Symphony within $1 million of key fundraising goal

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Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians are hoping they'll be able to move forward with a new five-year labor contract even though the ISO is still about $900,000 short of reaching an important $5 million fundraising target only a week before the deadline.

Musicians have been working under a bridge agreement since a five-week lockout ended in October. At the time, the parties agreed that a new, five-year contract would kick in if the symphony could raise $5 million by Feb. 3.

As of Monday, the ISO had raised $4.1 million, spokeswoman Jessica Di Santo said in an e-mail.

More gifts are in the pipeline, said Rick Graef, lead negotiator for the American Federation of Musicians Local 3 union, which represents more than 70 ISO musicians.

“We all want to move ahead with a five-year contract,” Graef said.

Negotiators face the possibility of returning to contract discussions if the ISO misses the goal. However, an amendment to the bridge agreement allows ISO executives to lower the goal if they are satisfied with the amount raised.

The new long-term contract will bring significant musician pay cuts and fewer performances.

The fundraising blitz targeting first-time donors was a key term of the bridge agreement. The ISO has run radio and television ads, and Graef said musicians themselves have played an unprecedented role in the effort.

Led by Paul Berns and Allen Miller, musicians ran their own letter-writing campaign and put forward a list of roughly 1,000 contacts, Graef said. The musicians had never been asked to participate at that level before, he said.

The expanded donor base is important to the ISO’s long-term viability, Graef said. “Our existing donors will feel more comfortable knowing we’re not hitting them over and over.”

The five-year contract will cut starting pay for musicians from $78,000 a year to $53,000, then gradually restore it to $70,000 by 2017. The musicians will go from playing 45 weeks a year to between 38 and 42 weeks. Non-union performers will play the remaining shows in the schedule.

The cuts, which amount to $11.5 million in concessions from musicians, were in response to years of operating deficits.

The fundraising effort has made up ground in recent weeks. Only about half the amount needed had been raised as of Jan. 8.


  • Symphony within . . . key fundraising goal
    How about renaming it the Indianapolis Sports Orchestra. That way, it could get $millions and $millions. Look at the two major "sports" teams.
  • Hope They Reach The Goal, Or Else Pass Quickly Away
    The ISO does have some structural issues to address, but those hoping it fails to reach their fundraising goal because they think it will "prove something," are idiots, to put it simply. If the ISO doesn't reach its goal, the musicians will not get more money, the management will not be magically reformed, rather the city will just lose another cultural institution, like when the professional ballet company, Ballet Internationale, went under. But, then maybe this is what the people of Indianapolis want. Perhaps the city no longer wants such cultural institutions as the Symphony, or a ballet company, or an opera company, or any of the "old guard" institutions. Maybe these cultural institutions have little value or meaning for contemporary society, and it is just time for them to give up the ghost. If that is the case, then let's call it what it is and stop ranting about management, fundraising goals, etc. There are enough super-wealthy people and big companies in the Indianapolis area capable of writing a couple of checks to permanently erase the Symphony's deficit, but if the community's priorities have changed, then let the Symphony die in peace, rather than endure a protracted and painful death.
  • Oh, by the way....
    Another $10 million to the Pacers and new talk about another Superbowl we don't want and can't afford to lose even more money on? All the while our formerly world-class symphony is allowed to go down the tubes? Shame on you Indy - more deserving than ever of being thought of as Indian-noplace.
  • Fool's Errand
    The best thing that could happen to the ISO and its musicians is that it miss its fundraising goal and have to go back to the drawing board. Then perhaps key sponsors and donors will take a closer look at the real problems plaguing the ISO. And then perhaps the musicians would be paid the fair wage they deserve in the light of their talents and commitments to this city and its stature among other cities with world-class symphony orchestras. Besides, if they counted the $2 million additional Lilly gave them to renovate the seating in the hall and DIDN'T have to spend so much on limos for Urbanski to travel back and forth from Chicago because he doesn't like connecting flights, they would have already topped their goal. The musicians never should have settled...the management issues plaguing the ISO with regard to having no CEO, no marketing director or focus/plan and no development director - not to mention a board of directors that has absolutely mishandled/misappropriated the funds they DO have, all point to the musicians and the ISO being better off on lockout until the ISO gets its act together. What has transpired at the ISO is a tragedy at best and criminal at worst...and that has to be investigated and rectified before any good can come of any of this.
    • Can-kicking?
      How is this $5 mil. fundraiser more than just plugging a hole in the ISO budget for a year or two? Yes, some concessions have been extracted from the musicians (avg of $2 mil/yr for 5 years, I believe), but the goal of increasing annual gifts by 50%-100% from historic levels seems mighty aggressive. A quick look at the ISO's IRS filings appears to show an ongoing cost structure problem that is highlighted by the fact that they have been overspending their endowment by $3-$5+ mil. per year for several years. It seems that in order to create a healthy, sustainable ISO, the endowment overspending has to stop and the hole must be filled by:(1) finding new, recurring revenue, (2) roughly doubling the size of the endowment (already tried and failed, from what I've heard), or (3) reducing the annual structural costs of the ISO (from about $26 mil. now, to $21 mil.). While I don't expect the ISO to go out of business, donating to them at this point doesn't seems like a great proposition.

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