Back In The Saddle

I’m back from Nepal but enduring a nasty flu strain I picked up toward the end of the trip. As such, today’s post will be brief but I wanted to take a moment to examine one of the more critical Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) developments that transpired while I was away…

In particular, the unsuccessful attempt by Michigan’s U.S. Senator Carl Levin and Governor Jennifer Granholm to bring the nearly three month strike to a close. According to news reports, the Levin/Granholm team recommended terms they believed constituted a reasonable agreement to end the settlement. The DSO musicians released a statement on 12/16/2010 indicating they approved the proposal and were willing to move forward.

“The musicians feel that the proposal the Governor and the Senator have put forward in today’s letter provides a path to a fair resolution of this 11-week strike. We accept the proposal, and are prepared to return to the bargaining table immediately to seek a settlement under the framework it outlines.”

However, news reports indicate that the DSO board brought the opportunity to a close. An article by Marisa Schultz in the 12/16/2010 issue of The Detroit News provided details behind why the Levin/Granholm plan was rejected.

“In order to fund our current proposal, we have already cut our staff and operations severely and pushed our revenue expectations beyond every adviser’s recommendations,” Frankel said in a statement. “Even with these dramatic cuts and ambitious goals, the DSO will continue to operate in a deficit position.”

Here’s What You Need To Know

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It isn’t unusual in this business for heavy-hitters among elected officials to step in with attempts to resolve ongoing labor disputes. For example, the 1996 Philadelphia Orchestra dispute was settled following involvement by representatives from Mayor Edward G. Rendell’s office.

But what you need to know is whenever individuals with enough public clout step in to help broker a deal, they usually bring along a set of carrots and sticks to help get the job done. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these motivational resources aren’t always made public and none of the reports surrounding the Levin/Granholm plan mention such incentives but if they were present and the DSO board still rejected the proposals, then it brings this conflict into a new arena that produces more questions than answers.

We’ll examine what those include in the near future. As for now, my head is buzzing so I have to lie down, but you can catch up on details surrounding the Levin/Granholm involvement at the following media outlets:

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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