Turn About Is Foul Play

On my recent trip to Chicago I strolled by Symphony Center and couldn’t help but notice the large banner they had hanging on the front of the building congratulating the Chicago White Sox for winning the World Series…

At first I was a little confused at why the CSO would put up a banner congratulating the White Sox but then I decided that building community relationships in this way is not such a bad thing. In the grand scheme of the CSO budget, a little vinyl banner isn’t even a fraction of a drop in the bucket especially if it pays off with some favorable reciprocal relationships.

Nevertheless, I wondered if the White Sox cared as much about the CSO and if they even noticed that this concert season is a landmark occasion for the ensemble as it marks the end of Daniel Barenboim’s tenure as music director (granted, although the turnover in music director at the CSO isn’t that often, it’s still a more regularly occurring event than the White Sox winning the World Series).

In order to find out, I contacted the White Sox PR department to inquire if they knew the CSO had a banner congratulating the organization on winning the World Series and if they planned any similar public acknowledgment for the CSO given the reasons from the above paragraph. The White Sox representative I spoke with said the organization was unaware that the CSO had posted a congratulatory banner and they had not heard of any plans about doing anything similar for the CSO.

During my telephone conversation with the White Sox representative I noticed they were surprised by the notion that their organization might consider making such a public gesture to the CSO. Although I wasn’t entirely surprised by the White Sox representative’s answer, I was disappointed all the same.

I contacted the CSO public relations department to learn a little more about the banner and spoke with Synneve Carlino, Director of CSO Public Relations. She said the banner was something the organization produced in house as their way of congratulating the White Sox; much like other organizations did such as the Art Institute of Chicago placing White Sox caps on the giant stone lions which sit at the entrance to their building. Synneve also mentioned that the CSO participates in supporting other Chicago sports organizations on a regular basis by supplying musicians to perform the National Anthem at the opening of games.

Civic pride is an important barometer in determining a city’s overall health and vitality. It’s a good thing for businesses and civic organizations to recognize significant achievements and landmark occasions among their fellow institutions. I also think it’s a good thing for the CSO to go out and participate in civic matters such as sporting events and hanging congratulatory banners on the front of Symphony Center.

I’m just very disappointed to discover that the White Sox were so oblivious to the CSO’s efforts and that the idea of reciprocating seemed like an utterly foreign concept. I’m even more disappointed that the CSO might have drawn negative PR if they didn’t publicly acknowledge the White Sox in similar fashion to their peers.

All of this comes back to my original point that the banner is a good idea if it pays off in creating reciprocal relationships but what good will it do if it’s only there to prevent you from looking like you don’t care (or you’re running some serious red ink in the annual budget)? Is civic pride a one way street? Are orchestras (or performing arts organizations in general) even worth being considered as benchmarks for civic pride?

What do you think?

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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4 thoughts on “Turn About Is Foul Play

  1. This is a good observation. After working in the arts for some time, I never forget what it was like in high school and college. I know this might be a watered down view, but it seems like as an artist you are expected to contribute to sporting events in the ways you mentioned (national anthem, showing up and cheering), but when the time comes for the team to support your musicals or concerts – nothing. I was an athlete as well as an artist and have always been perplexed by the climate of “non” support. I used my early education to illustrate how people treat the arts in their adult and professional lives because I believe early education is where they learn those behaviors.

  2. For years I’ve inquired of my colleagues in Cleveland, Ohio about the same thing. Like clockwork, every season an Indians banner in all its tacky glory, goes up and around Severance Hall. It’s safe to say that the players and management of the team are oblivious to the gesture, and would never be seen at a Cleve Orch concert anyway. Truly, why bother? It seems to contribute to the further triumph of an already demeaned central culture.

  3. Placido Domingo came and sang the anthem at a Nats game, and then he got to promote his Domingo/Cafritz Young Artists Program during the seventh-inning stretch as the young artists themselves performed “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” But this is not exactly Brad Wilkerson showing up at the symphony.

    I think part of the problem is that, while there are many symphony fans who also enjoy sports, a much lower proportion of sports fans also enjoy the symphony. The disjunct is probably even higher when we compare the rate of sports interest among musicians with the rate of symphony interest among athletes. (Though “O Fortuna” would make a pretty good theme for a closer’s entrance.) In the same way that a girl you like a lot may well take your calls but never actually call you back, sports does not feel a need to express an interest in classical music because, well, by and large it doesn’t have one.
    Still, the Domingo appearance at the Nats game rocked my world, and everyone around me seemed suitably impressed as well. Maybe when artists appear at sporting events, the announcers could give their upcoming schedule. (“If you enjoyed Placido Domingo’s performance of the National Anthem, don’t miss his zarzuela performances with the Washington National Opera, beginning on Friday. Tickets on sale at kennedy-center.org.”) That seems reasonable and fair.

  4. Contrary to others’ experiences in high school and college – our musical and athletic daugthers reported that many atheletes went out of their way to tell the musicians they knew how much their playing at games and rallies meant to them – and in one case a football player (now a starter at a major Div I school) made a point of coming to several band concerts because ‘we gotta support each other here.’

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