Concert Hall Updates – The Truth Isn’t Always Pretty

Amid the flash and sparkle of Nashville’s gala opening events, I kept reminding myself that they were one organization out of four that belong to the original group of orchestras involved in concert hall projects that have been the focus of attention here at Adaptistration over the past three years…


One of the other organizations, the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, has had the worst time out of the lot (the other two are the Dayton Philharmonic and the Kansas City Symphony). Their concert hall project, directed by the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, imploded at the end of 2005 amid financial scandal and reports of improper management.

Unfortunately, the Richmond Symphony not only lost the dream of a new concert hall but their board leadership and management were ineffective in preventing the organization from being forced out of their existing venue in the process. Shortly after Nashville’s opening, Mark Holmberg, a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wrote an article comparing the path both cities have traveled toward realizing their cultural potential.

If you missed it, no worries, the article is still available and well worth your time. Here’s the first few opening lines:

“NASHVILLE, Tenn. Music City has a new and acclaimed symphony center, a $123 million crown jewel that nicely reflects this town’s vision and momentum.

Richmond has a hole in the ground.”

It’s good to see cultural reporting at this level in Richmond. You can read the entire article here.

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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2 thoughts on “Concert Hall Updates – The Truth Isn’t Always Pretty

  1. I’m glad to see someone is recognizing the problems that Richmond faces! I am appalled at what is going on there.

    Having been born and raised in Richmond, I have since had to flee. As a musician and arts administrator, there is nothing for me there. The VA Opera is suffering in its current home of the Landmark Theater (formerly the Mosque) and the Symphony, full of my friends and former teachers, is forced to play in churches and high school auditoriums.

    When will someone knock Doug Wilder over the head and make him realize that things have got to change?

  2. Ms. Marshall, for all his many faults, Doug Wilder isn’t to blame for the VAPAF mess. It was well on its way to failure when he showed up. He simply recognized it for what it was and put it out of its misery.

    The organization appeared to have every opportunity to succeed, but made bad choices at almost every turn. One article I read stated that Nashville’s grand dame chose not to pay for the entire facility although she could have. I believe her gift was still in the $30 million range. What was the top private gift VAPAF managed to come up with? $10 mil? Something less? There are plenty of deep pockets in Richmond that could have done a lead gift of $30 – $50 million. That they didn’t speaks volumes about the leadership of the VAPAF.

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