Parting Shot

Although Senator Tom Coburn was the architect of the amendment that sliced attempted to slice the arts out of the economic stimulus package, it is fair to remember that 72 additional senators fell in line to support a bad idea inspired by flawed reasoning. Apparently, Coburn didn’t feel the same sort of moral conviction to craft an amendment preventing the largest US banks from distributing executive bonuses after sidestepping the issue by renaming them “Performance Awards.” Consequently, I think the arts should adopt the same policy, instead of calling venues “Arts Centers” we should rename them “Expressive Discipline Assembly Facilities” which are part of the larger multi-billion (and certainly not wasteful) “Fundamental Fulfillment Industry.” If you can’t beat ’em…


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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5 thoughts on “Parting Shot”

  1. While the idea that spending on the arts is non-stimulative is probably wrong (see my S21 posting on the subject for the detailed version: ), lots of other stuff got cut on that bogus rationale too. So yes, cutting arts funding on the grounds that it wasn’t stimulus was dishonest, but I’m a lot more troubled by the employment of that deception on other issues–contraception, for instance.

    Obviously what was really going on was that the Republicans were claiming “non-stimulating” as a way of blocking spending on programs they object to on philosophical grounds. Coburn apparently doesn’t think the federal government should be in the business of directly funding the arts, but that’s a legitimate and not-unreasonable position. Coburn is certainly complicit in using deceit to help craft a “compromise” bill which will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, but I don’t think his opposition to federal funding for the arts should qualify him for “evil.”

    • Think of “evil” in the Dante tiered sense.

      If you visit some of Coburn’s published interview transcripts the week before they passed his amendment, he claimed that appropriations should be limited to efforts that create or maintain jobs. As an example, he provided a road construction project in his home state. Given the fact that the Tulsa Philharmonic went out of business and the replacement ensemble has not yet replaced all of those lost jobs, I find it hard to see how he’s adequately representing his constituents by claiming that stimulus funds should go to that construction project (which would only lose jobs if they aren’t funded) but not toward projects that can demonstrate concrete job loss.

      If he sincerely patronizes the arts as has been reported then he is certainly aware of the Tulsa Philharmonic situation but still managed to disambiguate that from construction jobs (which are at best, temporary). So politicians like Coburn can claim philosophical differences all they want but jobs are jobs. The benefits of roads and the arts aren’t mutually exclusive so making a deliberate distinction and taking action against one to the detriment of the other is malice of intent.

  2. If one wants to read more about Senator Coburn, I direct you to this NYT article on him. (Bonus here.)

    I put this in another blog post on this subject elsewhere, and thought it worth repeating here. People might find an Australian government report on the arts of interest, particularly a passage from the author David Malouf (link here. Excerpts (you can trim it if the excerpt is too long):

    “Societies like the one we live in are complex phenomena, their parts deeply intricated, affecting one another in ways that are sometimes hard to assess; to isolate any one of them may be to misread the dynamics of the whole. This is certainly true of the arts. To see them as something ‘added’ that might also be taken away is to miss the extent to which they may be the source, as well as the product, of what we are.

    The role they play in the economy is clear enough.

    A large section of the working population of Australia is now employed in the arts. In the work-intensive film industry; in theatre, opera, dance, and orchestral and other musical performance, including a lively country and pop music scene. Actors, singers, dancers, circus performers, musicians, along with technicians, the many skilled artisans who work making costumes and props, administrators, and the staff of dance, drama and music schools all over the country, constitute a national resource of talent, but also of experience, that is valuable in itself for what it produces to reflect and delight us and essential for the guidance and training of those who will come after…..

    When we think of other places, France or Britain or Italy or the US, what comes first to our mind as characterising their contribution to the world, their identity or style, is the arts they have produced, books, paintings, films, their orchestras and opera companies, their galleries, their music. Either consciously or not, it is this that guarantees for us that the goods we buy from them, everything from high tech to clothes and perfumes and domestic appliances, will be of the highest quality, both of performance and design. Shouldn’t we assume that others will make the same assessment of us?

    We have high tech and education to sell as well as wheat, wool and minerals. Mightn’t our potential customers for these sophisticated commodities be more inclined to believe in the high standard of what we have to offer if they see from the films we make, the books we produce and from what we offer in the way of theatre, opera, galleries, music, that we are a society that demands and produces work of the highest quality.”

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