Examining The Events In Louisville

Just when you thought the drama involved with orchestra negotiations might be on sabbatical, a series of ugly events surrounding the Louisville Orchestra negotiations surfaced a month ago threatening to make the spats from last season look like play dates…

The story at Louisville is one people in this business have either experienced or observed before: an orchestra is running out of money and the board decides they can’t sustain the current level of operations; unsurprisingly, the musicians disagree.

Regrettably, this rather typical scenario became irritated after representatives from the orchestra’s board and management went public with their side of the story while simultaneously accusing the musicians of atrocious behavior. For those of you who aren’t up on events, here’s a synopsis:

  • On 1/17/06 Louisville Orchestra executive director, Scott Provancher, sent a letter to the musicians’ negotiating committee chair, Tim Zavadill, accusing the musicians of completely disregarding the challenges facing the orchestra. Furthermore, the letter stated that that they were withdrawing all of their pervious offers and that they would go public with their side of the story.
  • On 1/20/06, the Louisville Business Journal reported that the orchestra’s board had canceled a major fundraising campaign and as such, the president of the board of directors, Joe Pusateri, said the orchestra was on the verge of bankruptcy.
  • The same article reported that the board had severed negotiations with the musicians but the musician spokesperson, clarinetist and negotiation committee chair Tim Zavadil, said that the musicians had informed the board that they wished to continue negotiations and that discussing the matters in the press was “very destructive to the organization”.
  • The situation escalated over the next month as inflammatory public statements from Joe Pusateri regarding what he personally thought of the players made their way into the press while the musicians publicly requested that the dispute go to mediation. Events reached a critical point when the board declared that they intended to file bankruptcy protection on or about April 1, 2006 unless the musicians acquiesced to their demands of significant reductions in the number of full time musicians the orchestra employs.
  • On 2/22/06 the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the management and musicians agreed to enter mediation. The initial mediation sessions were conducted this past weekend.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the anxiety in Louisville is the result of self inflicted wounds: obstinate governance and inexperienced executive management. Usually, one of those elements alone isn’t enough to sink an organization but when the two come together, they combine to create a potentially lethal mixture.

On the positive side, nearly all of the negative elements in Louisville have straightforward solutions and the perceived problems purported to the press aren’t nearly as bad as they come across. I understand that might be difficult to believe given most media reports, but my extensive conversations with executive director Scott Provancher and negotiation committee chair Tim Zavadil lead me to believe otherwise.

Starting tomorrow we’ll begin analyzing the situation in detail and you’ll be able to determine for yourself whether or not Louisville is in such bad shape (although after you learn what’s been going on, I think you’ll agree that the situation in Louisville doesn’t need to be this negative). In the meantime, you can visit the webpages for the Louisville Orchestra and the Louisville Orchestra Players Association for some additional information and get up to speed by reading the following articles, editorials, and letters to the editor (some articles may require paid subscription):

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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3 thoughts on “Examining The Events In Louisville”

  1. I am grateful to know that someone knowledgable and articulate is following the Louisville Orchestra negotiations at this critical juncture in its history. It has given me hope, which has been in short supply on this issue in these parts.

  2. Orchestras on the level of Louisville should be a cherished and appreciated group. Musicians put in long hard hours (away from just rehearsels) and deserve to be treated with respect. Respect that doesn’t seem to be a part of the managments vocabulary.

  3. This is a situation frequently encountered in the business world. Thee is a shortage or decline in necessary resources.When that is defined as the problem, then the solution is the cut expenses, many times emasculating the organization making recovery impossible. However, if the time were taken to ask WHY there is a diminution of resources an entirely different problem may emerge. Then the organization can set about solving the real problem and in the process aslleviate the funds problem. The funds shortage is not the real problem. The real problem is why is there a funds problem and how can that problem(s) be solved.

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