Good morning. My name is Mary Ellen Goree; I am the principal 2nd violin of the San Antonio Symphony and chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee. I am here to speak to the good investment that a fully professional San Antonio Symphony is for the city, as well as to the appropriate use of ARPA funds in helping the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony return to a pre-pandemic condition.
According to a 2015 study published in Economic Development Quarterly, between 2000 and 2010, the San Antonio Symphony helped to generate $222 million in annual employment income, as well as nearly a third of a billion dollars in annual economic impact. The arts get people to spend money; they are good business, plain and simple.
My colleagues and I aren’t just an economic engine for San Antonio. Pre-pandemic, we played educational concerts for up to 50,000 students from every corner of the city every year. In addition to teaching hundreds of private music students, we coach at local middle and high schools, we coach the students in the Youth Orchestras, we are applied faculty at local colleges and universities, and we are the soundtrack to some of the most meaningful events in peoples’ lives. Or at least up till now this has been the case.
My colleagues and I gave back 80% of our guaranteed salaries to keep the Symphony afloat during the worst of the pandemic shutdown. Our reward was to be asked to agree to additional draconian cuts. We could not agree to a plan that would inevitably result in the dismantling and destruction of the symphony.
And while we are engaged in this battle to retain a professional orchestra here, my colleagues are leaving. Some are already gone, with others preparing their exit. All of the benefits – economic, artistic, cultural, educational – of having a fulltime professional orchestra in San Antonio will vanish along with my colleagues.
There is no more appropriate use for ARPA dollars earmarked for the arts than to provide funds to preserve an excellent orchestra for the benefit of our city. The best way for this would be for the Symphony Society to reach agreement with the musicians’ union on a fair contract agreeable to both parties. Since the Symphony Society claims that its demand to reduce the orchestra size from 72 staff musicians down to 50 is motivated by a need to counter the effects of the pandemic, therefore a restoration of 72 musicians and returning medical benefits to pre-pandemic status is legitimately classified as pandemic relief.
It's my understanding that the County is giving a significant amount of ARPA funding to the arts, including the Symphony. I respectfully urge the City of San Antonio to do the same. At a minimum, it is appropriate for the City to match the County.
-Mary Ellen Goree
Principal Violin II
Chair, Musicians' Negotiating Committee