As Negotiations Continue, Columbus Eyes Cash Flow

On Tuesday, 3/18/2008 the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) held their first official bargaining session with the musicians to discuss a new contract to replace the current agreement which expires on August 31, 2008. According to spokespersons from the CSO and the CSO musicians, the initial meeting was amicable and productive with both parties agreeing to a press blackout while talks are underway. There are several additional meetings scheduled through the end of April and CSO executive director, Tony Beadle said that he hopes they can agree on a new contract as soon as possible. In addition to the negotiations, the CSO’s primary focus is managing cash flow…

According to Beadle, the organization met last Friday’s payroll and
in order to help assure that is the case for the remainder of the
season, Beadle said that the organization is pursuing all revenue
enhancing options. When asked if the group has approached any current
creditors to see if they would be interested in donating outstanding
balances on any accounts receivable by excusing the debt Beadle said
they have pursued that option in certain cases with some success.

Beadle went on to say that the organization receives a number
of gratis or reduced fee services and exploring those options through
the end of the season is something the organization will continue to
pursue. Another cost-cutting measure this season was the cancellation of
a new three-event concert series designed to replace three concert
events cut from the CSO’s Masterworks series. Although those concerts
were canceled for the 2007/08 season Beadle said that the CSO is
currently planning to reinstate them for the 2008/09 season.

Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know any of this if your only
source of news on the CSO came from the Columbus Dispatch, which published an editorial
on 3/22/2008 that made it seem as though the organization might shut its doors for
good at any moment (they’ve published two without yet publishing a single op-ed
piece). Furthermore, the Dispatch editorial board makes it appear as though the
only option available to the organization
is one which accepts every economic condition of the CSO Board’s proposed
financial plan. Instead, they have made a conscious decision to forget that decades
of orchestra negotiations have produced mutually agreed upon solutions to
difficult situations that neither party initially identified.

The Dispatch’s penchant for editorializing has inspired me
to do some editorializing of my own. At this point in time, I feel sincere sympathy
for the greater Columbus community during a time when they are subjected to
some of the worst cultural reporting and editorializing I’ve witnessed in the
past several years – shame on the
Columbus Dispatch editorial board

In all fairness, I’ve never contacted Michael Grossberg, the
Dispatch theater critic who has been writing most of the articles about the CSO
situation, but judging from the tone of the articles published to date it seems
clear that orchestral negotiations, finance, and governance are not his primary
beat and he isn’t being provided with the resources he needs to produce
worthwhile material. Additionally, it is obvious that his articles are being
heavily edited to correspond with the paper’s editorial position; as such, I
doubt Mr. Grossberg has much influence on what and how the Dispatch is
reporting about these issues.

Although everyone concerned about culture and arts would
like to see an increase in traditional media coverage, this is one case where I
wish a local newspaper would simply stop writing about their local orchestra. My
advice to Dispatch readers is to send a steady stream of letters to the editor demanding
coverage that is accurate and up to date as well as editorializing that doesn’t
push predetermined conclusions and limit the organizations ability to enact
adequate fundraising measures. Furthermore, they should demand that the Dispatch
publish op-ed articles of reasonable length from established and respected

Ultimately, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the
Dispatch drag out the Flanagan report in some feeble attempt to support their
editorial position. Once that happens, any remaining shred of doubt over
whether or not the paper is providing a worthwhile service for their community or
merely pandering journalistic dreck should be entirely eradicated.


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 “As Negotiations Continue, Columbus Eyes Cash Flow”

  1. Sadly Drew, more than two decades ago, it
    was Barbara Zuck of the Columbus Dispatch that
    was the leading publication of several that had
    its facts thoroughly researched when
    musicians protested the actions of then
    Music Director Christian Badea in 1984.
    It would be wonderful if she shared her thoughts now.

    Thanks for pointing that out Brian, I agree Barbara was a very good critic and it would be wonderful if she were still at the Dispatch to cover these events. ~ Drew McManus

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