Some Early Thoughts On The Knight Report

I’m just about finished reading the Knight Foundation’s Magic Of Music Final Report, it is a slower read than I initially anticipated. Not because it is dull, rather, there’s quite a bit to process and I find myself going over sections a couple of times or pausing to le things sink in. Nevertheless, I do have some early thoughts…


So far, I’ve found the report falls into three categories in my mind: material/conclusions I completely agree with, material/conclusions I partially agree with, and material/conclusions completely disagree with. I’ll be examining all of that in a future article but one thing I wanted to write about now was some of the early reasoning that went into the Magic Of Music concept that I found fascinating.

On page five, the report states that they wanted to avoid working with orchestras that were in a period of financial crisis:

Further, during the course of Magic of Music, the foundation learned that orchestras on the brink of financial disaster are not good candidates for financial assistance. Funding aimed at fostering transformational change during times of crisis will inevitably be diverted to short-term fixes.

All things being equal, I would entirely agree with that perspective. However, I found myself wondering exactly how Knight defined financial crisis and what process they used to determine if an applicant crossed that line.

This rattled around in my head because the initial orchestras selected by Knight to participate in the program were Boston, Brooklyn, Colorado, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Louisiana, New World, Oregon, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Saint Paul, and San Antonio. The two ensembles that I would categorize as being the most financially stable among that group, Boston and Los Angeles, were dropped from the program early on.

In particular, Louisiana, Saint Louis, San Antonio, and St. Paul were all going through varying degrees of severe financial difficulty at one stage or another of the Magic of Music program. However, the report points out that only San Antonio was eventually dropped from the program due to their severe financial problems.

As such, I wonder how and why Knight determined that these organizations had an acceptable financial condition at the time of their application as to be deemed acceptable candidates. The answers may still be waiting for me toward the end of the report and I haven’t talked to anyone at the foundation yet, but that’s where I am so far.

Stay tuned…

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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1 thought on “Some Early Thoughts On The Knight Report

  1. My reading was that this was more of a lesson learned than an initial criterion, and that they initially did not discriminate on that basis. Somewhere I recall the report recounting sending off a check that was spent on salaries rather than the program described due to the dire straits at the receiving end.

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