Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy of schoeband.
This New York Times piece about the strike at the Cleveland Orchestra is excellent, and raises a couple of important issues. First, there’s the one that’s made explicit in the story:
In Cleveland, the fight revolves around several thousand dollars a year in salary for each player. But implicit is a debate over the worth of exquisitely trained musical artists in our society and how much we are now willing to pay for them.
That’s of course one of the issues at stake in stories about funding for the arts across a wide variety of disciplines, from the broad decline of the news business, to the closing of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. But there are other questions here, too. If salaries rapidly decline in music and art, as they have in journalism, symphonies, galleries, etc., risk losing out on a huge amount of talent. For example, journalism has become such a costly career to pursue, full of unpaid internships, low starting salaries, and fellowships that require the people who take them to have independent sources of income. Those financial entry barriers are not inconsequential, and they limit the kind of people who can decide they want to pursue a career in journalism. Given the costs of training and equipment to go into classical music, if salaries fall, the entry barriers are even steeper.But I think one thing that stood out substantially to me about this story was the fact that the Orchestra musicians feel comfortable potentially striking at all. Given the high social capital culture jobs have, and the terrible state of the economy, I’m impressed that the musicians aren’t worried about getting fired or disciplined, or losing public approval for striking. I guess when the profession’s in peril, someone’s got to take a stand.