. If he’s not inclined to get his hands dirty in this dispute, he could recruit a fixer to bring the ISO’s musicians and management together. By making a big show of that appointment, Ballard, by virtue of his position, would elevate the importance of preserving the ISO and send a signal that it’s a city priority.

IBJ and other media outlets have devoted lots of time and space to the issue, and the public has responded with pleas to save the ISO. But no one in a position of authority has emerged to heed those pleas and harness the pro-symphony sentiment behind them.

Ballard can, and should, step in and fill the void.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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