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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Accepts $1.2 Million Donation

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has had financial troubles over the last few years.

With its endowments down millions of dollars and the deficit tripling, the musicians agreed to a 9.7 percent pay cut in 2011.

In addition to the salary cuts, the musicians themselves donated a combined $100,000 in 2011-12 to keep the symphony going.

That’s when Michele and Pat Atkins took notice.

The retired Point Breeze couple will give $1.2 million over the next three years to contribute to salary increases in the musicians’ new contracts.

Arts programs around the world are suffering, Michele Atkins said, but the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was trying to do something about it.

“(In) most of the other places in this country,” Atkins said, “the symphony members or the artistic group have not made the kind of sacrifice that the Pittsburgh Symphony has done, which is why we wanted to recognize them.”

The musicians’ new contract raises their pay from $100,111 to $104,114 for 2013-14. Their salary will stay the same the following year and will increase 3 percent in the contract’s final year to $107,237.

In 2010-11, the base salary was $110,854.

Jodi Weisfield, vice president of donor relations for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, said the Atkins’ gift is a testament to the symphony’s impact on the city.

“It’s the first gift of this kind directly for musician’s salaries that I’m aware of, and it’s just such a wonderful statement about what our musicians and our work means to the community,” Weisfield said. “It’s a phenomenal gift.”

Michele and Pat Atkins have made donations to the symphony before. Both are members of the Guarantor’s Circle, those who donate $10,000 to $14,999 to the annual fund.

The symphony’s endowment went from $130 million in 2008 to $77 million in March 2009, but has since risen to $115 million.

Due to the sudden drop and rise, the symphony’s deficit virtually tripled from $1 million to $2.9 million between 2011 and 2012.

Michele Atkins hopes that her donation will help make an impact on the musicians and the community.

“It’s a regional asset that needs to continue to be world class,” Atkins said. “That’s what we have right now and this region deserves that.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."