Details Surface In Columbus

The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) have apparently come to terms regarding a five year agreement that outsources the vast majority of the CSO’s administrative functions to CAPA. The organizations issued two joint press releases on the new agreement dated March 31, 2010 which include the following details…

  1. CAPA will “manage the CSO’s finance, accounting, marketing, advertising, publicity, graphics, IT, ticketing, human resources, and operations functions.”
  2. “Joint fundraising from CAPA and the CSO will strive to balance the 2009-10 budget” but there is no mention of current goals, future efforts, and ongoing revenue generation related governance responsibilities.
  3. Although the CSO will continue to pursue “business development” opportunities, there is no specific mention of unearned or contributed income development duties or responsibilities, including whether or not the CSO will staff a development office.
  4. The CSO expects to “save more than $750,000 in the 2010-11 season” with the arrangement but there is no word on what CAPA is charging the CSO for providing the administrative services during any of the five years defined in the agreement.
  5. CSO President and CEO Roland Valliere is now the Chief Creative Officer “leading the organization in business development, artistic and creative content, and musician relations.” There is no mention as to whether or not this new position will contain unearned or contributed income development duties or responsibilities or if there will be any adjustment to current compensation levels.
  6. CAPA President and CEO, Bill Conner, will “serve as volunteer Managing Director and CEO for the Symphony. Conner will report directly to the CSO board, and work with them to develop a viable, long-term business model which takes into account the Columbus audience and philanthropic support.”
  7. There is no mention whether or not Valliere will report to Conner in the new executive structure.

Adaptistration People 019Awaiting illumination is how the CSO and CAPA will address the potential conflict of interest in having Conner serve as President and CEO for both organizations. Regardless of Conner’s volunteer status at the CSO, multiple interests exist and as of now, his duties and responsibilities are unknown and not addressed in either press release.

What is known is CAPA will receive a CSO board approved fee for administrative services provided, for no less than the next five years. The potential to serve impartially without favoring one of the multiple interests is, by nature, hindered and will require an enormous amount of transparency beyond levels adopted by most nonprofit performing arts organizations.

If nothing else, reading the press releases made me recall a stalwart principle my (now deceased) mentor used to tell his clients and is something I’ve readily adopted and pass along to my clients today: “Volunteers are enormously useful but when it comes to administrative or leadership responsibilities, you always want to pay someone something so that if things go badly, it is easier to remove him/her.”

You can download pdf files of the press releases here and here.What do you think, are there pros and cons in this new scenario?

Postscript: no, this is not an April Fool’s post.

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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7 thoughts on “Details Surface In Columbus”

      • That’s an interesting thought Jack. I’m not 100% certain either but I believe the orchestra operates directly under the auspices of the center, meaning they don’t have a separate board or 501c3.

        I don’t think the orchestras has an administrative executive officer so much as a GM who reports directly to the center’s senior admin executive. but again, I’m not 100% certain so I’ll have to look into it and see if there’s anything there other than that.

  1. Benchmarks and triggers? Hmmmm, well. This seems to be CSO board adverse to adversity–can’t imagine they’d want to reconstitute the old business structure if things get even worse!

    Anyway, can’t quite figure out whether the CSO board will continue to exist as a truly separate entity. Won’t the CAPA board be in the power position?

  2. Drew, thank you for bringing this scenario to thoughtful observation. My disclosure; I was full-time musician w/CSO for 25 years, several times Orch. Committee Chair and also former musician Board member. In the local context this could be seen coming for some time and I don’t believe the Board will ever return to the old model or remain a separate entity. This can be compared to a corporate takeover – CAPA now controls not only a main competitor (who pays rent to CAPA) but also the local brand of what was just recently an under-rated $12mm orchestra. All for a fraction of the cost. There is a business model to rally around. There is plenty of story here and I hope that there will remain outside interested parties who can learn what SHOULD be learned. God bless the musicians.

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