Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Niagara Symphony launches Save The Symphony campaign!

Last week, the Niagara Symphony - comprised of 52 professional musicians - announced they needed to raise $ 500,000 in five weeks in order to survive to play another day. While many might have suspected the symphony was struggling with debt, few thought the problem was so acute. The symphony management blame the shortfall on lower private and corporate donations and very low government funding of the arts. Where have we heard that before?

This is not simply a money problem; it is also a problem of perception. Will donors be reluctant to help out the symphony now, fearing they may not last so why bother? I hope not. While government funding of the arts in North America has never been at the level many arts organizations in Europe receive and likely never will be, surely we can do better. I know, I know...the hew and cry from many sectors is that governments at all levels have enough trouble funding basic services such as health care, so why should they be expected to help fund an arts organization they likely will never have any use for? I understand the sentiment, but it is misguided. Take, for example, public transit. Not everyone uses public transit, but your tax dollars help to fund the service so it is there for those who need it. The money collected at the farebox will never cover the cost of the system, just as money collected at the box-office will never cover the cost of putting the Niagara Symphony on stage for the season. For myself, I have no problem helping to support public transit, which I occasionally use, or the Niagara Symphony, which I attend. But I also have no problem helping to fund the new four-pad arena that recently opened in St. Catharines, which I likely will never use.

But its more than just the dollars and cents at work here. Arts help to shape the community in which we live, just as sports and other leisure activities do. They add to our quality of life, and how do you put a price on that? You can't. Still, we all contribute for the betterment of the community as a whole, rather than just those parts of it that directly interest each individual. And I consider that an investment in the community rather than a cost I should not have to bear.

The Niagara Symphony has taken some heat from many factions since their announcement last week, regarding the amount of money they need and how soon they need it, as well as why it took so long for them to go public with the problem. Clearly, the symphony board will have to come up with a better plan than they have if they expect to see government and public funding forthcoming over the next five weeks or so. But I would rather work towards a solution to the problem as a team rather than just walking away and saying 'it's not my problem - let someone else fix it'. Let's get on board and Save The Symphony - the Niagara Symphony is more important to this community in Niagara than many people think.

Mike Saunders
May 16th, 2007.