Things Are Getting Ugly In Philadelphia

The continuing legal saga between the Kimmel Center for the Arts and Rafael Viñoly Architects (the architectural firm which designed the Kimmel Center) escalated into an ugly public confrontation last week. The 2/17/06 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article by Peter Dobrin which reports that Rafael Viñoly sent a letter to the Kimmel chairman accusing the PAC administration of mismanagement…

The article quotes passages from Viñoly’s letter where he claims the Kimmel Center’s cost overruns were due to “late decisions and gilded tastes.” In an unsurprising move, Viñoly’s letter highlights what he allegedly believes is an attempt by Kimmel Center managers to compensate for their current fundraising shortcomings, an allegation the Kimmel Center management denies.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that Viñoly’s strategy is to use public opinion to help influence the people he knows are the only ones entrusted with the uncontested authority to change the Kimmel Center’s course of action: the board of directors. Frankly, this is a pretty good strategy, especially if Viñoly’s plan includes avoiding as many legal entanglements as possible. Proof of this course can be found in The Inquirer article which reports that a portion of Viñoly’s letter contained the following language,

“The people employed to manage the affairs of the Kimmel Center have failed to properly comprehend the details and costs associated with the claim they have made. Only the Kimmel Center Board can judge if the administrators of the facility are achieving their goals or if they are destroying the Kimmel Center’s reputation and wasting resources.”

Whether or not Viñoly’s strategy will be successful is something only time will tell. If things do go to trial and it’s determined that the lawsuit is an unfounded attempt to wrangle funds from Rafael Viñoly Architects then the Kimmel Center board of directors is going to have a difficult time making it look like they don’t have egg on their face.

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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