Reader Response: More From Philadelphia Patrons

The email messages from Philadelphia Orchestra patrons keep pouring in.  Everyone has an opinion about the topic which range from concern to disgust.  But it’s the letters from patrons which have really caught my attention.  Many patrons seem to be using the tone and outcome of the labor negotiations as the deciding factor regarding whether or not they will give donations to the POA.

Laura from PA wrote an email saying:

“I ( along with my spouse) are [Philadelphia Orchestra] subscribers, so we are following the labor machinations with great interest and some disgust for both sides.  There is a great deal of posturing going on, which seems to be the modus operandi for labor negotiations, particularly in our city of brotherly love.  I, too, was offended by the management mailing for a number of reasons. It was of course transparently manipulative and also a gross waste of the organization’s resources. It all smells a bit of a highly calculated, and seamy, political/PR campaign (and we are already getting enough of that).   The he said/she said articles in the paper were not much better.  It is a little like a dysfunctional family taking its screaming matches out in the front yard.  Yuck!
I think while the cuts in administration were needed and sent a good signal, giving raises to management when they did it showed remarkable stupidity.  I will say that I have been staring at the [POA] Annual Fund solicitation [we received in the mail] and was thinking about making a contribution (for the first time).  I am waiting to see what happens.  If management turns around and adds more administration positions, I will not give a dime.  Nor will I donate if the musicians act irresponsibly.”

Back in December, I wrote an article that described an orchestra strike as:

“..the worst possible course of action available. The strike process is a distressing, publicly visible tool that forces the community at large to choose sides between the players and the management. It’s more akin to using a weapon of mass destruction. In the end, perhaps the dilemma will be solved, but feelings are hurt, the rift between management and players will become greater than ever, and the landscape of public opinion is poisoned for years to come.”

It appears that patrons like Laura seem to appreciate the severity of the situation and how it affects their relationship with the orchestra.

It also seems like the future generation of arts managers is beginning to take notice as well.  Michele Susan Blazer, a graduate student studying arts administration at Drexel University wrote in to say:

“As an arts administrator beginning my career in Philadelphia, it offends me to see the Philadelphia Orchestra, such a fine performing ensemble, run by an old-school administration in a manner that benefits no one.  Classical music audiences are shrinking.  This should be a time to respect your artists (you know, those people who are the reason your admin job exists) and work together towards educating present and future audience members about the joys of classical music, not display infighting in public.  An organization with such a deep rift between artists and administrators cannot devote the attention it needs to towards the greater issue of saving and cultivating one of the most important reasons it still exists – patrons.  

As much as I would love to work for the Philadelphia Orchestra because I am enamored at the quality of its musicians, I am equally disgusted by the words and actions of Messrs. Kluger and Smoot.  I look forward to a day in the future when I have the experience and qualifications to run an organization like the Philly Orchestra and know that, unlike those gentlemen, I will always appreciate and respect the artists that make an institution what it is.”

I’m glad to see that tomorrow’s arts administrators are sharp enough to see the dangers of doing business in such an adversarial fashion.

On a related note, I recently received word from a spokesperson for the POA that their website will not be posting links to any Adaptistration articles related to their situation on their “In The News” page.  Granted, I haven’t taken a favorable view of their actions, but they do list articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer that often raise an equal level of concern over the measures taken by chairman Smoot.

The POA has always been, and always will be, welcome to express their points of view here at Adaptistration.  It’s the inclusion of voices from everyone affected by these events (managers, musicians, and patrons alike) that will contribute toward finding the best of all possible solutions. 

Hopefully the POA will realize that fact and revoke their ban.

Postscript: I recently realized that I left an important contact email for a POA executive.  If you have concerns over the labor negotiations, please send your emails to the contact list posted in a previous article and include to that list:

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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