A Tale of two Charts

While the San Antonio Symphony is well known for the quality of its performances and the community-minded spirit of its musicians, it is also known as a struggling non-profit with a history of continued financial hardships. For at least 20 years, our Board, Management, and some major donors have acted on the principle that if not enough money is raised to cover expenses through contributions, endowment income, and ticket sales, cuts are the only solution. However, it is unreasonable to expect any full time professional orchestra to balance its budget on ticket sales alone. Even for the wealthiest orchestras, ticket sales routinely account for less than half the income they need. Therefore, an orchestra must employ qualified people dedicated to fundraising, marketing, media, sales, and endowment growth. Without those employees, there will be a deficit. If advertising and promotion is unattractive or sporadic, ticket sales will be low and there will be a deficit. Since there is little or no endowment for our orchestra, the pressure to increase donations and ticket sales stretches an already small and overworked staff to the breaking point. In other words, whether or not a non-profit is able to cover its costs might say more about the governance of the organization than the viability of the organization. How can anyone say that San Antonio does not want or cannot afford a full-time Symphony when those charged with balancing the budget continue to believe in cutting every time there is financial difficulty, even though this method has failed for decades?

Graph #1: SAS Wages over past 30 years

Graph #2: Per capita spending on Symphony Budget

The San Antonio Symphony should not agree to any more cuts in budget and wages and here are two graphs that argue our case.Graph #1 shows the annual salaries for San Antonio Symphony musicians compared to the overall growth of wages in San Antonio and Bexar County. As shown on the graph, annual SAS musician salaries were on pace with other members of our community until the organization was forced in 2003 into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a catastrophic cut to a third of the season. Since then, musician salaries have not kept pace with the rest of San Antonio and have fallen further and further behind. Is this really due to a lack of interest in symphonic music in San Antonio, or is it possible that there is a huge potential for increased support that has not been tapped?

This brings us to chart #2, which shows the per capita spending on orchestras in a large number of similarly sized metropolitan areas across the country. We left out cities like Dallas and Houston because our major funders have repeatedly stated that "San Antonio is no Dallas or Houston." It is understandable why they would want to avoid the comparison: these cities have orchestras with budgets over 300% bigger than ours, that also pay their musicians 3-4 times more than us. What the chart clearly shows is that our community spends far less on its Symphony on a per-person basis, despite the fantastic growth San Antonio has enjoyed over the past 30 years. Cities like Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland have been far from boom towns during this period, yet their Boards have been able to raise 4-8 times as much as our Symphony has been able to muster.

These two charts suggest that there is great potential for increased support that would easily prevent any further erosion to the wages and productivity of the San Antonio Symphony. The musicians of the San Antonio Symphony believe that in the right hands, we could catch up to the wage growth the rest of San Antonio has enjoyed.