It Makes Me Want To Bang My Head Against The Wall

I read an article in the San Antonio Express-News about how the struggling San Antonio Symphony lost $400,000 in badly needed funds when the organization failed to score a high enough rating as determined by the San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs staff and volunteer panels.

The orchestra reportedly scored the lowest in the category of audience development.

The article went on to say that newly appointed San Antonio Symphony CEO Bruce Johnson said

“focus groups, gathered for a market study now under way, had cited the symphony’s dressy image as a barrier to sales. He said the symphony is planning concert promotions to make fun of that image and break it down.”

The symphony’s “dressy image” is to blame?  And their plan is to make that change that image by making fun of it?  Perhaps the new marketing campaign will feature pictures of clowns throwing water balloons at orchestra members dressed in concert attire.

At the risk of getting sued by John Stossel I have say “give me a break!”  This isn’t rocket science after all.

Oh wait – Bruce Johnson is a rocket scientist, he came to the San Antonio Symphony from NASA no less.

Perhaps they should ask the people conducting the market study to find out if the fact that the orchestra hasn’t performed FOR OVER A YEAR has anything to do with their lack of audience development.

Back on New Year’s Eve, 2003, the San Antonio Symphony did give a concert (although not sponsored by the San Antonio Symphony Association) where tickets sold extremely well. Additionally, the concert made enough money to pay the musicians their regular symphony scale for that single performance.

Maybe Jerry Frautschi knows something we don’t; he’s the philanthropist that donated the extraordinary $205 million gift to underwrite the building of the new Overture Performing Arts Center in Madison Wisconsin.

He said that he didn’t feel government funds shouldn’t pay for large artistic endeavors.

Maybe there’s some real meat for all of us to digest in that statement.

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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