The Internal Governance and Modernization Project

For the past season, I have had the pleasure of working with the Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony on a program dubbed the Internal Governance and Modernization Project. I published some early information about the project last summer but I wanted to take a moment to publish a few additional documents in advance of some detailed articles which will appear in the near future. One is an as-of-yet not released version of a press release outlining the program’s early accomplishments and the other is a letter I composed to the Musicians of The Phoenix Symphony at the conclusion of the project…



Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony Internal Governance
and Modernization Project

Throughout the past year, with the assistance of AFM Local 586, the Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony have been involved in a comprehensive project to enhance internal culture within the players’ association. With the support of Chicago based nonprofit consultant, Drew McManus, the program is based on the bedrock principles of successful collective representation and is designed to foster a system of sustainable representation that produces representatives empowered with the authority to accurately represent their colleagues.

The 2007/08 season marks the first time the program has been implemented at every level. Initial accomplishments include:

  • A revised constitution and bylaws that, for the first time in the association’s history, provide for a musician’s-only artistic advisory committee and a contract renewal committee with elected members.
  • A 52-page orchestra committee governance manual.
  • Voted to adopt the motto “Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony; ensuring the principles of musicianship, solidarity, & professionalism
  • Creation of 18 specialized committee and representatives guides, a 64-page union steward’s handbook, and dozens of templates and sample material.
  • A customized financial and marketing dashboard to better convey institutional revenue and marketing data to the membership.

As a result of the efforts from committee members and Local 586 officers, musician participation in committee and representative roles is the highest in more than a decade. Not only did the Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony have enough volunteers to fill all of their committee and representative billets, they had to conduct run-off elections for several positions.

Along with hard work from many individuals, the project has contributed to improving musician morale and communication with the Phoenix Symphony Association. Local 586 and the musicians plan to track the program’s impact on internal governance though the remainder of the 2007/08 season and release a detailed summary at the end of the season.

Following, is a copy of my Letter to the Musicians of The Phoenix Symphony:

Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony
C/O Local 586, AFM
1202 E. Oak St
Phoenix, AZ 85006

Dear Orchestra Committee, Local Officers, and musicians of the Phoenix Symphony,

It has been my distinct pleasure to work on such a satisfying project for the past year and although my primary desire is to have been able to deliver this message to your in person, I am grateful for the occasion to speak to you through written word. Having the opportunity to work on the Internal Governance and Modernization Project as well as forging positive relationships with so many musicians among your membership is an intangible benefit I will proudly carry with me throughout my career.

It has been heartening to see some of the early results of our work in the form of increased musician participation in governance and representation and I look forward to observing how the project will continue to shape your association. And like all programs that are designed to adapt to changes in a local environment, I hope each one of you will feel comfortable in offering your feedback to your committee members, Local 586, and me after reviewing the project’s numerous materials.

The breadth of talent, passion, and commitment as well as the seemingly endless capacity to develop beyond the parameters of academic training is perhaps one of the strongest characteristics of today’s professional orchestra musician. And the diverse group of professionals who comprise the Musicians of the Phoenix Symphony should feel proud for making the decision that going one more season without a defined program of internal governance was too long. And you should feel proud that going one more season without the means for developing a refined collective voice or without a program to support musician involvement in institutional affairs was too long. And you should feel pound that Local 586 has been an active and productive partner during every step of this process.

When I hear the cynical talk from some in this business that musicians are incapable of effectively joining together for anything other than to complain and will otherwise behave as sectarian packs of irrational, emotional, and ungrateful employees I know that individuals such as yourselves will ultimately prove them wrong. Your willingness to build a successful vision crafted through the rigorous process of open discussion and collective involvement will serve as the vehicle to seize your future.

In the end, you are not just up against some of the challenges of a business in the midst of institutional transformation, you are struggling with your own doubts and your own fears and your own cynicism. The change being sought through programs such as this have always required great commitment and great sacrifice but most importantly they do not require you to reinvent the wheel of governance. Nothing created through our work deviates from established parameters of collective representation and governance; instead, we have used contemporary tools to help modernize and ensure that this process will effectively represent your association.

There those in his business who will say you can’t do this and you can’t have what you’ve been looking for. They will say that you will go back to old habits and divide into groups struggling for dominance while sacrificing colleagues to advance personal agendas along the way. But let me remind you that the ultimate struggle is in your own hearts and minds about what kind of working environment you want and how hard you are willing to work together for it. There is no “us against them.” There is no “young versus old.” Ultimately, there is only us or no one.

So let me remind you in this closing paragraph that change will not be easy. Change will take time but change is necessary. There may be setbacks beyond your control and sometimes you and your colleagues will make mistakes. But as hard as it may seem, you cannot lose your
determination to maintain this program and your confidence in each other. The impending results from this program will be a testament to your commitment for a better future: a better future for yourselves, a better future for your orchestra, and a better future for the musicians
who will occupy your seats long after you are gone.

Drew McManus

Now that the Phoenix project is complete, I have the time to begin working on a similar project with other players’ associations. As such, if your association is interested in instituting a project like this,
let me know.

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 “The Internal Governance and Modernization Project”

  1. Drew –

    As an insider in the Phoenix freelance trenches, I can personally testify to the changes I have witnessed within the Phoenix Symphony musicians in the past few years.

    In the past, whenever I worked with the PSO, the frustration in the air was evident. Through a series of pay cuts, labor and management issues, and internal strife the musicians had become a somewhat surly bunch and the back-biting was fairly rampant – akin to starved animals in a cage.

    Last December, I worked with them for a 5-6 week period and noticed a significant chance in the atmosphere. The difference was palpable. Overt frustration has evolved into hope, a more positive work environment and more active musician involvement. I happened across a handout of these new committees and was highly impressed with the changes.

    Excuse the corny metaphor, but Phoenix Symphony musicians have turned a corner and have “risen from the ashes” of their past. You are to be highly commended and praised for your involvement and guidance.

    The musicians of the PSO are also to be commended for recognizing their governance issues and for seeking outside help. While people in any work environment will always have some personal gripes and conflicts, the changes I have witnessed here have given me (and I sure the PSO musicians) renewed hope for the future of the organization.

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