What happens when money, politics and music all get mixed together? Financial Vice President Tom Olcott’s column in our January issue has ignited the passions of our members. In his column, Tom referred to the billionaire Koch brothers. He wrote, “The Kochs’ money – whether directed toward the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre or the renovation of the New York State Theatre – was never intended for the promotion of ballet, opera or any other art form. Rather the money was spent solely for the purpose of ingratiating the Koch brothers to the moneyed world of Lincoln Center boards. Not only is [the bankruptcy of the New York City Opera] a decided loss for opera lovers, opera singers and our musicians, but also for the artistic world that is the heart of New York. The Kochs could not care less. They believe they have gained political access. They don’t care about the art.” (The full column can be read at www.bitly.com/olcott-january.)
In response, Local 802 member Bob Haley wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in our February issue. Bob wrote, “Tom Olcott accuses the Koch brothers of using their contributions to gain entrance to the board of Lincoln Center. If so, so what? People have always contributed to the arts in order to be associated with prestigious arts institutions. Tom dislikes how the money was spent (even though it wasn’t his money) and even though everyone knew up front that the contributions were not intended for promotion
of ballet or opera, but for renovating and providing an operating endowment for the theatre. As much as we musicians like to imagine that it is only our artistry that sells tickets, a nice-looking theatre is a huge attraction. I suspect Tom dislikes the Kochs less for their desire to hobnob with arts folks than for their conservative politics practiced elsewhere. Too bad. Without philanthropists, we may never have had Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall or the new Koch Theatre. I suggest that we all would do better to put aside our political prejudices and stop biting the hands that help the arts.” (The full letter can be read at www.bitly.com/february-letters.)
But there’s more to the debate. Now a third Local 802 member has weighed in, and Tom gives a new response as well. See the letters below.
To add your voice to this conversation, e-mail Allegro@Local802afm.org.