A Crisis Of Leadership And Transparency At San Francisco Symphony

Transparency around the symphony’s finances and decision-making is also sorely needed. The leadership’s failure to release financial documents has only added to our unease. Open dialogue and regular financial updates on operations and the endowment would go a long way to rebuilding confidence and ensuring that donors, patrons and leadership are aligned in our efforts to support the symphony. 

With the institution now in a state of crisis, the administration and the board face a crucial test: They must stabilize the organization, reassure worried donors like me and set a clear, positive direction forward. It is incumbent upon them to reexamine these cuts and do whatever is necessary to both keep Salonen here in San Francisco and keep his transformative vision alive.

The board of governors, as fiduciaries of the symphony’s creative and financial well-being, must articulate a strategic vision that includes specific fundraising targets and a roadmap to reverse the recent cuts. This plan must be ambitious yet achievable, demonstrating a commitment to securing the symphony’s future while restoring trust among its supporters and the broader community.

My concerns mirror those expressed by Salonen and the musicians. There’s a palpable disconnect between the symphony’s creative heart and the decisions being made by the administration. The board and administration need to listen and collaborate more closely with the musicians and supporters to navigate this challenging period together.

The San Francisco Symphony is at a crossroads. The actions taken by the board of governors in the coming months will be critical in shaping the institution’s future. I urge the board to lead with transparency, engage openly with all stakeholders and chart a course that not only addresses the immediate challenges but also secures the symphony’s standing as a pillar of cultural excellence. 

My love for this iconic institution has driven me to speak out. I hope that symphony leadership will foster a future for the organization that is focused on growing audiences, revenue and donations rather than diminishing the artistic product and the institution’s standing with ever-escalating cuts. Let’s come together to ensure that the symphony continues to thrive as a source of inspiration and joy for generations to come.

Cynthia Hersey is a longtime supporter and major donor to the San Francisco Symphony.

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