The Louisville Orchestra and its financial struggles are forefront in two national stories just as the organization is due to submit its bankruptcy plan to the federal court this week.
Both stories – one in the New York Times and one on National Public Radio’s Deceptive Cadence blog – use last year’s “Music Makes a City” documentary to look at the nation’s larger arts funding issues. (“Music Makes a City” has just been released on DVD.)
The documentary film by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler tells the story of Mayor Charles Farnsley’s vision: The arts would remake a city ravaged by flood and the Great Depression.
Or, as NPR Classical reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas phrases it, “the Confucian idea that a city of high culture would attract wealth and power as well as prestige.”
After it was founded in 1937 during the Depression, the LO indeed pursued Farnley’s vision of a small-town orchestra commissioning the works by the world’s greatest contemporary composers.
And it worked, with General Electric executives citing the Louisville Orchestra as one reason the company selected Louisville for Appliance Park.
Well, it worked for a while.
From the Sunday New York Times story, “Survival Strategies for Orchestras,” by Vivien Schwietzer:
This remarkable venture, which resulted in works by Lukas Foss, Paul Hindemith, Roy Harris, Gunther Schuller and many others, put Louisville and its orchestra on the international cultural map and attracted luminaries like Shostakovich and Martha Graham to visit the city. But that wasn’t enough to fend off the regular financial crises that have dogged the orchestra over the decades since, until its recent bankruptcy filing.
Schwietzer uses the LO to examine larger arts funding failures such as overreliance on private patrons and corporate donations.
“Survival Strategies” looks at new orchestra financing models that come down to one old tool – using freelance players paid by the job. Schweitzer also raises one painful internal issue the local media hasn’t glommed onto – conductors and directors make multiples of the typical player’s salary, a model more than one interviewee deems “unsustainable.”
Here’s the note from Brown and Hiler alerting supporters to the NYTimes and NPR pieces:
We are pleased to let you know that the New York Times will run a story in tomorrow’s paper (Sunday, 5/29th) centered around our film Music Makes A City. The below link is the electronic copy of the story. You will find the hard copy version of the article in the Arts & Leisure section of Sunday’s paper.
This past Wednesday, the NPR.org website ran the below story on the film as well.
Many thanks for your willingness to follow our film’s life in the world.
Owsley Brown, III & Jerome Hiler