Just in: Indy packs its musicians off unpaid

Just in: Indy packs its musicians off unpaid


norman lebrecht

April 07, 2020

Another sad tale of our time. At least this press release does not try to put spin on it.

(April 7, 2020) – Extraordinary circumstances created from the COVID-19 outbreak caused the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to cancel performances through May 27. In an unprecedented step to protect its long-term viability, the ISO last week placed its musicians and stagehands on unpaid furlough, and laid off nearly half of its administrative staff.

ISO leadership has applied for financial relief through the Paycheck Protection Program as part of the recently passed CARES Act. CEO James Johnson has advised employees on furlough or layoff to seek unemployment benefits. The ISO has committed to providing healthcare coverage through May.

“Given the far-reaching economic impact of COVID-19, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is implementing measures to best protect its financial stability during this time,” Johnson said. “These personnel actions are extraordinarily difficult, but necessary to manage the challenges faced by our organization. The health and safety of our employees remains a priority. I am grateful that our Board of Directors has pledged to fund health insurance for employees for the near future.”

As is the case with all organizations in the performing arts and entertainment industry, the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak has prevented the ISO from being able to announce, promote or confirm plans for future performances until there is definitive guidance on when it will be safe to gather and perform again. During this hiatus, the ISO is retaining a minimum administrative staff on reduced pay and benefits to maintain basic operations.


  • David J Hyslop says:

    Grim times.

  • Bill Earnhart says:

    As a long time ISO violinist, now retired,
    I’m saddened to see this happening. Hopefully, the city of Indianapolis will rally around their magnificent orchestra to help the musicians get through this difficult time.

  • Bill says:

    The big difference here is Indy didn’t just get 25 million from congress to keep it afloat.

    There’s a very good possibility some of these medium sized orchestras won’t be coming back after this is over.

  • The Indianapolis Symphony was already in terrible financial shape before the Coronavirus hit the US, to the point that they have been looking to sell off crucial assets.

    CEO James Johnson will almost certainly use this crisis to ask for a financial bailout from the Indiana state government, but the legislature will be wary when they become aware of what has been happening behind the scenes at the ISO for many years. Will they give state money to an organization that enabled age discrimination and much worse?

    • Bill says:

      The Indiana legislature is dominated by Republicans. I highly doubt they will care about age discrimination. The bigger problem is whether they really care enough about the arts, especially since there will undoubtedly be well funded sports franchises asking for money too.

      • PaulD says:

        Maryland’s legislature is dominated by Democrats. Let’s see how much (if any) money the tottering Baltimore Symphony gets in state funds.

    • drummerman says:

      Do you have proof of these accusations? If so, please elaborate.

  • Rich Patina says:

    Have they no endowment money that could be used for payroll?

    • L says:

      That’s not how endowments work, sadly. They aren’t a piggy bank that you can just dip in to when you need it. The endowment is mostly made up of endowment-specific gifts, and you have to get special permission from the gifter to release those funds, not to mention board/trustee approval. In the world of non-profits/philanthropy, dipping in to the endowment (outside the usual annual draw an organization gets) is never a good move, for a variety of reasons.

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    Infuriating. If you have no orchestra as you dismissed the musicians without pay, what are you administrating? This is intolerable. Time for administrators to learn that they exist because of the musicians, and are UNNECESSARY without them. SHAMEFUL!

    • V.Lind says:

      So…cheques that arrive from donors just lie on the mat, bills that continue whether there is a concert or not do not get paid, cleaning does not get done and dust mounts (as nobody is there to pay those who would do that). Nobody is there to take inquiries from the orchestra, the public, interested donors and sponsors, as to the oncoming plans f the orchestra (which nobody is planning because they are not there).

      I would hope that there have been substantial drops in admin staff — I fail to see why marketing departments are staying open when there is nothing to market, as in some orchestras — but there is a need for some. Contrary to what a lot of you seem to think, orchestras cannot exist as going concerns without their staffs. I am as concerned a anyone that we cannot have everything we are used to, but I am getting sickened by this notion around here that the lives of musicians are more important than the lives of secretaries and accountants and other mere mortals who keep the wheels turning. And the lack of respect for their contribution.

    • Karl says:

      Administrators with no one to administrate happen a lot in government. I worked at a psych hospital that got shut down but administrators kept their jobs.

    • Bruce says:

      To be fair, they do need to keep a few people on staff for things like fundraising, accepting donations, writing grant applications, etc.

    • Anon says:

      Unfortunately, this has always been the case, and musicians are getting fed up about the fact that without them, there’s no orchestra! Jumped up clipboard holders, who don’t know the difference between Mahler and Marsalis. The rot is prevalent in London as well!