My AJ Blog colleague, Andrew Taylor, posted an entry last week in which he shares his views from the mock negotiation session I conducted with the students from his MBA program (I posted a series of articles about the experience, the first of which you can find here). Andrew took a wonderfully hands-off approach to the mock negotiation session and his 3rd party perspective presented in his blog is worth the read. I was particularly intrigued by a couple of Andrew’s observations…
In particular, the first of Andrew’s two concluding points reads as follows:
But I came away from the exercise struck by two things:
1. That collective bargaining within professional orchestras is among the most depressing and structurally fraught processes of any cultural endeavor. And that those orchestras that manage it successfully (and there certainly are many) do so despite the structure rather than because of it.
I entirely agree with Andrew’s assessment from the viewpoint of someone on the outside looking in. At the same time, I don’t think a contentious negotiation environment is always a universal evil in and of itself. In some cases, I think it serves as the catalyst for positive change by unifying and motivating stakeholders to take an active interest in setting the strategic direction of the institution.
Another point in Andrew’s post that struck me was his final paragraph:
“I know that all of this is easy for me to say. I’m not a professional orchestral musician, nor am I an orchestra administrator. Fair enough. But if the simulation experienced by my students was even marginally close to reality (and I’m assured by several that it’s not unusual), very few of these passionate, creative, and insightful students will decide that it’s worth the grief.”
I had a couple of thoughts about this observation. On one hand, Andrew’s perspective is a bit discouraging from the standpoint that being exposed to the difficult operating environment experienced by some orchestras might scare away potential managers. On the other hand, I remember the focused percentage of students from the class who came away from the experience with the understanding that although there may be grief involved in turning around a dysfunctional organization the rewards, both personal and professional, are equally great.
I’ve always maintained that in order to be a benefit to the orchestra business, arts administration programs need to include increasingly specialized components to their curricula that prepare future managers for the specific realities of orchestral management (or their arts group of choice). As such, my time with the wonderful students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration serves to reinforce that perspective.