Artistic Quality And Dynamic Consequences

It is no secret that the field as a whole is working day by day to manage debt and maintain stability. At the same time, maintaining artistic quality in light of necessary budget cuts is a tight rope no one enjoys walking but it gets a little easier if everyone works together. Failing that, decisions with the best intentions and under the greatest pressures can produce dynamic consequences that end up making the cure worse than the disease…

It appears that the latest example of a less than inclusive process is at the Portsmouth Symphony, where music director Christopher Hill published a letter he wrote to stakeholders expressing his perspective on recent artistic programming decisions made by the board. Hill described that process as dishonest:

This past week, without my consultation, the Board made significant decisions about the future direction of the orchestra and programming for next season. It has backtracked on a number of initiatives that had been discussed for next year, and could offer neither myself nor any of our professional help commitments in terms of their future. Furthermore, it has presented the reasoning of these decisions to me dishonestly in an attempt to cover up its current state of disarray.

You can read the entire letter at Hill’s blog. It will be interesting to see how the organization deals with Hill’s departure and if the other stakeholders decide to exert any influence as a result of this outcome.

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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