Dynamic Consequences Taking Shape In Columbus

The 3/12/2008 edition of the Columbus Dispatch published an article by Barbara Carmen that reports Franklin County, the county where the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is located, approved a $1.2 million matching grant for area arts groups and the CSO will receive a considerable share of those resources if they successfully raise the matching funds. Beyond the obvious fact that this is good news for the CSO, and all central Ohio arts groups, it is important to note that the article reports that Kate Matheny, grants coordinator for Franklin County, said "the goal [of the matching grant] isn’t just to stabilize arts organizations, but to plan for their growth." Matheny’s quote should serve as a warning shot to the CSO executive board…

This statement supports issues examined in an article
from 2/28/2008 which determined that if the CSO executive board is
expecting local donors to support their proposed financial plan
primarily on the promise of stability via substantial budget cuts, they
may be disappointed. Matheny’s quote
is a good example of how quickly local funders (government, corporate,
and private) may abandon the CSO if the executive board continues down
the path it is endorsing.

Clarifying Erroneous Information

In addition to those issues, another key factor determining
the CSO’s future is the collective bargaining negotiations, which
officially commence today. Unfortunately, the Columbus Dispatch
continues to publish inaccurate information that only serves to
irritate an already tense negotiating environment. Specifically, the
3/16/2008 edition of the Dispatch reported that the CSO board accused musicians of deliberately rebuffing efforts to meet.

"Board leaders and managers also say the musicians have
rebuffed repeated efforts to discuss the crisis. [CSO tubist and
committee chair] Akins denies both contentions."

Although the Dispatch indicates that this issue is in debate
between the CSO board and musicians, statements from CSO Executive
Director, Tony Beadle, and CSO bassoonist and President of the Central
Ohio Federation of Musicians, Douglas Fisher, contradict that position.
In fact, both parties have confirmed that the CSO board did not
officially contact the musicians to initiate negotiations until the
week of 3/9/2008, that the musicians responded on 3/13/2008, and both
parties have arranged for the initial negotiation meeting to take place
today, 3/18/2008. This information has been publicly available from
both sides since before the Dispatch published their article on
3/16/2008.

Additionally, the Dispatch article reports that local donors are no longer willing to give to any sort CSO bridge campaign:

"But the corporations and wealthy individuals who have
rescued the organization through the years — including recent
financial infusions for emergency "bridge" campaigns, which helped only
to reduce sky-high deficits to something more acceptable — say they’re
done contributing. Their patience and pocketbooks, they say, have been
exhausted."

Unfortunately, the article makes no mention whatsoever to the
source of these statements, when they were issued, or if the sources
would only offer their comments under the condition of anonymity.
Whether or not these statements can be attributed to potential donors
or if it is second-hand information is unknown. Based on how it is
presenting information, some might believe the Dispatch, whose
editorial board publicly endorsed
the CSO board’s proposed financial plan, is attempting to use
unsubstantiated third party sources in their analysis from 3/16/2008 to
influence an ongoing labor negotiation.

The situation in Columbus would be better served if public
accounts of the CSO’s fundraising efforts and institutional future
focused more on what Kate Matheny described as growth and less time
purporting unsubstantiated donor positions and discussing balanced
budgets and artistic excellence as though they were mutually exclusive
events.

In a related blog post at Abu Bratsche, Robert Levine breaks down the Columbus Dispatch article
from 3/14/2008 in such a way that makes one wonder if the Dispatch is
pushing some sort of self fulfilling prophecy in non-editorial
publications. Case in point, a Dispatch article from 2/24/2008 reports a potential musician strike during the 2008/09 season and quotes Tony Beadle saying:

"I can’t let the thought of a strike deter me from planning
a season. If there is no strike and I’m not having concerts, then I’m
in trouble, so I just go ahead and plan accordingly."

When asked about that quote and the issue of a potential
strike, Beadle said that what the Dispatch published is not an accurate
statement and that any discussion of a potential strike was not a high
profile issue within the organization. Furthermore, Beadle said that
any discussion about a potential work stoppage in the 2008-09 season to
the Dispatch with regard to the 2/24/2008 article was off-hand and
off-the-record. When asked if he had received any sort of indication
from the musicians that they have conducted a strike authorization
vote, Beadle said that he is not aware of any official vote by the
musicians to authorize a strike. When asked the same question, Douglas
Fisher corroborated Beadle’s statement that the musicians have not
conducted any sort of official strike authorization vote.

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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1 thought on “Dynamic Consequences Taking Shape In Columbus

  1. Thank you, Mr Mcmanus for having this blog to disseminate our current situation. I think its becoming more evident every day that our local newspaper is deliberatly making our crisis more polarized by its use of disinformation.
    I’m glad you’re there to help us unravel this and point the way forward.

    Thank you Robert, I did notice that in today’s Dispatch they finally mentioned that the official request to initiate negotiations was made last week. Along those lines, it would have been better for the Dispatch to clarify that any previous attempts to discuss the board’s proposed financial plan were not possible outside the auspices of formal negotiations becasue A) The financial plan was already created and B) Key elements of that plan are issues which must be addressed during negotiations.

    Although the article eluded to this casually, it made no reference to earlier articles which made it appear as though the musicians were deliberately stalling when in fact, they were waiting to receive formal notice to initiate negotiations. If either side is interested in exploring why it took the amount of time it did between mid-January and now to gt that going, that can be done but in the end, it’s moot since the CSO board did send an official request last week. ~ Drew McManus

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