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Violins Gently Weep

Pay cuts at the Spokane Symphony; plus, prioritizing the city’s arts department

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Out of Tune

The Spokane Symphony is cutting musicians’ pay despite the musicians’ union rejecting the contract offer that included the cuts. The symphony board decided last Friday night to impose the contract, which cuts core musicians’ salaries from $17,460 to $15,132, without further negotiations.

“We were at impasse,” says the symphony’s Executive Director Brenda Nienhouse, “much to our disappointment.”

Musicians are paid a set salary per year for a maximum number of “services” — times they play, rehearse or do symphony-related educational events. Nienhouse says the symphony can’t schedule enough performances to use up that maximum, so it’s losing money. In today’s economy, with many one-time gifts propping up the symphony’s budget, the nonprofit’s board has to “be a good financial steward,” she says.

But Adam Wallstein, the orchestra’s timpanist and leader of the committee negotiating for a new contract, argues it’s the symphony’s job to schedule more shows and make more money to take care of the musicians who make the shows possible.

“Those of us struggling to cobble together a living wouldn’t be able to do that [under the proposed contract],” Wallstein told The Inlander during negotiations.

The musicians say they will appeal the contract and are now asking supporters to write letters to the symphony urging negotiation.


Art of the Deal

Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart on Monday announced the long-awaited solution to funding the Spokane Arts Department: Hand it over to the city boosters.

The Arts Department, which has been on the chopping block for the past few years, will be eliminated and replaced with a nonprofit organization. The Downtown Spokane Partnership and the Public Facilities District are each contributing $25,000 toward the new organization, according Stuckart. Visit Spokane is providing space for the new organization in its building.

Stuckart, a former member of the Arts Commission, says the move will stop city arts funding from being a perennial “political football.”

“As an Arts Commission, you’d spend half your year lobbying city council members or lobbying the administration to keep [arts] in the budget, and you’re not actually getting what needs to get done, done,” Stuckart says.

Karen Mobley (pictured), the current city arts director, will become interim director of the new group, according to Stuckart.

The new arts organization will still receive some city support: $100,000 next year, $80,000 in 2014 and $60,000 in the years after. As a nonprofit, the new group will also be able to seek grant funding.

The new organization will likely shift some of its focus more toward performing arts, Stuckart tells The Inlander.

— Joe O’Sullivan

Ombudsman Extended

Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns can plan to stick around a little longer now that city officials have decided to extend his contract with the Police Department through next summer.

The Spokane City Council voted Monday to continue Burns’ term until next August after making changes to the city’s ordinance on ombudsman contracts, which had previously required positions to be renewed three years at a time.

“I think we’re going to continue to move things forward in a positive way,” he says.

Spokane Mayor David Condon initially declined to renew the contract last August, saying the city statute requiring another three-year contract was not flexible enough to adjust to major transitions occurring throughout the department.

City council members had opposed the move with Council President Ben Stuckart saying an empty ombudsman’s office would be an unacceptable step backward.




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