“It Is Time To Stop Being The Victim”

Today’s headline is a line from Ron Spigelman’s 1/18/2010 blog post titled Adjusting the Seasonings in Salt Lake! – Time to Make a Play! In the article, Spigelman asserts that orchestras need to move past the self perception that the business must rely exclusively on handouts dictated solely by economic conditions. This is a particularly useful concept in today’s economic downturn as it is far too easy for nonprofit arts managers to forget just how much impact (real and/or potential) they have throughout their respective community…

Orchestras are an important cog in a local economic machine.

Although the notion that the arts are a major economic force is arguable, there’s no denying the dynamic set of benefits a community receives related to having a full time professional orchestra in town. Unlike traveling shows or orchestras on tour, resident organizations attract artistic employees from outside the local talent pool who in turn contribute an otherwise unavailable skilled (not to mention taxpaying) presence. Concert events regularly draw people who would otherwise have little or no reason to leave their suburban homes during times of the day and to parts of town that benefit from foot traffic. This could go on and on, but you get the point.

Ultimately, each organization needs to work at quantifying exactly what they contribute in order to help their community realize that they aren’t merely a constant drain on resources and the first to be forgotten in tough times but as a cornerstone of community success and an integral component in efforts to climb out of the economic downturn. If nothing else, this is one area where foundations (not to mention academic institutions looking to strengthen ties with orchestras) can play an important role by providing resources and manpower to make sure research efforts are conducted thoroughly yet with haste. Certainly, this has been part of NEA chairman, Rocco Landesman’s mantra for the past several months.

Spigelman concludes his post with the following remarks:

“We can’t keep waiting for the recession to end, we need to actually try to help end it!  This is the time that music and the arts are needed the most as people need to uplifted and inspired in these times.  This is our golden opportunity to become relevant.   Orchestras are special, but we need to stop talking about how important and meaningful we are and instead ACTUALLY BECOME IMPORTANT AND MEANINGFUL.”

And that’s where we’ll leave things for today. What do you think?

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 ““It Is Time To Stop Being The Victim””

  1. First off, I agree with both you and Ron: now is a crucial time for orchestras to advocate and communicate to their communities the value they provide. However, I feel like a big problem is the mindset is still one-directional: the orchestra tells the community how important it is, perhaps repeating at higher volume if recognition isn’t immediate. Perhaps this is why the Utah SO CEO was not going to lobby for a funding increase: she was resigned to the idea that making the same case she always made to the legislature wouldn’t help, no matter how vociferous.

    One of the main things I got from the American Orchestras Summit was that the orchestra must become a means again instead just an end to itself. Put another way, the mindset should be two-directional: the orchestra solicits input from its community about what it values and what it needs from its arts organizations. Then, armed with that knowledge, orchestras can articulate how their core strengths address these needs. in this way, the orchestra can really stand out in current circumstances.

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"It Is Time To Stop Being The Victim"