Weekend Special Report: Honolulu Files For Bankruptcy

As with most devastating announcements, the news that the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (HSO) will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is disappointing. There are numerous articles available on the announcement, which you can locate via a news search at Google, and once stakeholders have had a moment to process the initial information, here are some items they may want to consider…

  • After cancelling several planned announcements, the HSO waited until the weekend to make the announcement, making it more difficult for local news outlets and supporters to obtain details. This could be a sign that the organization is attempting to limit transparency and stakeholder feedback.
  • To date, there is absolutely no mention of the HSO’s music director, Adreas Delfs, in any of the news reports and at the time this article was published, the HSO website provides no information or notice about bankruptcy.
  • HSO executive director Majken Mechling’s comment “Our suggested goal was to provide a year-round platform of music for our community that will reflect the desires of the community we serve,” does not reference any research or study conducted by the organization that supports that decision nor does it indicate that it included any input from those entrusted with making artistic decisions.
  • According to the limited information available, the current HSO leadership seems to have structured a bankruptcy plan that assumes musician stakeholders will agree with provisions to layoff half of their numbers.

newspaperThe final point is particularly relevant at this juncture as the HSO musicians have gone out of their way to adopt a shared responsibility approach to concessions over the past decade. During those previous concessionary bargaining encounters, the musicians have always rebuffed proposals to cut the number of salaried musicians in favor of taking a larger, cumulative reduction in compensation and benefits.

Given the fact that it is clear the musicians were not included or consulted in the governance process that arrived at the current bankruptcy plan, it will be interesting to see how the musicians will respond to this proposal. As of now, there is no official response from musician spokespersons so at this juncture, stakeholders will have to wait and see what develops.

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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