Ignorance, Thy Name Is Columbus

Recently, a colleague pointed out a comment posted by Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) trustee, Sheldon A. Taft in response to Janelle Gelfand’s June article in the Wall Street Journal about the ongoing problems in the CSO. Taft’s response to Gelfand’s article, although passionate, only serves to reinforce that the CSO executive board and trustees are suffering from a debilitating case of ignorance with regard to their current problems…

Taft accuses the musicians of walking out of a negotiation session in January when in fact, negotiating sessions didn’t officially commence until several months later.  The January session Taft refers to is when the executive board merely released their proposed financial plan to the musicians and was far from the sort of negotiating session Taft characterizes, the fact that he doesn’t seem to realize this is disturbing. Taft’s negative response in his letter to the Wall Street Journal demonstrates the dangers of unchecked ignorance developing into a lack of respect or understanding.

For example, if an orchestra board feels they have the authority to institute negotiations at any point in time without regard for adhering to required labor law procedures demonstrates, at worst, a certain level of arrogance. It also demonstrates that they fail to understand the basic concept that in order to properly negotiate, the musicians must have the time to prepare for meaningful discussions by caucusing with their fellow musicians and executing due diligence to prepare a bargaining offer.

Obviously, the CSO board took the time to do exactly this during their strategic planning sessions that resulted in the proposed financial plan (meetings which were kept secret and the musicians plus the music director were excluded) yet they blame the musicians for becoming upset over being excluded from the process and then being expected to engage in negotiations without benefitting from the same time to prepare that the board enjoyed.

Overall, Taft’s response is a distressing sign if his views are representative of any other trustees or board members. Frankly, the fact that he responded publicly in a way that demonstrates his ignorance for all to see only helps reinforce musician positions and further decay confidence among local donors and patrons in the current board leadership. Hopefully, the mediated negotiations will produce some worthwhile results and those assisting in the efforts can help release the trustees and executive board from some of their ignorance.

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 “Ignorance, Thy Name Is Columbus

  1. Well, ignorant, arrogant board member yahoos like Taft certainly managed to bring the OSU-Michigan game back to its status as “The Cultural Event of the Season” there.

    Reminds me of an interesting item I read recently that said “Empowerment in the hands of the stupid amounts to nothing more than entitlement.”

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