Save The Revolution, We Need Reformation

With the League conference in full swing this week behind the theme of Orchestra R/Evoluiton, it seems much of the discussion is focused outward: what orchestras mean to their communities, new business models, etc. It’s fun to take part in visioning exercises but those are best left for times of economic stability and growth. What should be taking place is talk about Reformation, how those entrusted with governance and administration can adapt to do more during a time of less…

There’s nothing wrong with looking outward but making substantial changes in strategic activity requires added resources and with a few notable exceptions, the average professional orchestra isn’t flush with that much cash. But we can focus inward and find ways to provide tools, training, and services to orchestra managers and staffers working with beleaguered budgets and demoralized working conditions to deliver the institution’s mission.

To that end, I see some encouraging signs but they are mostly all from sources outside traditional service providers. The ATHENA Project, an open source ticketing system, is a good start even if we won’t see an end-use version for several months or more. Of course, the growing number of culture blogs, like Dutch Perspective, that hyper focus on specific niches within the business are also quite useful at providing nuts and bolts resources.

On my end, work on the Venture Project is wrapping up and a functioning product will be available by the end of the month. I have no doubt that Venture will have the same impact on the business of performing arts that Henry Ford’s Model T had on the auto industry. It’s simply that big of a deal. What I’m looking forward to the most will be watching managers become inspired and reaching new heights of productivity and achievement with less effort simply because they have tools, technology, and support traditionally available only to the largest budget organizations.

Once our collective houses are in order, the business will be in a far better position to turn our attention outward.

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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