Columbus Season To Continue Unabated

According to an April 28, 2008 press release issued by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) board, the organization will not cut short any of the scheduled classical or pops concerts from now through May 31, 2008. This decision was reached during a board meeting following the unanimous decision by the musicians of the CSO to reject the board’s last, best, and final negotiation offer and an individual donation from an unnamed board member. It is good to see that the board has taken the first of two
necessary steps to avoid institutional collapse. The first was to move
away from threats of canceling any of the current season and now all
that remains is to enact step two: an independent review of the board’s
proposed financial plan…

The board’s press release states that they are "prepared to
continue discussions with the union at any time for the purpose of
trying to secure both the short and long term future of our community’s
symphony orchestra." Although the board means to say that they are
prepared to continue discussion with the musicians and the union, what
that means is that the organization has an additional four months of
negotiating time before the current contract expires.

Unfortunately, the board’s press release repeats a great deal
of rhetoric reiterating their insistence that any new master agreement
with the musicians must fall within the financial parameters of their
proposed financial plan. It would be better at this point if the board
used this opportunity to begin backing away from that position and
given the fact that they have demonstrated the ability to make the
right decision by not canceling any of the current season when no real
financial threat had ever been identified, they should meet with the
musicians as soon as possible to arrange for a mutually agreeable party
to review the board’s proposed financial plan.

As the stewards of public trust, patrons and donors should
expect the board to return to the negotiation table with a sincere
willingness to bargain in good faith. Consequently, if there are any
issues both sides agree can be worked out during a period of
independent review, they should take the opportunity to do so in order
to begin repairing obvious damage to their working relationship as well
as dedicate additional time toward the larger issues once the
independent review is completed.

The solution out of the CSO’s current quagmire is obvious and
simple; and best of all the price of success has never been so
affordable
. It only requires the board to abandon ultimatums in favor
of bargaining in good faith.

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 “Columbus Season To Continue Unabated

  1. Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    In response to the Columbus Dispatch article of May 21, 2008

    Symphony musicians propose salary cut

    I suspect that I am not the only person who sees the irony in Columbus Symphony Orchestra Board Chair Buzz Trafford’s questioning the credentials and knowledge of Daniel R. LaMacchia, When Mr. Trafford states,

    Mr. LaMacchia is a stockbroker and I’m not sure how much he knows about the operations of a symphony orchestra

    he is simply engaging in the time-honored practice of a smear campaign. Mr. Trafford who is a managing partner in the law firm of Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur, knows full well that Mr. LaMacchia is in fact a financial planner with a degree from the Wharton School of Business, but by lumping him with a professional group that is held in very low public esteem, he is trying to shape public perception with guilt by association. It is interesting to point out that Mr. Trafford (who is a member of a profession that also is held in very low public esteem) does not question Mr. LaMacchia’s numbers, or the specifics asserting that the Symphony is (over) spending far too much money on non-artistic items. And Mr. Trafford shows his own ignorance about running a non-profit organization, when he criticizes Mr. LaMacchia’s insistence that in-kind (donated) services be included when talking about overall budget size.

    Definition: In-kind services are those goods and or services that are donated to non-profit organizations (and for the most part are tax deductible) that have specific monetary value, and in most cases would have to be purchased or hired by the organization if they were not donated.

    Certainly, with Mr. Trafford’s experience of being the board chair for the past two years (let’s put aside his leadership qualifications – given that there has been a multi-million dollar deficit during his tenure), he is fully aware that most funding organizations to non-profits require statements of in-kind goods and services and their monetary values. They require this information because these donations not only save the organization real money, but also demonstrate community support. Given that Columbus Symphony in-kind services amount to a very impressive $1.600,000 can we speculate that Mr. Trafford is really trying to gloss over the true nature of the orchestra’s community support? And while we are speculating, shouldn’t we all wonder why the payments to CAPA (which manages the Ohio theater and rents office space to the Symphony) have increased from $468,641 in 2005 to $1,080,235 this past year, even though the Symphony has the same amount of office space, and plays fewer concerts in the Theater? And while we are questioning, why, if Mr. Trafford and the Board insist that the Symphony budget be cut by 20%, would they not simply suggest a 20% cut across the board, including the musicians’ salaries? Instead they insist on draconian cuts of 40% for the musicians alone, only 10% cuts for management, and one can only imagine what kind of future increases for payments to CAPA? There are many questions that Mr. Trafford and his associates need to answer before they can start questioning others.

    Jay Fishman

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