Cleveland And Seattle: With Bated Breath

As the orchestra business watches Cleveland and Seattle with bated breath, it is difficult to wonder if events at these two larger budget organizations will have any impact on the business as a whole. And it isn’t just insiders who are paying attention, music critics, cultural reporters, bloggers, and just about any other stakeholder with a social media account is wondering aloud how events will unfold…

At 165 comments and counting, Seattle residents can't push the comment submit button fast enough.

In Seattle, much has been written about the negotiations, including a very comprehensive examination by Zach Carstensen titled Are SSO contract negotiations a canary in the coal mine?. Carstensen goes the extra mile by focusing on issues related to the bargaining sessions such as operational leadership, strategic planning, historic development, and the broader impact on the Greater Seattle community. Likewise, there are a number of thought provoking reader comments that are worth your time.

In addition to Carstensen’s article, the 12/30/09 edition of the Seattle Times published an article by Janet I. Tu that, at the time this blog post was published, has garnered 165 reader comments. That’s not a typo; there are no less than 165 comments.

In the more than six years of publishing Adaptistration, I can’t think of a newspaper article examining a labor negotiation which generated that many responses. If nothing else, it demonstrates that classical music resonates with the Seattle public to at least some recognizable degree. Lastly, the Seattle Symphony Musicians website has been doing an exemplary job at informing their public with status updates.

For example, on 1/4/2010 the musicians published a notice stating that they had received a last, best, and final offer from management and “will take management’s demands to our members for their consideration” in the coming week. At the time this blog was published, there is no mention of the negotiations at the Seattle Symphony website.

In Cleveland, the public conversation isn’t as expansive as the one unfolding in Seattle but that is likely due to the Cleveland Orchestra and its musicians remaining comparatively quiet. However, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has been following events via articles from Zachary Lewis (apparently a popular first name with culture journalists), the most recent of which was from 12/31/2009.

Cleveland’s case is intriguing as the musicians have stated that they have proposed a one year wage and benefit freeze but there is no word from management as to whether or not the organization’s cash flow is such to ensure payroll and other debts are paid on time under that scenario. However, the orchestra has released data indicating that ticket revenue, endowment income, and contributions have declined since the onset of the economic downturn but there is no word as to how that interacts with the proposed one year freeze.

Undoubtedly, we’ll be reading more about each group in the near future. What do you think; are these groups representative of the business as a whole, islands unto themselves, or something else?

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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2 thoughts on “Cleveland And Seattle: With Bated Breath”

  1. Given certain events in each orchestra’s recent history (a little less recent w/Seattle), I’m sure many ICSOM orchestra musicians also find it very interesting, on other levels, that these two particular groups are currently facing similar challenges. We will, of-course, be watching all this quite closely, ourselves.

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