Yep, Process Still Matters

All things being equal, something like this might have slipped by under the radar but thanks to the Boston Globe’s Geoff Edgers, events at the New Hampshire Music Festival (NHMF) have taken center stage. According to Edgers’ article from the 1/11/2010 edition, the NHMF’s board and administrative leadership attempted to implement sweeping changes that were the result of re-conceptualizing the artistic model…

Edgers reports that it wasn’t just the actual changes, but the process NHMF used that caused a significant amount of unrest among musicians. It didn’t take long for unrest to migrate from the musicians to ticket buyers and that strife served as a contributing factor for long-time festival attendees to form a patron group called Save Our Orchestra Now (SOON). SOON took little time to become proactive and began a grass roots campaign to stave off the proposed changes by wearing purple ribbons at concert events, contacting donors, and launching a public relations campaign.

Although Edgers reports that conflict between stakeholder groups intensified over the summer, the NHMF board recently decided to change course and abandon plans to replace musicians or change the traditional artistic model. At the same time, a number of questions remained unanswered including what the NHMF plans to do about a music director and whether or not any of the current administrators associated with abandoned plan will remain with the organization. Some of those issues are being addressed in current negotiations with the musicians, who have been posting updates at their own website.

Based on accounts in the Globe’s article, events at the NHMF reached such a fevered pitch due to an inadequate process that managed to incite distrust and hostility more than support (as evidenced by the quotes from NHMF musicians). If nothing else, this situation reaffirms that the most efficient way to implement a large amount of change is to dole it out incrementally over a several seasons or simply start an organization from scratch. Furthermore, excluding artistic stakeholders from major artistic decisions is, at best, shortsighted.

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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