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Should The City Pay For The Spreckels Pavilion Organist?

Balboa Park's historic organ in the Spreckels Pavilion has been played on Sundays for decades.

But that may stop if the City Council decides to slash the line item in the Parks and Recreation budget that pays the organist's hourly performance fee of $555. (As has been noted in the comments below, the use of the word "hourly" is misleading. A "performance fee" would be more accurate. I regret the error).

According to the U-T, some council members are unhappy with the cost, given the deep cuts being made elsewhere to offset the city's $56.7 million deficit. The Mayor recently proposed major cuts to the parks budget which reduces the hours at recreation centers across the city and eliminates jobs.

The question being raised is: can the city afford the luxury of a weekly organ performance in these current economic times?

Councilman Carl DeMaio told the U-T that the annual $29,000 allotted for the organist's performances should come out of the Arts and Culture Commission budget.

Carol Williams has been the civic organist since 2001. Her annual salary is $56,000 and is funded by both the city and the Spreckels Organ Society, which pays the remaining amount for her consultation as artistic director.

Also from the U-T article:

Stacey LoMedico, park and recreation director, said the Sunday concerts go hand-in-hand with her department’s mission.

“This contract, which represents 0.00034 percent of the Park & Recreation Department’s $83 million General Fund annual budget, allows San Diegans to enjoy a cherished recreational program in place since 1926 at one of our iconic landmarks,” she said in an e-mail. “The organist contract allows us to maintain and enjoy a landmark gifted to the citizens by one of our city’s founding families — one that has rewarded generations of San Diegans with simple, free Sunday enjoyment at Balboa Park. If that’s outside the Park and Recreation Department’s core mission, it’s news to me.”

What do you think? Should the tradition be upheld and the city absorb the price of having a free Sunday performance at the Spreckels Pavilion?

UPDATE: I just spoke with a representative from the Mayor's office who said the $555 rate is a weekly rate. The organist spends roughly 30 hours a week doing prep work and learning new material.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | April 21, 2011 at 3:56 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I think perhaps listing an "hourly performance fee" is misleading. I'm quite sure the organist practices and prepares and no doubt selects and organizes each program. I doubt she goes on stage and noodles around the keyboard playing whatever comes into her head. I'm just saying.

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Avatar for user 'Jocelyn  Maggard'

Jocelyn Maggard | April 21, 2011 at 4:11 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I believe Pat makes a good point. Although, the hourly pay initially appears to be very high, one has to remember this is not a 40 hour a week job. A lot of the work is probably done on the organist's own time. Also, thank you Pat for using the term noodle around, loved it.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | April 21, 2011 at 4:15 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I'm not suggesting she doesn't deserve what she's getting paid. I'm asking if you think it should be paid for out of the city budget in these tight times. That's the question presented - what's your opinion?

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Avatar for user 'bellvideo'

bellvideo | April 21, 2011 at 6:53 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

How do you come up with $ 500 per hour? How stupid are people to think that you have all the programming in your head to play and all the arrangements ready to play with NO rehearsals for that one hour.

We all can not really buy into that, can we?

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Avatar for user 'WERickman'

WERickman | April 25, 2011 at 2:32 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Has the City spent one second thinking about all the revenue these summer concerts bring to the area? Has anyone with the City been to one on these concerts lately? I have, every summer since I moved to SD. People by the hundreds come to the park and surrounding areas and make a night out of it. Spending money at the local shops and restaurants as part of the evening’s outing. Often one will see people having full picnic/parties during the show with food and drink bought close by or at thr local restauarnts. Or little parties before the show - such as for someone’s birthday. $550.00 per hour is a lot, but it is really? Hourly salary of $550.00 for a concert pianist is a drop in the bucket, and this is ONLY DURING THE SHOW. Not to mention the tradition and spirit of or City community and togetherness. Doesn’t this $550.00 sound more like a wise INVESTMENT during these depressing times?

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Avatar for user 'hopeheadsd'

hopeheadsd | April 25, 2011 at 8:19 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Its one thing to cut a program like this and another to come up with a viable alternative to supporting it through another revenue stream.

The question is: Who benefits the most out of this besides the audience? The merchants and museums?

Here is a viable solution: Boost the ticket prices for a "Museum Hopper" ticket which tourists (I would guess) largely pay for by $.50-$1.00 etc. I am certain that projecting ticket sales as well as past revenue from these ticket sales would be more than sufficient with the additional piece of the pie going to the talent.

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Avatar for user 'olsentm'

olsentm | April 25, 2011 at 8:53 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I seriously can't believe the City of San Diego is forced to consider eliminating so many of the things that make San Diego a great place to live and to visit.
Those Sunday organ concerts are a huge draw for Balboa Park. People pack that organ pavilion, and then when its over they go eat at the tea house or Prado and visit the museums. Obviously they should keep the organist, and keep the concerts. And while we're at it we should put the fire pits back on the beaches, put back the maintenance schedules that were cut for park bathrooms, and ask San Diego residents to start paying for the services they recieve.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | April 25, 2011 at 9:40 a.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

These last few comments are great, thank you for contributing. I love seeing the Sunday afternoon concerts so packed with all the colorful umbrellas. I agree that people likely make an afternoon of it and spend money on dining before or after. Great cities have these kinds of events.

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Avatar for user 'fryfan'

fryfan | May 20, 2011 at 2:13 p.m. ― 5 years, 9 months ago

I admit I'm late to this message thread, but I would like to point out that calling the City's contribution to Dr. Williams' pay a "performance fee" doesn't really do justice to it either; although it is far more accurate than calling it an hourly rate.

What is really happening is that the Civic Organist performs most Sundays, organizes and performs perhaps once herself at the Summer International Organ Festival, arranges for the other performers, does a variety of public service chores, learns new music and practices, etc., and (this is most important) all of this and more is funded through a public-private partnership in which the Spreckels Organ Society raises funds from memberships, item sales, generous gifts from its Trustees, and general "development" activities--providing more than half of Dr. Williams salary from those private sources.

If the City Council does not fund the meagre amount that is its share of this partnership, it will send a message that such partnership arrangements are not worth pursuing.

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