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Who will step up to save the symphony?

"Violins of Hope" - a collection of 18 violins saved from the Holocaust restored by Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein - is making its North American debut in Charlotte this April.

The rich local educational and cultural programming inspired by their arrival is expected to garner national attention for exhibition host UNC Charlotte and culminate in a concert by world acclaimed violin virtuoso Shlomo Mintz accompanied by the Charlotte Symphony.

The irony is "Violins of Hope" is coming to Charlotte at the time the Charlotte Symphony is fighting for its life.

The question is where are the donors in Charlotte who have an all-consuming passion for outstanding classical music - or for making Charlotte a vibrant cultural community? Will the Charlotte Symphony survive?

It is poignant to me that 70 years ago one could find people in the Nazi concentration camps risking their lives to protect a violin - and yet today, the Charlotte Symphony has only 23 individual donors who gave $10,000 or more to the Charlotte Symphony in 2010.

Their successful funding model - heavy reliance on a united arts fund and a handful of generous corporations - had the unintended consequence of suppressing the development of a large pool of generous individual donors.

Buffalo and Albany in economically beleaguered upstate New York boast a stable full of donors who give $25,000 and $50,000 annually.

Nashville Symphony Orchestra, in the country music capital with a population of 657,000 and 1.5 million in the 13-county region, boasts 47 donors who give $10,000 or more annually - double Charlotte's numbers.

Nashville Symphony has twice as many donors (12) who give between $50,000 and $100,000 annually, and 34 families who contribute $10,000 or more (Charlotte has 17). Nashville enjoys the support of 47 businesses that support the NSO at $10,000 annually; and 17 companies that contribute $25,000 or more. The Charlotte Symphony has fewer than a dozen companies that provide annual support of $10,000 or more.

The paradox is that Charlotte finally has the right leadership in place, and one that is doing everything possible to build audiences through new concert programming and more value to the community through educational activities. Jonathan Martin, executive director, is one of the hardest working leaders of orchestras in the country.

Where will those who love and cherish classical music and music education find hope and comfort if the Charlotte Symphony disappears? On the eve of perhaps the community's most visible moment, with the Democratic National Convention months away, can Charlotte be a New South city without a distinguished symphony?

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