Is history repeating itself in Detroit?


Well one day after I ran the 12/23/03 blog anticipating that the executive director opening at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra would be filled by an executive from an ASOL member orchestra, I read a quote from the DSO board chairman in an article from the 12/24/03 issue of the Detroit Free Press. The article’s author, Mark Stryker, reports:


“[DSO board chairman] Jim Nicholson said he was moving swiftly to replace Kang [the former DSO executive director]. A search committee will form quickly, and Nicholson said a new leader would be hired by March 30. Since learning Kang would resign a week ago, Nicholson has developed a list of five potential candidates by talking with industry insiders.


Experience is a key requirement, he said. Likely candidates would be top lieutenants at major orchestras or the top person at a slightly smaller symphony.”


Wow, that pretty much says it all. I’m willing to bet that the “industry insiders” Nicholson mentioned were the executive leaders at the ASOL. The DSO is in a unique position among American orchestras. It has all of the necessary components to assemble a new management team and institute a new model as to how an American Orchestra manages itself and produces art. But instead, I’m afraid that the signals from Mr. Nicholson indicate that history will merely repeat itself.


Am I the only person that sees this as insane?

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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