Playing Around With A Little Role Reversal

Next Wednesday, I have the honor of serving as a guest lecturer for the UW-Madison’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, Arts Administration Seminar; a core graduate seminar in their MBA in Arts Administration program. Although that’s a mouthful to say, what it means is that I’ll be leading a three hour class on a topic that fits into their curriculum. In this instance, I’m going to have the future arts administrators walk a mile in another man’s shoes…

The Bolz Center’s Arts Administration Seminar (as well as the entire Bolz Center) is run by my Arts Journal blogging neighbor Andrew Taylor, and the both of us have had a good time putting this lecture together.

In actuality, this event isn’t so much a lecture as a three hour interactive session. I’m having the MBA candidates participate in a mock orchestra collective bargaining agreement negotiation, however, the twist is that instead of having them participate as “managers” I’m having them serve as the musicians. The 12 students will have to elect a negotiation committee which will, in turn, prepare a negotiation strategy based on the organization’s historical financial information.

Each student is assigned a “back story” consisting of what instrument they play, how long they’ve been in the organization, if they are a salary or per-service player, and how many times they’ve served on a negotiation committee.

Of course, you can expect that things aren’t going to be as straightforward as they might sound. After all, what’s the point in conducting a mock exercise if you aren’t able to recreate the unpredictability of reality to at least some degree?

It will be interesting to see how the future managers conduct themselves. Will they empathize with traditional orchestra musician perspectives or will they revert to text book behavior based on vast amounts of academic thought being poured into their mind? Will their behavior successfully define the role of artists in setting the strategic direction of a performing arts organization?

I’ll fill everyone in on what transpires next week after it’s all said and done.

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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