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Interview with Mihai Dogaru - leader of the Arad Philharmonic union and Călin Bibar - mayor of Arad

Friday, 16 April 2021 , ora 13.37

In the last week, a series of articles from the Arad press brought into question the fact that the Mayor of Arad is considering a restructuring of the local Philharmonic. Prestigious Romanian artists addressed open letters in support of Arad musicians, the institution having an important history: in 1890 the Philharmonic Society of Arad was established, and in 1948 the modern institution, the State Philharmonic, was established. The musicians' concern is also based on the fact that, currently, the symphonic and vocal-symphonic repertoire of the Arad Philharmonic is supported by two already undersized groups - according to the institution's website, the choir consists of 37 employees and the orchestra consists of 49 employees.

We find out about the current situation from Mihai Dogaru - the leader of the Arad Philharmonic union and Călin Bibarț - the mayor of Arad.

We mention that Doru Orban, the manager of the Philharmonic, was also contacted, who did not want to participate in the interview, motivating that he will make statements only after receiving the budget approved by the City Hall.

Mr. Mihai Dogaru, as leader of the Arad Philharmonic Union, please tell us, what is the situation of the musicians in the institution now?

More recently, I see that there is a tendency everywhere to be removed from the title of the institution, the phrase "state". It is no longer the state theater, state philharmonic, state opera and this process began in our country last year, when, at the suggestion of the manager and with the approval of the culture commission of the Local Council, the phrase "state" from the Philharmonic, has been withdrawn. To me, this seems, at least strange, because this title can be granted only by a state body and in no case made at the proposal of a manager of the institution, whatever it may be. This was done then, as a motivation for the salary, the saving of money. After that, of course, the institution was assigned a salary, in the second category of institutions, where the law provides "other cultural institutions". What somehow leaves, the organization and management of these institutions at the level of local authority, be it commune, city, village, anything. This attitude, which is directed more towards money than towards culture, is extremely dangerous for the Romanian culture, as a whole. Furthermore, the same situation happened in Arad, when the mayor of Arad said that money is needed for hospitals and then we will take it from the Philharmonic. About 60% of the budget was cut compared to the previous year. An online public discussion on the budget was organized, where we and other colleagues of ours participated, who tried to argue that the identity of a city depends on cultural landmarks. Nobody visits a city to see the decisions of the City Hall, to see what I know about the creation of new curbs or something like that. Everyone visits everything that means culture, buildings, shows, in no case, administrative acts. It seems incomprehensible to me such a thing, after so long, because the Arad Philharmonic is almost 200 years old (in about 20 years it will reach this age) and is in a building, in a building that is a building of heritage, everything is incredibly beautiful, impressive; and the building of the Cultural Palace in Arad is, in general, the emblematic image of Arad. About two years ago, some substantial funds were allocated for the restoration of the Cultural Palace, for its restoration and now, after this, you end up practically abolishing an institution by cutting more than half of the budget for employees. ? What is unpleasant and strange, before the evaluation of the management at the Philharmonic, the City Hall ordered an audit. Audit which (following numerous complaints, such as problems with money management at the Philharmonic) ... the audit report highlighted the waste of money that is done at the Philharmonic, but this waste is not done on ensembles or artistic groups, but simply on investment. The same report, the evidence that the Arad Philharmonic is the smallest in the area, being half the number of employees compared to the Timisoara or Cluj Philharmonic. Instead, what was strange was that the smallest Philharmonic had expenses external to the artistic act as much as the Philharmonic from Timișoara and Cluj combined. Which is, to say the least, weird. Although the report highlights a number of other irregularities, this did not stop the City Hall from nominating the same Manager again and, of course, that the reaction of the people was extremely virulent, especially since there was a total lack of transparency in communicating with employees, with various official documents. We have made numerous requests for data that we have not yet obtained. Needless to say, the basic documents in the functioning of the institution, the Internal Regulation, the Regulation of Organization and Functioning, the Collective Labor Agreement, are not signed at this time either. The staff of the Arad Philharmonic is at 100 or below 100. That means orchestra, choir and administration - all. There are whole compartments in the orchestra that are incomplete; they have one or two people in the compartment where at least four or five would be needed. So, 100 Arad, 200 Timisoara, 200 Cluj. And, practically, the Arad Philharmonic, in terms of number of employees, is exactly half of any of these institutions. But, on top of that, in terms of expenses, the Arad Philharmonic is the same as the other two Philharmonic places. When the online budget was discussed, we also came in, we even came up with concrete solutions to correct this situation and we still hope to find understanding and at least some of our solutions to be applied, which would make the problems at the Philharmonic solved, without amputating an orchestra and a choir, which are already at the minimum operating limit or even below the minimum operating limit. You can't evaluate culture in an immediate income; today I sell culture and tomorrow I make money.

Could you please give me examples of the proposals you have made?

Yes. First of all, the budget spent by the Philharmonic (huge, as many as two institutions together) - if the money from investments, mostly useless, made so generously, would be directed to the salary fund, then the problem would already be solved. No investment is needed at the Philharmonic, because last year the complete reconstruction of the Palace was completed. A large organ was also installed in our room, which was also a colossal investment. Everything looks very good at the moment. So, investment is no longer needed; In no case, not by the funds that have been squandered with so much effort. Moreover, those funds were not only spent because the management was more or less qualitative, but also because they were approved by the chief authorizing officer, in this case, the Local Council and the transfer of funds from unnecessary investments, to make the institution more efficient is only one solution.

Mr. Călin Bibarț, as Mayor of the city, please tell us what is the situation at the Arad Philharmonic at this time. I read in the local press that you stated that there will be a restructuring of the institution and I also know that the orchestra and the choir already have a small number of employees compared to the standard level of a philharmonic.

I am glad that you are among the few who say and speak of restructuring and not of closure and dissolution, as has been deliberately spread by some in the media. We are in difficult times and we want a restructuring at the level of the entire institution. Everything related to Arad City Hall, in our city - the Philharmonic, the Theater and the Social Assistance Department are fully financed from the local budget, from the pocket of the people of Arad. We are not in the happy situation that other cities have - such as Bucharest, such as Cluj, such as Timisoara, such as Iasi and the examples could continue, where the cultural institutions operating in those cities are paid in full from the central budget, through the Ministry of Culture. So, once again, it is not about closure and dissolution, but about restructuring and not only at the Philharmonic, but at all the institutions related to the City Hall. Now, on this subject, you always have discussions with much and with little. At the moment, on Arad, if you talked about the Philharmonic, per day, 365 days a year, it costs over 5300 euros, the institution, and the salary part, only the salary part, over 5200 euros. I'm not saying it's a lot, I'm not saying it's a little. I know it is an activity with a special specific. How am I aware that a cultural institution does not make a profit and we cannot claim it. I present figures. Of the total income, the contribution from tickets / season tickets did not exceed 3% in any year. I put all this on the table of local councilors and we make a decision together. As we tighten our belts in other areas, because we have to spend more on health, education and online during this period, we cannot be in a city just for some and for others, no. We are trying to allocate financial resources in each area to keep it running. That's why I ended up in this situation and I present the figures. As much as necessary, we will decide together, but I can not agree that nothing happens at the Philharmonic, to continue to pay 5300 euros per day and in other areas, to social assistance to restructure, in the apparatus of civil servants in to restructure the town hall, to restructure the local police and then to look into people's eyes. Now we are in a reality that I do not like, no one wants such a thing, but we have to sit with our feet in cold water and calm and see where and how we can shrink.

I understand that this winter the "state" particle disappeared from the title of the institution, which I understood to mean a salary demotion, ie being included in another category of payment.

I don't know, I've never heard of such a thing. If it wants to be 100% state-owned, I would be happy to pay the Ministry of Culture, but it doesn't want to.

The institutions that are called "National", those are subordinated to the Ministry ...

I know very well, it is very good. But it is a mistake of the national policy, because only the big cities, which also have much greater economic power and can support the culture and from local money are subsidized from the national money. While smaller or very small cities, over time, will suffer those in the field of culture, precisely because everything is left to local money, let's say. It would be correct to be the other way around. Larger sums should come from the Ministry of Culture, to the smallest towns and villages, to support culture where it cannot sustain itself, and large cities to benefit in the opposite proportion from national funding. But I don't think that's our subject. It is my opinion that I have always supported, at all meetings of the Prime Minister, ministers and I will continue to support it.

Exact. This means that we are not talking about a salary demotion as I understood that it happened by changing that particle ....

I don't know, think that according to a law given three years ago, every year, salaries in this field increased by 25%.

Good. So there were no pay cuts and there is no intention to do so at the moment.

No. I forgot to tell you one more thing. It is said that the local administration does not support culture. In the last four or three years, over three million euros have been invested in the restoration of the Cultural Palace, the headquarters of the Philharmonic. He bought a new organ - he never had it - for almost a million euros and a few hundred thousand more every year for instruments and what is needed there. So, you can't tell the citizen of Arad and the administration that he was not the partner of culture and did not invest. Now we want one simple thing from that. To maintain the status quo, to pay 5300 and a few euros a day, I will emphasize this every time, from the pocket of the Arad taxpayer to carry out his activity and not be disturbed. And then, what I told you that we do with the other areas paid from the local budget on the existing financial resources, we try to obtain a maximization and to obtain at least the same level, of the cultural act in this case, with the financial resources that we can afford them.

Therefore, there will be a reduction in salaries, because to reduce the artistic staff I do not see where.

I expect more solutions from them, from the management, not only that something must be done or "do something". Specifically - option one, option two ... Any of them are welcome, in an attempt to be reasonable people. I can't cut the money from the hospital to pay only at the Philharmonic. We have to go to the hospital, we have to go to school, we have to go to the theater, we have to go to the philharmonic, how we have to go to the cleaning of the city, how we have to go to the green areas and the examples can continue .

The union says it has come up with proposals for online meetings ...

Yes. They had a little more and they also hired, according to the proposals of their lords.

I understand that they had proposed to take part of the money provided for investments and to move to salaries, so as not to be in danger.

Their only wish is to maintain the status quo they have.

Basically, you are expecting concrete proposals from the Philharmonic Management.

And from the union and the management, including those there, who are nowhere to be said. There is also a conflict between the union and management. No matter who has been in management for 15 years, none has been good from the union's point of view. In the history of the last 15 years, no manager has corresponded to the liking of the gentlemen from the union and after a year or two - scandal and that it is not good. As it was not good when they were asked to have a presence. What do you mean to sign the attendance card ?! How they also did not want to have a cultural act in open spaces; In good times, Arad had a tradition. Things are more complicated than they appear, but getting over them is not a problem. I'll go back to what I told you. Today, the Arad resident pays 5,300 euros a day. That's what the administration and the people have a minimum claim for.

And the Philharmonic, however, even in the pandemic period, carries out its activity. The concerts are every week ...

Also on the online system, as it was possible, when allowed, with 30% of the space. There was no problem. I incurred all the running costs, even if obviously the space is occupied only 30% or 33%.

But they did their job.

The administration did its job, financially supporting this activity.

Yes, but I say that the artists also fulfilled their duties, holding these concerts every week.

Almost every time. I would be happy to have such pressure on the Ministry of Culture, to finance culture in all cities in Romania, not just in big cities. I would like to see an insistence from you and those in the field to the Minister of Culture, to governments, regardless of political colors.

When do you think it will be the end of the situation?

Hope as soon as possible and I hope with reasonable people. I have always argued that in everything it is not good for passion to overcome reason. It's not my decision not to misunderstand. It is a decision that local councilors will make. It may be decided to maintain this status quo. Let's take money from schools, let's take money from hospitals, to pay 5300 and a few euros a day at the Philharmonic. You should know that the proposed budget cuts are also at the Theater. Have you heard from there so many discussions? People took the pen in their hands, sat down at the table, looked for solutions and they will be. Why is it possible in one part, also in the cultural field, and in another part it is not possible? Why at the Theater there is a door of dialogue and we are looking for solutions with a pen on the table, with what is possible and how it is possible, and beyond that there is only one option - "we want it that way" ?!

Interviews by Florica Jalbă
Translated by Alma Teodora Miron,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu