Louisville Update

The Louisville Orchestra Association countered the musicians’ latest proposal to reduce the 2005-2006 season by six weeks with an offer much like the one they presented at the onset of mediation, thus making their offer look very much like the same old pig but with a slightly lighter shade of red lipstick…


The most recent offer from management reduced the number of musicians cut down to per service status from 21 to 19 as well as offering those 19 musicians a one-time payment of $5,000, delivered at the end of the first year of the new contract period. The offer contains a few confusing and/or apprehensive elements:

  • The $5,000 payment is called a “bonus” by management but it’s difficult to understand how a reduction in pay could be considered anything but a cut.
  • The 03/07/2006 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the orchestra board president, Joe Pusateri, said the one-time $5,000 payment would bring the annual salary for the 19 musicians cut back to per service status up to a level equal to the musicians current offer of cutting six weeks from the current season. Of course, assuming that is accurate it would only apply to the 2006-2007 season and after that, the 19 players would drop back down to the reduced salary level.
  • The offer doesn’t address the musicians’ concerns related to artistic integrity as it requires a 25% reduction in full time musicians.

  • One outstanding question remains: if management is confident that they can pull together $95,000 by the end of the 2006-2007 season to make the 19 $5,000 one-time payments then how will that help them avoid bankruptcy in April.

    According to multiple statements released by Joe Pusateri and outgoing Louisville Orchestra executive director Scott Provancher, the organization will run out of money by this April and the deadline to launch their recapitalization campaign have long since passed. As such, if the musicians agree to their offer, how will that prevent insolvency now?

    The only way to avoid bankruptcy is if Pusateri releases the personal funds he has reported are available and they implement the recapitalization plan; all of which they stated is no longer possible. If those statements from Pusateri and Provancher are accurate, then management’s offer may not carry much merit with the musicians.

    Management’s recent offer also brings to question their sincerity to negotiate in good faith. Typically, when both sides indicate they are willing to enter mediation that’s a sign that they are also willing to compromise in areas they’ve previously held firm. To date, we’ve seen the musicians offer additional cost saving measures for the current season by cutting six weeks off of the season (two of which were already slotted as vacation paid weeks) as well as offer a wage freeze for part of the new contract term.

    Furthermore, the musicians have continued to demonstrate their good faith in the mediation process by allowing Joe Pusateri an opportunity to address the Louisville Orchestra rank-and-file directly, an act typically prohibited under the regulations pertaining to contract negotiations.

    The musician’s proposal to reduce the current season by 14.2% in conjunction with the additional offers should be enough to demonstrate their flexibility and resolve toward finding a viable solution to their current problems. As such, Joe Pusateri should agree to release the funds at his disposal to eliminate the immediate threat of bankruptcy and take the organization up to the point where the reduced 2005-2006 season would conclude.

    However, if Joe Pusateri takes advantage of his privilege to speak to the musicians while simultaneously refusing their good-faith offers on the mediation table in lieu of his initial take-it-or-leave-it reduced core offer, then he’s demonstrating his willingness to abuse the mediation process to advance his personal agenda. That’s precisely the sort of behavior he has accused the musicians of since January.

    The musicians have come down significantly in their proposals but Joe Pusateri has remained constant in purporting that the only solution he’s willing to accept is to reduce the core orchestra by 25% for an indefinite period of time, possibly decades.

    April, and bankruptcy, is right around the corner for Louisville. Right now, there exist options which provide for a manageable solution to the organization’s problems. The decision to take advantage of that option rest squarely on the shoulders of Joe Pusateri.

    In all likelihood, the events following his address to the musicians will influence his final decision. The question that remains is if the musicians continue to disagree with Joe Pusateri’s position (even after he has the opportunity to address the rank-and-file) will he be willing to be more flexible or will he ride the mediation process all the way to chapter 7. Only time will tell.

    Of course, those are only a few possible outcomes and the possibility of improbable events coming to pass increases as deadlines approach.

    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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    11 thoughts on “Louisville Update

    1. How do the people of Louisville feel about all this? I understand that there are many cultured people living there, and I cannot understand why they haven’t spoken up in favor of their orchestra. It is a rich community, and why the Chairman of the Board has not gone to them with hat in hand seems, to me, to be negligence of the first order. In short, the rest of the board should fire him for not fulfilling his responsibility to the institution he is supposed to lead.

      One of the things a board member of an art museum here once said, many years ago, ” If you are on a board, you must contribute at least $10,000, or you must find others who will contribute $10,000.” That sum was a helpful amount in the 1970’s. Now, it should be that, and much more, considering the collective wealth of the board in Louisville.

      This is so tragic: the mentality of corporate types who do not understand the artistic process, deciding the fate of an orchestra. I feel so sorry for the musicians who are being treated like “hacks,” or like some kind of part-time employees with no recognition of their professional status.

      It all goes back to the debates of last year, when we discussed “A better case for the Arts” on this blog. The theme that continually came up was how much lack of music and arts education in public schools was impacting institutions, such as museums and orchestras.

      Where will it lead? To the death of culture, other than Hollywood and mass media. Does that represent who we are as a nation? I think not.

    2. Picking up on the above reader’s comment about the lack of music and arts education in public schools I’d like to challenge my fellow musicians and the institutions that employ them to get directly involved in education.
      Music needs to be at the core of the curriculm rather than an after school “activity”. The skills necessary to master an instrument are directly related to other areas of study,it has been proven consistently.There is no “Mozart effect” without real music study. In other words, music as a distinct subject area
      and as part of a rich curriculum integrated with other subject areas.
      Teaching and mentor relationships must be seen as part of a musician’s growth as an artist and citizen.
      The best way to ensure the growth of our beloved art is to demonstrate, in real terms, our commitment to the coming generation. There are fantastic programs out there for music in education. Find them!
      Get involved!

    3. I just finished reading the Louisville Courier-Journal’s article about Provancher’s resignation. The heavy-handed references to a headhunter now seem like an unimaginative attempt to restore his credibility and ability as a manager. Considering recent events, why would anyone want to recruit him?

      If this was truly a personal decision “regardless of circumstances” then why not take advantage of the opportunity to restore your reputation slightly by distancing yourself from Pusateri? At least allow the public the chance to think you might have had qualms about the ongoing spectacle. Instead, Provancher has reaffirmed solidarity with the one person who has behaved with ignorance and arrogance at every step.

    4. I sincerely hope that Louisville’s musicians know how much sympathy there is for what they are dealing with.

      Joe Pusateri is an absolute disaster. I hope he will join Scott Provancher in “jumping ship”. At least then maybe the board can select leaders that are actually interested in bolstering the LO as an institution, rather than gratifying their own tremendous egos.

    5. I am sorry to hear of Scott’s departure. He did bring a certain energy and optimism to the orchestra leadership.

      Pusateri’s comments on Scott’s departure in the Courier-Journal give us a glimpse into the thought process of this board director: “Scott was worried about letting me down…” These words do not reflect a leader concerned about the artistic well being of a community (my community!) organization, but rather personally absorbed in a quagmire which the board created. It is interesting to note that until Pusateri began serving as board president (2005-2006 season), there was no public discussion about financial insolvency or reducing the orchestra size. As Drew has pointed out over and over again in this blog, it is Pusateri’s will over that of the musicians and community.

    6. I am constantly amazed that such ****** as Dick Smoot, Joe Pusateri and Randy Adams are entrusted with running our orchestras.

    7. Sorry, but declining attendance at classical music concerts and what happened in Miami, where many residents probably aren’t even aware of (and probably couldn’t care less about) the loss of their city’s orchestra, should make everyone in these contractual conflicts more humble and less money hungry.

    8. Who can call the Louisville musicians “money hugry?” They are highly skilled professionals who just want to earn a living wage. Playing music is not a hobby for these people. Years of study, hours of daily practice and intense competition for jobs are all part of the professional musician’s life. If the Louisville community appreciates the presence of a professional orchestra in their community they should be prepared to pay for it. If they don’t care about it they can let it fold. Just don’t expect the musicians to provide an orchestra for free.

    9. Thank you TJ. The public will indeed make its own decisions. But why should orchestra musicians approach negotiations with self-flagellating humility?

    10. I was alarmed to read the comment posted by Katie W. who appears to also live in Miami, and wanted to clarify that I Katie Wyatt, a Miami resident, did not post that comment, and am completely sympathetic with the musicians of the LO, and firmly believe, as I think this blog demonstrates, that contract negotiations can be one of the most difficult and painful things an orchestra will go through, and are not to be summed up in sweeping statements i.e. “everyone in these contractual conflicts” should be “more humble and less money-hungry.” A player’s reputation is everything, I just wanted to clear up any potential for misidentification. The previous Katie W. is of course entitled to her opinion.

    11. Thank you for your comments, Andrea Helm. As a violinist in the LO, I am frustrated with the attitude that we are a charity, and weary of repeating my personal story in hopes of eliciting “guilt money” from the board and management. I would love to see people giving to the orchestra because they realize that music feeds our souls, or at least because an excellent orchestra contributes hugely to the prestige of a city. It would be a thrill for me and my colleagues to feel respect from board and upper management for our skills, gifts, sacrifices, passionate commitment, and fancy training; instead of pity for our imminent loss of income and health insurance or anger at our “demandingness.” (It’s not as though I’m watching soaps and eating bon-bons when I’m not actually on stage.) In my worst moments, I fear that I sense a mild contempt for me and my colleagues. I’m not sure why—because we have chosen to follow a path that doesn’t lead to success in terms of fancy vacations and fancy cars??? Tell me I’m only imagining this, please. Meanwhile, to respond to Margaret Koscielny’s question: I know that many people in Louisville love the orchestra. Patrons tell us they are angry, indignant, and sick at the thought of losing the orchestra. Louisvillians, I challenge you to translate your concern into action!

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