Detroit Enters The Eleventh Hour

Today marks the final week of the current collective bargaining agreement between the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and its musicians. Over the past few days, a few articles of note have popped up that are worth your time. The first is from an unusual source in that it is a blog post from someone outside the field…

Published on 8/21/2010 at, author Joanne Huspek offers commentary on the dispute and potential aftermath in an article titled Detroit Explores the Net Value of a Symphony Musician. Typically, this sort of commentary comes from individuals that actively work inside the business (such as these folks). But Huspek, a Royal Oak, MI resident and self described “aspiring novelist with a day job which makes writing an interesting clandestine tryst” is decidedly outside the usual suspects.

According to her article, she does have a vested interest in the form of “one child who went on to complete his education at a major music conservatory” so it isn’t a surprise that she anticipates a slow decline for the DSO if they implement any of management’s proposals currently on the table. But it is meaningful to see commentary such as this come from new sources. If anything, it is an encouraging sign that people do care about orchestras and classical music enough to get involved.

The second offering is from the 8/19/2010 edition of the Detroit News where Lawrence B. Johnson examines a number of perspectives and options in an article titled Stalled talks and money woes major threat to DSO. Johnson includes insight from me as well as from League of American Orchestras president Jesse Rosen and American Federation of Musicians president Ray Hair.

Rosen and Hair take unsurprising positions with the former adopting an it’s-not-our-fault tone by emphasizing the economic downturn and a decline in interest in the arts while the latter focuses on the musicians’ willingness to offer concessions but not to permanently subsidize “management’s failures.”

Although deadlines loom at the end of this week, that’s a comparatively long time in the realm of eleventh hour collective bargaining so don’t be surprised if it’s a bumpy ride.

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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