Sure Sign of Restructure

The recent decision by the Pittsburgh Symphony to cancel their planned European tour doesn’t come as a great surprise.  It’s no secret the orchestra has been in the process of restructuring their finances in order to recover from some hefty losses as well as vamp for the required increase in pay for the musicians.

Most of the people I talk to in this business tend to think Pittsburgh isn’t going to get out of their hole for some time, but I think it’s important to look at another orchestra for a positive comparison; the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Their current situation notwithstanding, the orchestra has still managed to raise a tremendous amount of money over a relatively short period of time.  So it can be done and if Pittsburgh is going to get themselves out of their hole it’s undoubtedly going to require some similar SLSO fundraising skills.

But there’s that nagging question which impacts the largest single expense in any orchestra – what the musicians get paid.  In a recent article in the STLtoday, vice president and chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League, Jack McAuliffe was quoted as saying,

“You try to find a way to keep or improve the quality of the institution, without committing beyond the resources that you know you’ll be able to raise.”  

But that sort of view limits the real potential in any orchestral organization (not to mention for profit organization).  If the managers in the SLSO ever sat down over the past few years and decided that they had raised all they could and stopped there, then they wouldn’t achieved what they actually did.

A manager will never know how much they can raise until after they retire or die.  The last thing any orchestra (especially SL or Pittsburgh) needs to do is “decide” what they’ll be able to raise.

I’m confident that the talented managers in SL will find a way to get the last little bit of money they need to settle their situation sooner than later after all, they won’t know what can be done until they’ve done it.

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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