Contract News Out Of Detroit

The 3/18/2010 edition of the Detroit Free Press published an article by Mark Stryker about the ongoing negotiations between the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and their musicians. The big news is although both sides were engaged in talks for nearly a year to modify the existing contract before its expiration date, they haven’t been able to reach an agreement. Since the expiration date is this August, both sides agreed that it makes better sense to simply roll the talks over into regularly scheduled negotiations. On the surface, this might seem troubling, but it’s actually a good sign…

One of the biggest concerns for any group trying to find the best way to manage revenue shortfalls in this economy is how to manage cash flow. As such, the DSO’s decision to extend talks to the end of the current agreement is a good sign that they feel comfortable enough with fiscal practices in place to reach that deadline without a cash flow impasse.

But, that doesn’t mean business is fine and dandy to the point where everyone can take long lunch breaks. Administrative cutbacks mean remaining managers will have to improve efficiency while simultaneously stave off discouragement and both sides still need to reach an agreement.

On those points, Stryker does a good job at fitting a great deal of the DSO’s known financial information into a relatively small space. He also manages to work in a bit of recent musician concessions and institutional financial history through 2007, thereby providing readers with a more comprehensive overview.

Ultimately, the new deadline provides the DSO executive leadership and board with additional time to explore new options and revise projections. Likewise, they’ll have that much more time to evaluate current revenue performance, measure endowment recovery, and (hopefully) leverage political connections to secure improved terms on real estate debt in advance of a new labor agreement. It will be interesting to see how continuing talks will unfold.

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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