Should your tax dollars pay for the symphony to play Carnegie Hall when the city is in the midst of a budget crisis?

The mayor's office has put an an add package in this year's budget seeking $200,000 for the Oregon Symphony to go on a trip to play at Carnegie Hall in New York. But the trip appears to be erupting into controversy amidst City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's tough reelection battle.


The city is facing a budget crisis, with the police bureau overspending its budget by $5million, and the city potentially having to cancel contracts and close fire stations.

Last night, Saltzman's rival Jesse Cornett drew attention to the budget item at a candidate forum. "This isn't the time to be sending the symphony to New York," he said. Saltzman responded by saying that the trip was not approved yet, he thought, and that the symphony would go to New York "over my dead body." Well, Saltzman is going to have to fight with the mayor's office over that, because the add package is in the mayor's budget, scheduled to be approved in June. More apres le joomp.


Cornett recalls the Symphony trip being mentioned in the paperwork at the first city budget forum back in February. Sure enough, on a small group worksheet entitled "add packages," line 30 under "special appropriations" says "Oregon Symphony Association—present the symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall."

"This is emblematic of the kind of thing that the city is spending money on," says Cornett. "And when you've got Dan Saltzman saying 'over my dead body', that's so amazing, because this is the sort of stuff that the city is spending money on every year. And for him to get outraged like that, when he has been sponsoring these kinds of expenditures for 12 years, is baffling. I think he's only decided to take a position in a tough reelection battle, after being called out."

Saltzman is in council this morning, and the symphony is yet to return a call for comment.

"Nothing in the budget is definite yet," says the mayor's spokesman, Roy Kaufmann. "This is a very, very difficult budget climate and there are going to be cuts everywhere. So whatever people see in these preliminary budget asks are requests. But this is not a proposed budget."

So the mayor's office is likely to take the symphony request out?

"I'm not going to negotiate on specific packages," says Kaufmann.

"We receive budget requests from the community, and keep in mind that these are part of what's requested, and right now we're working on a balanced budget," says Warren Jimenez, the mayor's deputy chief of staff.

So you're not going to take the symphony request out?

"It's more complex than that," he responds. "We have to look at it in the context of how we come up with a balanced budget. We have to look at council priorities, and weigh those against each other, and see where we land."

Update, 11:28: "This is concerning to me, because it seems to indicate that Mr.Cornett is out of touch with what the hell is going on in Portland, in so far as what our values are as a community, and where our priorities are," says Stephen Marc Beaudoin, a professional musician and arts administrator and producer who has, occasionally, stooped to write for the Mercury. "And at the same time I get that to someone not familiar with the role of arts and culture in Portland, that that could look like an egregious expense. And I've got to say when I saw that figure, it certainly caught my eye."

"But it's not at all out of line when you consider so many factors in terms of Sam's history in supporting arts and culture, and his history of supporting initiatives that allow arts and culture national exposure," Beaudoin continues. "I'm thinking, for example, of his $80,000 he gave to help support the Oregon Ballet Theater's debut at the Kennedy Center in 2007. This is the first time, ever, that the symphony would be performing at Carnegie hall. And this is a major festival of music in 2011, that was a competitive process, and they were among very few American orchestras to be selected for it. It's a huge honor, and it provides national and possibly international exposure, so fuck yes, they should be requesting that amount. Will they get all of it? Probably not. But it's their responsibility to ask for it, and it's the city's responsibility to take that request seriously."

Update, 4/15: Beaudoin corrects that last number: "The City of Portland, with major support and urging from then Commissioner Adams, gave $250,000 - not $80,000 as I originally said - to Oregon Ballet Theatre for its Kennedy Center debut, and the year was 2008. Mea culpa."

Update, 12:14 Cornett responds:

"Mr. Beaudoin ought to consider that while I questioned this expense in such a time of economic crisis, Dan Saltzman took the hard lined "over my dead body." I will admit that I must be out of touch with the Portland he believes he thinks we must be in. We cannot simultaneously seriously debate such an expenditure and closing firehouses while continually under-training police officers, which has led to far too many deaths at their hands. I hope Mr. Beaudoin didn't trip over a homeless person or camp as he was trying to get to you with his rant, which far too easily could have happened in the reality of the Portland that I live in."

Update, 11:42:
Here's a statement from Elaine Calder, president of the symphony.

Yes, we’ve requested $200,000 from the City.

This is a prestigious invitation to participate in the first ever “Spring for Music” festival — joining orchestras from Albany, Atlanta, Dallas, Toledo, Montreal and St. Paul in a week-long showcase at Carnegie Hall. In addition to our performance on May 12th there will be a national broadcast.

Part of our presentation on Thursday, May 12th will be a 20 minute video showcasing not only the Oregon Symphony but our home city, Portland. The video will feature our city’s commitment to public transportation, our vibrant arts community, our renowned restaurants and wine and our scenic beauty.

We need the City’s support for this very expensive undertaking. We have to transport 85 musicians + instruments to New York, put the musicians up for a couple of nights, pay for the move-in and move-out at Carnegie Hall and of course the cost of presenting the video.

This is a one-time ask. We hope the City will want to support us and recognize all we do for Portland’s citizens — not just at the concert hall, but in our community engagement activities, education programs, and all the work done by our individual musicians — teaching, small ensembles like Third Angle (going to China in May), master classes, etc.

We know money is tight. We hope the commissioners will choose to support us.

Update, 12:55 January "the intern" Vawter has come up with a solution to the problem of closing a fire station while paying for the symphony: We'll send some violinists to play the Adagio for Strings while your house burns down.