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Union, ISO Disagree Over Amount Of Budget Deficit

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is one of many that is looking at cuts to bridge budget gaps. One expert says its not just the economic downturn that has caused money issues.

A short season for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra could be around the corner if the ISO cannot come to an agreement with its musicians’ union.

The ISO wants to move about two dozen of its musicians from a full time contract to part time ‘as needed’ workers, saying it needs to make up for a $10-million budget deficit.

ISO Musicians Union spokesperson Richard Graef however, says that number is misleading.

“Their $10-million annual budget deficit is one that we have never heard of,” he says. “From their mouths directly they told us it was a $900,000 deficit.”

Michael Wilkerson is an Arts Administration lecturer in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He says reducing the season is a bad sign for an orchestra known as one of the best in North America.

“Once you get rid of something, it is very hard to bring it back,” he says. “I think it would be a good time for the people of Indiana and Indianapolis to try to figure out a way to solve this problem so that they have a thriving symphony orchestra.”

Indianapolis is not the only city facing trouble with its symphony. Atlanta’s orchestra has been locked out after failed contract negotiations between the symphony and musicians.

While Wilkerson says people are quick to blame a bad economy for the symphony’s problems, but that is only part of it.

“Unlike any other industry, you can’t get any productivity increases, he says. “You can’t play Beethoven symphony faster, or with fewer musicians. Therefore, your productivity is going to always be the same, so you can’t find the kind of economies other businesses and organizations can find.”

The ISO declined to be interviewed, citing sensitive budget negotiations, but did release a statement, saying a contract must be signed by this Friday to avoid any canceled performances.

However Graef says reducing the season will only further the financial problems of the orchestra by reducing the public’s exposure to the symphony. He says the musicians are already practicing for their opening concert, and a short season is unnecessary.

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