Who Owns the Orchestra?


I was having a conversation with one of my adult piano students today. We were talking about the current situation that exists in many orchestras and what may lie ahead for their future. Toward the end of the conversation she asked, “who really owns the orchestra”. Good question. My belief is that the orchestra is “owned” by those that consume the art: the patrons. I explained that to her in terms of a relationship that people have with a “for-profit” business.



  • As a consumer, you pay your money for a product or service and expect it to deliver as promised. That’s no different than buying your ticket and expecting the musicians to perform at the top of their ability. If the product isn’t any good, you don’t buy it anymore. Consequently, if the performances are lack luster and the musicians are indifferent on stage, you don’t buy any more tickets.
  • As an investor, you expect a company’s management to run the organization in such a way that will produce a profit and a successful product or service. As a donor you give money to the orchestra.  You expect that the orchestra management will run the organization in such a way that will balance the budget while simultaneously producing top-notch artistic performances. As an investor, you expect the company board of directors to replace managers that are not doing their job effectively. Why should you expect anything different when you give money to the orchestra?

So what are your thoughts?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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