“An Illegal Lockout” In Charleston

According to a representative speaking on behalf of the Players Association of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (PACSO) the official position of the musicians and its union, Coastal Carolina Association of Professional Musicians Local 502, have stated that they consider the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) decision to suspend operations “an illegal lockout and we are pursuing it to the fullest extent of the law.”…

Since reporting on the decision to suspend the remainder of the season, The Post and Courier published an article on April 3, 2010 by Adam Parker that reports that the musicians are “working with presenters to ensure that the last few shows of the season go on as scheduled,” although confirmed performance dates have not yet been released.

In what has been a very black or white decision by music directors at other organizations with similar troubles, CSO music director, David Stahl, has decided to weigh-on on the matter publicly by offering an opinion in The Post and Courier article. In response to the assertion that the CSO’s musicians will likely leave if the organization continues on its current course and this would have a negative dynamic impact on the overall community, he affirmed the potential dilemma.

Symphony musicians are active in the Charleston area, teaching private lessons, working with public school and college students and playing at private events, Music Director David Stahl said. A struggling symphony, therefore, affects many in the community.

It is good to see the organization’s chief artistic executive becoming involved in a positive fashion. However, The Post and Courier also contained a curious statement from League of American Orchestras president Jesse Rosen.

The Columbus (Ohio) Symphony recently reorganized from the ground up and forged a partnership with the local performing arts presenting organization to consolidate back-office operations, Rosen said. And it is looking to use the Internet as a marketing and music distribution solution. Creative thinking like this is needed if a symphony orchestra is to be revitalized, he said.

Given the fact that far more is unknown than not about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s deal to outsource administrative functions, it is curious to see the League’s highest ranking administrator heap this much definitive praise on an entirely untested governance model. For instance, significant questions exist surrounding key components of that deal, such as:

  • The cost of outsourced services over the course of the five-year deal.
  • How the orchestra’s board plans on addressing conflict of interest concerns in appointing a chief Executive Officer who holds the same position with the parent organization that provides the outsourced services.
  • The duties and responsibilities for the newly created executive position “Chief Creative Officer.”
  • The complete lack of reference to ongoing contributed and other unearned revenue development.

Are these cornerstones of creative thinking and revitalization?

Granted, as a service organization, it is certainly the responsibility of the League to promote positive movements within the field. But wouldn’t have been far better to interject instances of organizations that are successfully “revitalizing” themselves by managing debt, cultivating newly established revenue sources, and working with its musicians to craft mutually agreed upon concessions without having to adopt radical and untested measures?

Aren’t executive leadership teams from these groups creative enough to merit mention and serve as inspiration? If there was ever a time for the League to broadcast instances of legitimate success, that time is now.

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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10 thoughts on ““An Illegal Lockout” In Charleston

  1. No accidents here. These groups you mentioned often challenge the core attitudes of the League which include, despite any occasional spin to the press, an abhorrence of any kind of transparency.

    Meanwhile, even their leaders like Jesse, simply continue to follow Ralph Black’s tired old mantra, “Never waste a good recession,” while they fervently continue seeking that elusive new “21st Century Business Model” instead of examining their own M.O.s.

  2. I still have to say I was legitimately surprised by this League statement. More often than note, they tend to take a non-committal approach that doesn’t disparage the subject material . For example, the usual quote related to the Utah Symphony and Opera merger is along the lines of “it’s worth keeping an eye on” but not much beyond that.

  3. Drew writes:

    But wouldn’t have been far better to interject instances of organizations that are successfully “revitalizing” themselves by managing debt, cultivating newly established revenue sources, and working with its musicians to craft mutually agreed upon concessions without having to adopt radical and untested measures?

    Drew, unfortunately I don’t know of too many instances where applying traditional methods has significantly altered the course of diminishing support for classical symphony orchestras. If you can find some examples it might be constructive for those of us struggling with the issue. Mostly administrators out there are looking for different and possibly radical approaches to turn around the lack of interest and funding and I don’t think I can blame them. The symphony orchestra needs to evolve past its nineteenth century tradition and come into the present – Does that mean gigging with Beyonce and Fifty Cent? Not exactly – but something definitely needs to happen. There is a vast arsenal of music and communication technology that can no longer be ignored or limited by purist intentions. Otherwise the orchestra will become nothing more than an acoustic museum.

  4. One of the first examples that comes to mind is Nashville, which I’ve written about in great detail already so I won’t go into details again. I’ve also pointed out the both LA Phil and San Fran have been making excellent gains over the last decade and even during the economic downturn. Even much smaller budget groups like Springfield (MO) who nearly doubled their budget over the last several years and are holding firm in this economy are worth looking at.

    Although I have to say that I’m now curious about your final few sentences. I can’t quite image what you have in mind, but it seems you’re focusing on programming. Is that correct? If so, it’s a fantastic discussion but not entirely related to the fundamental business model behind how large budget performing arts orgs generate revenue (unearned vs. earned).

  5. Baltimore tried the same thing. Management threatened to declare bankruptcy and hire cheaper musicians. Their bluff worked, and the musicians agreed to the 17% pay cut and the hiring of Peabody students to fill vacancies.

  6. 2 slots will be filled by students. They wanted as many as a dozen, but the musicians did manage to stand their ground on that issue.

    Morale there is as bad as you can imagine.

  7. So you’ve seen the contract language Frank? If so, it would be enormously useful if you could verify that along with providing some excerpted contract language given some of the similar issues and questions unfolding at other orchestras. This is a very touchy subject and it is important to be precise here. Consequently, do you have a source for the request you mentioned?

  8. Touchy is the right word, which is why I can’t say more than I already have. Suffice it to say that the musicians are pinned between hostile management and a music director they actively dislike. They got rolled into accepting draconian cuts, and they are the source for my comments. I’m sure you could get dozens of them to speak to you on background, if you asked.

  9. Given the sensitivity of this issue, any unverified details should be taken as unconfirmed or speculation. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to submit comments but we won’t be able to confirm any details until the new collective bargaining agreement is released. Until then, any details not provided by a representative spokesperson from either the BSO musicians or the Association should be interpreted by readers as unsubstantiated.

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