At Interlochen, The Future Isn’t Very Unique

Fellow AJ blogger Andrew Taylor recently wrote an interesting article about how to go about assessing value for "something vague and amorphous" like a weblog.  Andrew goes on to say that arts managers are doing exactly the same thing each and every day for their organizations.

And at Interlochen it’s no different.  Just how much value can you
attach to what Interlochen is and what does it does to maintain that
value?

Well, one way to measure the value of Interlochen is by polling the
alumni to determine how many found their experiences at Interlochen
critical in their decision to become a musician or not.  Then you can
inquire if their experiences helped them establish a discernable edge
over their professional counterparts who did not attend Interlochen.

You can also use enrollment and application statistics as a basis
for value.  Has the camp attendance ever experienced a spike in either
direction over the years?  If so, then why?

But in the end there really aren’t many ways to establish
Interlochen’s value which have a firm footing in something qualitative.

The real value of an artistic program, regardless whether it is
performance based or educational, is how well its stakeholders
(faculty, musicians, managers, etc.) communicate its mission to the
public.

And since it’s founding, Interlochen has always been a fish that
swims away from the school.  It was founded and led for decades by Joe
Maddy, a charismatic autocrat who cared more about doing what needed to
be done the right way as opposed to whatever conventional methods
dictated.

Joe had an almost religious fervor about Interlochen and this
attitude made him a magnet which attracted talented educators and
performers.  This passion also came across when speaking to board
members, donors, students, parents, and public representatives.

By all accounts, Joe didn’t care much for examining the way things
were done at other institutions.  He let Interlochen evolve in its own
vacuum; influenced only by his philosophy and the contributions from
the first class musicians surrounding him.

But since the arrival of Interlochen’s new administration that’s not
the way things are anymore.  You’ll now find the current administrative
leadership believing that Interlochen is a dusty, old has-been in need
of a managerial "extreme makeover". 

Interlochen’s President Jeff Kimpton has said many times that he’s
there to reestablish Interlochen’s preeminence.  And it’s now evident
that his plans are to simply copy other educational institutions which
he perceives as being better.

But even if he succeeds in doing that, Interlochen will still end up
with a product that is nothing more than a carbon copy of what everyone
else does. 

Does Interlochen become preeminent if they produce the same
experience as the Aspen summer program, but for .073% less per
student?  Of course not, it only becomes another faceless clone in a
world of culture that is already growing too homogenous.

President Kimpton (and the rest of his crop of executive
administrators) doesn’t seem to realize that what has made Interlochen
preeminent since its founding is its difference from everything else.

By working to turn Interlochen into a program that is identical to
every other program out there, President Kimpton will snuff out the
flame of one of the last remaining bastions of original, creative
educational philosophy.  And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever; just
like the 104 mammals that have gone extinct in the past century.

And when you have board members that are justifiably concerned with
their institution’s bottom line, they tend to be easily distracted into
believing that Interlochen should be more like "conventional" education
environments.  Whereas, these board members should be reminded by their
administrative leaders that they should strive to maintain Interlochen
as a unique institution that should serve as an example for
conventional education to aspire toward.

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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