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BSO endowment needs to be tapped

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians will be locked out of the band’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall facilities starting Monday.

The recent article regarding BSO financial decision-making (“Shaky BSO finances leave endowment chiefs skittish about forking over cash, pondering orchestra’s successor,” July 1) raises serious questions about Baltimore Symphony Orchestra leadership.

By stating that the BSO endowment’s purpose is to support the BSO "or its successor,” the organization’s leadership further damages its own credibility. The dog whistle of “successor” is merely a scare tactic designed to gain musician concessions for the eighth time since 2003. History shows that musician concessions lead only to requests for more concessions, not to improved operation of the organization. We also must draw the public’s attention to the conflict of interest that exists between the Endowment Trust board and the BSO board and management.

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The BSO board controls the Endowment Trust board. The BSO has the ability to appoint and to remove Endowment Trust board members. But they will not remove them because they are doing exactly what the leadership needs them to do by withholding funds in order to extract concessions. Even though the trust agreement defines the other six trustees other than CEO, board chair and treasurer as “members of the community who are neither officers, directors nor employees," all members other than the chair, Chris Bartlett, have long established connections to or are former members of the BSO board. The idea that the Endowment Trust is operating independently is laughable.

The goal of the endowment is to ensure the survival of the institution it supports, the BSO. The statement that an annual withdrawal of 5% or less is the only responsible way to fund the institution you support is merely a supposition. When the endowment’s return on investment has been 8% and 11.2% in the last two years and your beneficiary organization is crying “fiscal crisis,” to not take the maximum allowable draw is a violation of the endowment board’s fiduciary responsibility to the BSO. It is also irresponsible to accept money from donors who gave to the endowment to support and preserve their world-class orchestra, and who now have learned that their money might be used to grow the endowment for a successor organization. All of this while the musicians are locked out of their jobs without income and the community is deprived of a vital cultural jewel that helps to make Baltimore a great place to live.

Is that why the endowment exists — to use as a hammer on the musicians? We think not. The endowment exists for moments just like this one. Why would those who serve on the Endowment Trust step up to lead an organization if their real goal is to preside over its demise? The BSO Endowment exists to support the BSO and if there was ever a time that it needs to reconcile itself to that mission, it is now.

Aubrey Foard, Baltimore

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