Some Thoughts On Jacksonville

Following the latest round of negotiations on December 14, 2007 the Jacksonville Symphony Association (JSA) and the Jacksonville Symphony Players’ Association (JSPA) were a mere four percent apart on financial issues (details here). That ground was covered due to significant concessions from the JSPA, who have been locked out since the middle of November. Nevertheless, even though both sides were able to cover so much ground, the JSA plans to follow through with plans to cancel the musician’s health care coverage in less than one week. Frankly, there’s simply no good reason for them to adopt this position…

Given the fact that both sides expect to meet again during the
beginning of January to address the remaining four percent of financial
issues, the right thing for the JSA to do at this point is to continue
musician health care coverage through the end of January. Historically,
such a small percentage of remaining items are easily settled. As such,
unless the JSA can demonstrate that continuing musician health care
coverage through the end of January would bankrupt the organization
their lack of such a simple, yet powerful, good faith gesture is simply

In a telephone conversation with JSA Executive Director, Alan
Hopper, I asked whether or not the JSA executive committee had
considered foregoing canceling the musician’s health care coverage and
he said that he didn’t know. However, he did mention that he would talk
to board chair, Jim Van Vleck, about the option. During the same
conversation, Alan indicated the organization is "working on borrowed
money" but that they have approximately 45 percent left on their lines
of credit. Consequently, based on this financial information, there
simply isn’t any obvious reason for the committee to forego canceling
the musician’s health care coverage for at least one more month.

Even though it is never easy to confer on a committee level
during a major holiday, the JSA executive board owes it to the
organization and their community to go above and beyond and discuss the
merits of this issue, raise a motion, and take a vote. Anything less
than that sends a terrible message to musicians and patrons that they
are more comfortable – morally and ethically – with canceling the
musician’s health care coverage while simultaneously locking them out
during a holiday season that espouses kindness and compassion
(throughout secular and spiritual beliefs alike) than finding a way to
network as a committee in order to act on this issue.

Hiding behind hollow excuses such as "making the tough
decisions to ensure a financially viable organization" are just that,
hiding. Ultimately, the dynamic consequences for actions during trying
times such as this reach much further than they may believe. Hopefully,
the JSA executive board will understand that the best way to enjoy
positive consequences is to forego canceling the musician’s health care
coverage. Peace – and the institution’s fiscal stability – has never
been so affordable.

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 “Some Thoughts On Jacksonville”

  1. It would be a positive gesture for the JSA to continue insurance payments at this point. Not only would it be a positive PR move but would demonstrate good faith in the process.

    Unfortunately, to this point, the JSA has demonstrated a lack of judgement on any front. Public quotes from board members Van Vleck and Beames concerning “20 hour work weeks” and “children without Christmas presents” show the ignorance and spite that is being brought to the table by the JSA.

    Hopper complains about “working on borrowed money” yet the JSA is allegedly paying over $200,00 for the services of legal council who has a decades long record of strife and wreckage spanning several industries.

    Perhaps the JSA would be experiencing better cash flow if they weren’t refunding money for two months worth of canceled concerts. Perhaps they might have more donations coming in if there were holiday concert reviews in the press rather than vindictive statements questioning the professionalism of their musicians.

    How can one view this whole episode as being nothing other than good old fashioned union busting when after 15 hours of negotiating and coming within $60,000 of a deal, the JSA breaks off talks for A MONTH and cancels January concerts. This does not sound like the good faith effort of a party that is interested in coming to a deal. This is more the action of a party that is more interested in exacting hardship on its workers than maintaining the financial and artistic viability of a community institution.

    After the public glimpse into the JSA motivation offered by Van Vleck and Beames, as well as the JSA’s recent illogical action at the table, the competence and leadership of Alan Hopper must be called into question.

    Surely an arts administrator of his experience has to know that the course of action currently being pursued by the JSA is a long term losing proposition. If he in fact does know better, then the current situation is indicative that the JSA board does not trust his advise and judgement. Whether or not Hopper is a willing accomplice in this situation, he needs to go. Either he is exhibiting poor judgment by advising his board that the current course is the right one or he is incapable of leading his board and is being steamrolled by an ignorant and spiteful board leadership. Either way, it is a sign that new leadership of the JSA, both on the board and in the office, is a must.

    One can only hope, for the sake of the musicians and the future of professional orchestral music in Jacksonville, that this current misjudgement by the JSA concludes soon. Once this unfortunate chapter is over, the work must begin to repair the public image and community trust of the institution. If the results of the Honolulu lockout of more than a decade ago are to serve as a model, it will be a VERY long road ahead.

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