Checking In On Detroit

A recent article in the Detroit Free Press by Mark Stryker reminds us that The Detroit Symphony continues to be engaged in a recovery process initiated by the financial straits they encountered in 2003…

Back in 2003, the organization teetered on the edge of bankruptcy but some forward-thinking approaches designed to settle the critical disagreements between musicians and managers helped save the day (you can read more about those details from an article published here in March, 2005).

Since that time, the Free Press has reported that the organization’s board of directors and management has managed to raise $12.2 million in annual giving. These fundraising efforts were spearheaded by a $1.5 million matching sponsored by three current and former board executives.

In addition to the renewed fundraising efforts and personal level of commitment on behalf of the board members, the article goes on to recognize that in order to get past the 2003 impasse the musicians accepted sizeable concessions in compensation. The musicians took those concessions as a sign of faith in their board leadership and the process undertaken at that time to form the new agreement.

However, part of that deal also included a return of lost compensation, much of which is due to be reinstated during the current 2005-2006 season. Hopefully, all of the recent work to raise funds won’t diminish the spirit of board members to continue fulfilling the need for securing necessary additional revenue to sustain the organization’s current level of artistic accomplishments.

All too often, orchestras will meet a fundraising challenges designed to stave off immediate financial crisis head-on . However, they don’t always follow-through on necessary levels of continued support. Detroit is now in a position to demonstrate to the entire industry just how successful an organization can be with the right amount of determination and personal level of commitment.

For Detroit, the answers ahead center around expansion, not reductions. The last thing they need to do at this point is rest on their laurels, instead, they need to use current accomplishments to spur further gains. Fortunately, everything seems to be pointing in that direction so far.

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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1 thought on “Checking In On Detroit”

  1. Hi, Drew –

    A very interesting article, thanks!

    I found it all the more interesting since we are all wondering what the heck is going with the Baltimore Symphony, its own fiscal state of emergency and its artistic future.

    Do you have any knowledge or insight about our BSO?

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