Back To The Future In Columbus

The nice thing about getting old is history makes a nice cushion to fall on. That’s exactly the case here at Adaptistration when it comes to recent events at the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Going back to 2004 when the Columbus Symphony Orchestra had their last negotiation (a reopener), the organization was asking musicians for substantial cuts due to revenue shortfalls resulting from, among other problems, severe accounting errors…

You can read all about those events in a set of articles published at that time. The first article examines the financial situation as it existed at that time from the musicians’ perspective and the second article examines the same issues in an interview with Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director at that time, Dan Hart.

On a related note, it is interesting that an August 26, 2004 Adaptistration article
about the loss of fundraising momentum on the board level used two
orchestras as an example who, at that time, were engaged in talks with
their respective musicians over artistic compensation reductions. The
two ensembles were the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Jacksonville
Symphony Orchestra. In both cases, the musicians purported that their
boards were not maximizing all potential revenue streams (scroll down
to the "One Way Re-negotiations" heading for more details). Heading
back to the future three-and-a-half years it turns out that those may
have been right on the mark. In Jacksonville, the players have
demonstrated that additional revenue resources are available by helping
to establish a third-party fundraising organization.

In Columbus, the situation becomes even more involved via a
recent seven figure gift from an area donor. That donor was quoted in a
Columbus Dispatch article
from 1/18/2008 stating she offered her donation "in a show of support
for the restructuring proposal." However, hours after the article was
published, the donor sent an email message to the Columbus Symphony
Musicians clarifying the conditions under which the donation was

"I was heartbroken to read the reference to…the CSO
article this morning because of the impression it gave about my regard
for the musicians," wrote the donor. "The statement made to the
Dispatch which is true, is that this [donation] equates to $1.75
million for fiscal 2007-8. However, what was UNTRUE was that it was
pledged yesterday as an endorsement of the strategic plan. The
strategic plan was not even in the thinking stage by the time those
pledges were made and they were made to help the musicians, certainly
not the strategic plan. That is not to say that I regret their being a
strategic plan, I do want to see this organization get further funding
which was no longer possible from the corporate community until a plan
for financial stability was presented. In no way can I enjoy the
prospect of hurting anyone that will be involved.

Please let the musicians know that the things I value most in
my life are my family, classical music and the musicians that I know
and whose friendship I value above all."

Since the news in Columbus broke at the end of last week, a
great deal of online discussion has ensued thanks in large part to
ample coverage in the local Columbus print media outlets as well as the
public statements from Columbus Symphony Orchestra Music Director
Junichi Hirokami. Robert Levine over at Abu Bratsche, sums up some of the strategic folly in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s proposed strategic plan in an article entitled Columbus schedules a disaster. Additionally, Charles Noble weighs in at Daily Observations and perhaps taking a cue from recent events in Jacksonville, a group of symphony supporters established the Facebook group Proud Supporters of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

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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