David Walsh

The Detroit Symphony Strike and the Defense of Culture in the US


Since April 2011 when the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra reluctantly returned to work after a bitter six-month strike, orchestras in more than a dozen American cities have faced lockouts and threats of bankruptcy.

Calling for the re-emergence of the “socially engaged artist,” Arts Editor of the World Socialist Web Site, David Walsh, places the Detroit Symphony musicians’ strike in its historical and cultural context.

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In 2010, the amount of federal money spent by the US government to promote the arts was two ten-thousandths of one percent of its military and intelligence budget. The resistance of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians to massive cuts demanded by management—which would destroy the DSO as a major orchestra—speaks to the growing opposition by wide layers of the population, including professional workers, to efforts to make them pay for the crisis of capitalism.

The strike of the DSO musicians demonstrated that the capitalist establishment is more than willing to see culture destroyed so the banks can profit. For the ruling elite there is no more place for art and culture, for human connectedness in the present situation in society. Walsh makes the point that there has never been government funding for art and culture in the United States, and the “fate of the arts and the artists was dangerously tied to the fate of American philanthropists, corporations and the health of US capitalism as a whole.” Particularly since the Wall Street collapse of 2008, this has proved disastrous.

Walsh outlines the historic decline of culture over the last half century, and makes an appeal for the return of the “socially engaged artist.” Music and art expand our social awareness and our sensitivity to the human condition. True artistic efforts encourage honesty with others and oneself, broaden the mind, and provide insight into the most essential and complex questions in social life. It is these issues that most threaten those who currently control arts funding. And it is these issues that must be addressed by artists who are prepared to oppose the existing order and stand up for artistic truth.

Weight .25 lbs



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David Walsh is from New York City and has been arts editor of the World Socialist Web Site since its launch in January 1998. He has been a full-time socialist journalist since 1991, writing extensively about films and filmmakers. In addition, he has examined the roots of the present crisis in art in a number of essays and talks. He also writes about contemporary politics, as well as cultural and historical issues.

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