More Lessons From Louisville

Although the crisis in Louisville earlier this season took its toll on everyone involved in the organization, there’s always the upside that everyone can learn from the mistakes surrounding the situation. To that end, Louisville is still teaching the business some lessons…

Toward the end of June, The Louisville Courier-Journal published a brief article by Andrew Adler which reports that Ari Solotoff, Louisville orchestra chief operating officer, is leaving that position in august to run the Portland (Maine) Symphony. As such, this essentially leaves the organization without a permanent executive administrator, a development director, a marketing director, and a general manager (after the departure of Robert McGrath to the SLSO in March, 2006).

During the early part of 2005, Scott Provancher, the LO executive director at that time, decided to combine the executive positions of marketing and development into a single billet entitled “senior director of marketing and development”. Although I’m all for finding creative ways to manage mid size ensembles, this seemed like a bad idea at the time and one of those negative consequences is coming to fruition with Solotoff’s departure.

It’s not unusual to witness a number of senior staffers jump ship following a nasty labor negotiation or during financial trials, but given the fact that most organizations the size of Louisville have no less than four full-time executive administrators (executive director, general manager, development director, and marketing director) there are usually enough managers to absorb the vacuum during vacancies.

Regrettably, Louisville’s GM left during the heat of the labor dispute, their ED announced his resignation a few weeks after that and by June, Solotoff was left as the only senior administrator capable of managing the origination on an executive level. Skip ahead from there a month and Solotoff announces he’s out in August.

In a traditional organization, there would still be at least one individual left to fill the role as executive manager but that’s not the case in Louisville.

Perhaps someone among the rapidly growing cadre of elder retired and semi-retired orchestra executives will step in and volunteer their time (less expenses, of course) to run the outfit while they look for a new executive director. There are plenty of these folks out there capable of lending their time to the organization without the need to charge the typical five-figure fee that usually accompanies their services.

If the fee is a deal breaker, then perhaps the League could pick up the tab; after all, Provancher (the manager that implemented the idea of combining the marketing and development positions) and Solotoff (the manager now leaving that post) are both recent graduates of the ASOL Management Fellowship program.

Seems fair to me.

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 “More Lessons From Louisville”

  1. There are enough highly qualified people out there who are not ASOL “graduates” that could do the job. The real question the needs to be asked is this — would the Board step aside and let these people do the job that needs to be done? That is a question that needs to be answered and then you will find out who would apply for those positions. There is nothing wrong with that orchestra that a few good administrative people couldn’t fix the problems at hand.

  2. I agree completely with Douglas Whitaker. There is way too much emphasis put on the ASOL fellowship program. It sounds like a great program and I think it’s great that people are being trained but just because you are a graduate doesn’t mean anything by itself. If I understand correctly, the “training” consists of three internships with three different size orchestras in one year. I guess when a graduate puts on his/her resume that they were an ASOL Fellow with the Chicago/Boston/San Franciso/whatever Symphony, boards are very impressed!

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