And You Thought Things Were Changing

One of the chief complaints I have about this business is its apparent inability to establish an appropriate frame of reference.  For example, things change slowly in the world of orchestra management, so slowly that it seems like even an evolutionary timeline measures change in smaller intervals.


Adequate levels of adaptation have been absent for so long that even the slightest introduction of change is heralded by some as “significant progress”.  Unfortunately, business dictates otherwise; you can’t catch up by moving slower.


Blog neighbor Andrew Taylor published a great piece the other day that is a representative example of this issue, complete with catchy title: Building Stale Metaphors in Stone.


In that piece, Andrew describes the mentality behind how new Performing Arts Centers continue to design box office space with an old mentality,



In the olden days, box offices were centers of cash transactions, requiring high security, complete isolation between tellers, and immovable blast walls between patron and staff. Even though the cash transaction is all but gone for ticket purchases, the metaphor remains: we are secure, we are separate, we are transactional, we don’t trust you…get in line.


The problem here should be right in front of our collective noses but the business has been shoving its head in the ground for so long it can’t even identify some of the problems which should have obvious solutions.


There’s plenty of talk about wanting to become inclusive, reaching out to the community, etc., but what’s being done to let the community in?


Sometimes I get the feeling like the business is gathered on the deck of the Titanic and everyone is cheering because we only “grazed” the iceberg

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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