Examining Dynamic Reactions At Columbus

Although the news is barely one week old, patron reaction to the proposed budget cuts at the Columbus Symphony Orchestra have been intriguing. Sources for public response include the Columbus Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and several blogs and social networking groups. Typically, community response includes a small amount of very opinionated voices on both sides of issues with the bulk of individuals falling somewhere in-between. However, since the issue broke last week, the overwhelming majority of voices seem to be speaking out against the proposed cuts…

Columbus Dispatch

An article
appearing in the 1/18/2008 edition of the Dispatch officially broke
news about the cuts. In that same article, the Dispatch posted a
straightforward yes/no poll asking readers a single question: "Is it
important for Columbus to maintain a professional symphony orchestra?"
As of 1/23/2008, 92 percent of respondents have voted "YES" with more
than 300 readers submitting a comment along with their vote. Hopefully,
these results will provide encouragement and motivation throughout the
Columbus Symphony Orchestra board to investigate options beyond what
was released to the public on January 18.

Cincinnati Enquirer

Although Cincinnati is located half an Ohio away from
Columbus, that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t have a stake in what
transpires. Cincinnati Enquirer music critic, Janelle Gelfand, has
posted a few articles about the proposed budget cuts at her Enquirer
blog on classical music. Her post from 1/22/2008, Hirokami threatens to leave if orchestra reduced, has generated a handful of thoughtful comments. In particular, one reader states
that declining ticket sales is one method to determine how the Columbus
community feels about the orchestra. On the surface that might seem
entirely logical, however, another reader offers
a dynamic perspective that cautions against equating ticket sales with
interest. Instead, the reader suggests that declining ticket sales
could be related more toward ineffective marketing efforts.

In addition to those points, I think an often overlooked cause
for lower ticket sales that has yet to be mentioned in the Columbus
discussion is ticket price. A quick look at Columbus’ upcoming
masterworks concert in February shows an average ticket price of $37.20
(based solely on listed prices, not scaled by number of seats). It
would be interesting to see if the Columbus Symphony could boost ticket
sales in similar fashion to what has transpired in Baltimore via their
"$25 seat anywhere in the hall" campaign.

In that same blog post, another reader posted a passionate comment criticizing
the Columbus Symphony musicians for not offering to help in lieu of
complaining about the situation publicly. I came across that comment
last evening and was compelled to respond
to the reader by pointing out one of the ways which the Columbus
Symphony Orchestra managers and musicians have worked together to find
solutions to fundraising problems. For example, the Columbus Symphony
Orchestra Master Agreement contains a clause which demonstrates the
musicians’ contributions to fundraising efforts. In particular, Article
6.08 stipulates that "Full-Time Musicians agree to donate four (4)
services for major CSO fundraising events each season."

I wouldn’t expect an average patron to go combing through their
respective orchestra’s master agreement; nevertheless, clauses such as
the one above exist in a number of professional orchestra master
agreements. If you take the time to peruse Columbus’ master agreement,
you’ll discover that the musicians provide a great deal of opportunity
for the organization to maximize revenue streams. In essence, there
isn’t much more the musicians can offer beyond what the contract
already provides. We’ll be examining some of those points in future
articles along with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s proposed
financial plan.

Other Online Sources

Besides the official website for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Inc. and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra musicians,
neither of which provide public input in the form of comments, a few
new sites have popped up over the past week. One of which is Proud Supporters Of The Columbus Symphony
which is described as "The official place where all Proud Supporters of
the Columbus Symphony can keep up to date with and discuss the Columbus
Symphony Orchestra…" At the same time, the site clearly states that
it is not an official source of communication from the Columbus
Symphony Orchestra musicians or management. The blog is apparently an
offshoot of the Facebook group which bears the same name.

Tomorrow’s article will examine another source of online input
in the form of results from yesterday’s Adaptistration Poll on
strategic planning.

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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