In Kansas City, Events Are Heating Up

According to an article in the January 5, 2007 edition of the Kansas City Star, Missouri reported that Arts Council Chairman Mike Vangel responded to the lawsuit filed by the Kansas City Symphony calling it “ill-advised” and “baffling.”…

Furthermore, the article goes on to report that Mr. Vangel wrote to Missouri Governor, Matt Blunt, stating that the Symphony’s lawsuit would serve “as a threat to the ‘spirit of cooperation’ between the Governor and the arts community.” The article also includes a quote from a Missouri arts lobbyist claiming that the Governor’s staff has informed her that “when the lawsuit was filed, all the [arts] funds were off the table until further review.” However, another representative from the Governor’s office claimed that budget issues are simply not finalized.

Presumably, most people won’t be surprised by the reported responses from Mr. Vangel’s or the Governor’s staff. After all, heavy-handed tactics utilizing lawsuits as a primary means for change are rarely used as tools to build positive working relationships.

So what now? In the article, when asked about the motivation behind the lawsuit, KCS executive director, Frank Byrne, said “The symphony took this step very reluctantly, … but I think it was a sense of responsibility about the long-term security of the arts.”

Nevertheless, regardless of the legal issues involved or whether or not the Missouri Arts Council is adequately executing their mission, the over-riding issues in situations like this are centered on the political. The arts, and orchestras in particular, across the county have been fighting an increasing battle against a public perception of entitlement: rich man’s pastime, poor man’s tax.

By filing this lawsuit without the support of a majority of fellow Missouri arts organizations, the KCS only reinforces that attitude among those in control of the Missouri political machine as well as the general public. Furthermore, the act alienates the KCS from its fellow arts groups.

The article goes on to report that Janette Lohman, a St. Louis attorney and president of the nonprofit lobbying group Missouri Citizens for Arts claimed her organization never even received advance notice about the lawsuit. And in case the Missouri Arts Council and Governor’s Office needed some additional ammunition against the KCS position, Ms. Lohman went on to say “If I had, I would have been on my knees begging them not to.”

By the time these events play out, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the KCS will be faced with some difficult internal decisions regarding leadership at the board and executive level. Likewise, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some sudden changes at those levels by the beginning of the next season.

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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