Interlochen’s Thanksgiving Week Massacre

There’s an article in the Traverse City Record Eagle by Tom Carr today that reports that the Interlochen Center for the Arts (ICA) has undertaken a “Thanksgiving week massacre” and:

” mailed pink slips to 37 summer camp instructors, some of whom taught there for decades.”

When asked why they decided to terminate so many contracts, the article quotes ICA president Jeff Kimpton as saying…

“Teaching at Interlochen is not a right. It’s a privilege. We’re doing this so we can remain the premier fine arts camp in the country.”

Jeff’s quote is quite confusing; if he believes that the camp is already the premier fine arts camp in the country, to what does he credit that success? The article goes on to quote Jeff as saying,

“Our salaries are not strong,” he said. “If we’re going to be competitive, we need to be concerned about that.”

However, according to the 2003 IRS Form 990 available for ICA, the office of the president earned $210,725 in salary and benefits (more than $4,000 per week) and the vice president for education and program services earned $107,507 in salary and benefits (more than $2,000 per week).

I’ve heard about the faculty members who have been removed from their positions, after inspiring generations of current musicians and arts patrons at the camp for decades, and my sources say that the number that have lost their jobs is now well over 40.

Another disturbing development in this campaign is the creation of “Teaching Assistants” – 18 total positions; 7 piano, 4 string, 2 winds, 2 brass, 1 percussion, 1 harp/technician, and 1 music theory/computer technician. These assistants report directly to the newly created area coordinators, the same people responsible for evaluating and recommending the faculty members who were on the current “massacre” list.

In my article from August 15th, 2004, I touched on the apparent problems related to how the Director of Music, Michael Albaugh, has gone about selecting individuals to serve as area coordinators, and it seems that perhaps some of those problems are beginning to surface.

According to the Record-Eagle report, Interlochen maintains an 8-1 faculty to student ratio. Why then would there be a need for teaching assistants?

I’ve never known Interlochen to use teaching assistants before; students have always studied directly with resident faculty for their entire camp session. I don’t know how enthusiastic I would be to send my son or daughter off to camp if part of their instruction is not going to come directly from resident faculty members. Perhaps this is another one of Jeff Kimpton’s ideas to help improve Interlochen’s bottom line.

Of those faculty members I’ve heard about who have been removed from their positions, I remember several being instrumental in my musical development and personal decision to become a professional musician. Many more I know as superb teachers, performers, and academics who hail from the finest conservatories, have or are retired from outstanding careers as professional orchestra musicians, and have decades of educational expertise.

And even if Interlochen wished to replace some of them, the logical approach would have been to gradually phase in new teachers over a period of time. This would have allowed incoming faculty to learn about what has made Interlochen a special place in the arts world directly from those who help build it and make it what it is today.

It would also allow veteran faculty to continue to serve Interlochen in a way that best utilizes their abilities and decades of experience. What better way to show your appreciation and respect to artists who have dedicated their professional lives to the institution?

This “Thanksgiving week massacre,” implemented by the current administration, is just another example of why they should not be leading the institution. This latest blunder only provides another example of their inclination to make decision in the worst possible way.

Alumni, donors, and all members of the extended Interlochen family need to be asking:

  • Why has the current Interlochen leadership removed all these people from their positions?
  • Why are there no faculty listings available for the 2005 summer camp season as of 11/27/04?
  • Why should anyone support this new direction when the current leadership is keeping the new artistic objectives and mission statements confidential?
  • Who is conducting oversight over these decisions?
  • Is the Board auditing the current leadership’s actions?

The best way to find out those answers is to contact Interlochen and ask direct questions and expect direct answers. Don’t be satisfied with any sort of vague “just trust us” response; insist on answers and demand accountability.

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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