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Cleveland Orchestra Expects to Take $12 Million Hit from Pandemic

a photo of an orchestra concert at Blossom
The Cleveland Orchestra summer season at Blossom is still up in the air.

COVID-19 and the widespread impact of the pandemic is hitting the Cleveland Orchestra hard, forcing temporary layoffs and pay cuts.

President and CEO André Gremillet estimates the Orchestra could see as much as a $12 million budget shortfall by summer's end.

"We're not talking about what will happen starting in October and for the (upcoming) season and the damage that this is going to cause until there’s a vaccine."

The Orchestra has launched a public campaign to raise $6 million. Gremillet said Orchestra trustees have already pledged $3 million in matching funds. 

The Orchestra has received a small business loan of around $5 million through the CARES Act.

The summer season at Blossom is still up in the air, Gremillet said. "We're very concerned for the entire Blossom season," Gremillet said. The health of patrons and musicans is a top priority. "So we're going to be extremely careful as we make decisions as we return to the stage, because we cannot risk the health of our people in any way."

He stressed that cancelling the Blossom season is a real possibility. The Orchestra should make a decision on the season in the next three weeks. 

The Orchestra has laid off dozens of employees and instituted a sliding scale of pay cuts for staff making more than $55,000 annually. 

Gremillet said they expect to hire back their staff in the fall and all are still getting healthcare benefits. 

"Things will take time to get back to normal," Gremillet said. "We want to be back as soon as we can and provide music for our audiences."

As for the musicians who've traded in the stage for their living rooms? Gremillet said they've been keeping busy honing their craft. 

"A high number of them, actually, are producing videos that we're posting on social media. That's their way to communicate with our audiences and they take satisfaction in doing so."

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.