Bill Eddins posted a fascinating article on 5/13/2011 over at Sticks and Drones that examines the potential domino effect impact of the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy on all sorts of commonly found written agreements in the business…
In short, Eddins laments the thought of an orchestra using bankruptcy as nothing more than a convenient option for some sort of arts governance mulligan.
I think this is what disturbs me about the bankruptcy proceedings in Philadelphia. The Association’s stated reason for declaring bankruptcy is to get out of all of their contracts. If this is allowed then any organization can arbitrarily decide to declare bankruptcy whenever they so desire for no more reason then they want to and they feel too lazy to fulfill their contractual obligations. At this point any contract will not be worth the paper it’s printed on. This has very disturbing implications that reverberate far beyond the music industry. Bankruptcy has historically been, and should remain, the avenue of last resort. Either that or every contract written today is fundamentally worthless.
Eddins has every right to be concerned. I posted a lengthy comment in response to his points that I feel strongly enough about, I wanted to post them here as well.
You are so looking in the right direction with all of this Bill. One of the very real concerns behind closed doors is that if the Philadelphia Orchestra Association is released from contractual obligations given the arguable conditions behind the filing, it will be the impetus of a stampede of bankruptcy filings.
In particular, pension obligations will serve as the spearhead but no one should be surprised if that is followed by a long shaft of riders to remove everything unrelated to economic or operational issues. Case in point, look at the initial contract that was implemented by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that contained everything from removing tenure to gutting the audition and artistic review process along with declassifying musician positions as not being sufficiently musicianish.
What’s particularly ironic about all of this is even though much of this is being promoted under the banner of progress, increased relevance, flexibility, etc. much of it is as old school as Ray Hair’s embarrassingly outdated rhetoric in the recent WQXR panel discussion.
As a result, the reasons behind why so many of those contractual items you mentioned that are really no longer applicable are held onto, is over a deep rooted fear that if you start letting go, it will be followed up by exactly the sort of old school nonsense that took place in Detroit.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that for some in this field, the cultural cold war never ended, it simply underwent a rebranding campaign.
So far this season, the Louisville Orchestra bankruptcy with subsequent requests for release from contractual obligations was rejected. We’ll have to wait and see what transpires in Philadelphia.