Symphony could be the engine powering a sustainable Hawaii
Supporters of the Honolulu Symphony are overlooking a powerful reason to save it: economic benefits for Hawaii. Mass tourism is wrecking the islands: crowds, traffic, noise, crime, degrading natural beauty. An excellent orchestra could attract two very desirable kinds of people who would help our sagging economy and turn us to a more sustainable future.
We need tourist dollars, but we should switch from mass tourism to class tourism, appealing to fewer but wealthier visitors. The resulting income for the state would be the same or better, as these visitors become aware of the artistic potential of a less-populated Hawaii and therefore contribute actively to nurturing its beauty and its arts.
High-tech entrepreneurs are the other desirable group. They could do much to help Hawaii become a technology center. These innovative scientists, engineers, managers and technicians can live and work anywhere they choose. A leading attraction for them is a vibrant arts scene, of which a prime indicator is a thriving symphony.
Music education for children and jobs for talented orchestra members are certainly desirable but much more is at stake. The Honolulu Symphony can be a crucial factor in the state's salvation, leading us away from overdevelopment and overpopulation to features attractive to people who have the money and the educated tastes to really appreciate the finer things Hawaii could offer.
So we must understand that the symphony is more than a frill; it is a major indicator of our values, of what Hawaii believes is important. The image we present to the rest of the world can have profound long-term consequences. Let's think of ways to improve it.
A first step could be to redirect $1 million from the tourism authority's annual $80 million budget into raises for the 62 regular symphony musicians, giving each $16,000 more than the $32,000 they now receive. This would still be far below the pay of major orchestras, but at least it would suggest that the state does care about the arts, and would indicate that there is more to 21st-century Hawaii than potholes, $1 million football coaches and trashy trinkets from China.
State aid is especially timely now to repair the damage inflicted on the symphony by evicting it for three months from its home at Blaisdell Center to make way for a traveling musical.
A healthy Honolulu Symphony could serve all the islands and would be a key to shifting Hawaii from destructive dependence on mass tourism.
David Swift, a professor in the University of Hawaii-Manoa's sociology department since 1966, teaches courses in Technology and Society and Sociology of the Arts. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and is a board member of Chamber Music Hawaii.