A Commanding Grasp Of The Obvious

adversus solem ne loquitor = don't argue the obvious
Ever since it released earlier this week, the topic of The Economic Environment of American Symphony Orchestras by Robert Flanagan occupies a good 30% of my incoming email. Admittedly, I’m only about half way through the report and won’t post anything comprehensive until I’m finished reading it. Nevertheless, after some good advice from more than a few sources, it made sense to post a little something about it here today. If you’ve seen the report, you likely already know it doesn’t contain anything earth shattering. The only positive aspect I’ve noticed in what I’ve read is the report’s commanding grasp of the obvious. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d swear it was produced by the U.S. government (empty seats are bad, m’kay?). I suspect I’ll finish the report over the weekend and have something up later next week. In the meantime, I invite anyone who has read the report to post your observations.

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 “A Commanding Grasp Of The Obvious”

  1. I have not read the full report. I read the “Conclusions” section. But the thing that stands out is the part that goes something like this: How come, in an increasingly educated society, interest in symphonic music declines? And there is the whole crux. Because we are NOT an educated society. Because our schools are designed to train students to pass tests. They are designed to train students in the stuff that enables students to be employees and consumers. The do NOT educate students to be responsible citizens of a great nation. They do NOT persuade students to be well-rounded individuals who acquire an appreciation of literature, art, music, ethics, et all. In short, our schools impede the develpment of that cissified thing called “culture.”

    Some of us in my generation, certainly more than today, thought it was important to absorb that stuff. When Random House set up a list of “the one hundred most important books,” librarians commented on how many kids started checking out those books. We used to go to art museums and try to figure out why these paintings and statues were considered to be so important. We tried to “appreciate” as many classical compositions in as many styles as were available to us.

    How many kids today have read “Kirsten Lavransdatter”? Quite a few did in mine. How many kids today would get a gaggle of friends to come over and then triumphantly produce and play a recording of Mossolov’s(?) “In a Soviet Steel Foundry,” which she had found in a record shop in her dad’s department store? Roberta H did.

    Would that be possible today?

    The “No child left behind act” is largely responsible for the abandonment of education. But that act is a manifestation of the almost universal credo today that we must teach only “functional, important,” skills to the kids. And, the skill we are teaching is to pass tests. Which some >80% of the 60% who do not drop out of school do.

    Let’s get real. We have to accept the fact that symphonic music must be preserved, even though audiences may shrink to the point at which there are more musicians on stage than there are listeners in the audience. Meanwhile, we need to support efforts to put education back in the schools.


  2. It’s easy to be critical of this study and call it “obvious” but remember – most of the general public doesn’t know that orchestras are so poorly managed and are struggling to survive. Flanagan provides the tough medicine that most arts managers or union musicians aren’t willing to accept. After all: Just because orchestras are non-profits doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t show financial results to their boards, donors, etc.

    thanks for the comment but if the report was commissioned in such a way that it is supposed to geared toward the general public then I would agree but according to information released by Mellon that isn’t the case. Beyond that, I don’t believe Flanagan’s report offers any substantiative solutions due to the numerous flaws in the research parameters that have been accurately pointed out at numerous blogs and newspaper articles. ~ Drew McManus

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