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Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Fiasco, Explained

By Michael Vincent on September 25, 2023

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS) has announced they are filing for bankruptcy, leaving its musicians and the community scrambling to make sense of what this means moving forward.

What Happened?

Just days before its opening, the Symphony’s ’23-’24 season was to start, the board cancelled all events due to a $2M dollar deficit, which effectively put them in a state of insolvency.

According to the Symphony’s chair of the board of directors, Rachel Smith-Spencer, they worked feverishly, reaching out to stakeholders to secure the needed $2 million to keep the music playing, but to no avail.

The entire board has since resigned, leaving the orchestra musicians in a state of panic.

The beloved Youth Orchestra and the Bridge to Music program, a beacon for low-income families, also fell victim to the closures.

The Symphony had been a cultural staple for 78 years, playing a pivotal role in community life in the Waterloo region. This sudden closure affected not only the musicians and patrons but also the local economy, including restaurants and local businesses that thrived around the Symphony’s activities.

The decline in subscribers post-pandemic, from 8,000 to 2,000, contributed majorly to its downfall, showing the shifting dynamics in performing arts audiences.

The Symphony tried to adapt with various inclusive approaches, but the financial constraints and changing cultural landscapes posed significant challenges.

Musicians band together

Musicians and the community scrambled to raise funds, with a GoFundMe page reaching over $350,000 in just over a week.

According to the page, Ved Khan, the Senior Corporate Affairs Manager for GoFundMe Canada, broke the record for the highest donated Canadian Fundraiser in the first 24 hours in the last 5 months. The campaign is also the highest donated Ontario-based fundraiser in the first 24 hours this year.

Where is the Government in all of this?

According to a report from the CBC, the Symphony’s sudden closure was spotlighted in the House of Commons, leading to heated conversations about federal intervention. According to the report. MP Mike Morrice has been making a plea for emergency support for the beleaguered Symphony since last fall.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge acknowledged the symphony’s financial tribulations and expressed commitment to exploring support through various programs, marking a potential ray of hope for the Symphony and its patrons.

Morrice emphasized the long-standing neglect and need for a solution, highlighting the pressing appeals made to the Prime Minister for one-time support to salvage the Symphony. Minister St-Onge articulated her awareness and assured continued support to arts organizations, suggesting a possibility of aid for the Symphony through available programs.

Wake-up call

The abrupt end of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is not just a loss of an orchestra but a shock to the cultural ecosystem of the region. This situation unveils the fragility of performing arts in the contemporary age and prompts reflection on sustaining crucial cultural institutions in changing times.

It also draws attention to the wider impacts of such closures on community life, local economy, and cultural identity. It’s a wake-up call to re-imagine and re-structure how we preserve and interact with classical music and cultural legacies. In a world teetering on the edge of cultural shifts and technological advances, the fall of this Symphony underscores the urgent need for rejuvenation and reinvention in the classical music scene.

Michael Vincent
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