A Reply To Tony Woodcock

Per his blog post from 5/18/2011, it appears that New England Conservatory president Tony Woodcock has declined my invitation to employ a community engagement exercise in the form of a live public discussion to examine a number of the issues he has been writing about over recent weeks. He feels “this is a topic for more than two voices” and I couldn’t agree more, which is precisely why I proposed that our event be open to the public…

In addition to being webcast live and that we engage questions and observations from those in attendance and watching online. It should actively engage a broader group of stakeholders in a fashion that reaches beyond the limitations of a fixed, turn based format that is blogging.

It should be moderated by a mutually agreed upon individual with no vested interests, be free of parameters set by any single perspective, and not shy away from any single topic. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I should point out that Tony offered an invitation to participate in what he’s calling a “virtual symposium” where he will invite individuals to cover what he defines as “the orchestra problem” and publish them at his blog.

Tony sent me a direct message with the same invitation and in the spirit of transparency, my reply follows:

Dear Tony,

Thank you very much for your note and the offer to participate in your virtual symposium. However, I must decline as although I think the idea has some merit, Tony’s Blog would be an incompatible venue due to an inherent conflict of interest vis-à-vis your established views. But perhaps more importantly, I would add that it would be redundant as there is already a dynamic discussion underway via the numerous posts and articles throughout the cultural blogging community and mainstream media, many of which are already interlinked.

I hope that you will reconsider my original offer as the critical component missing from the sort of dynamic online exchange currently underway in written format is the palpable element of live interaction. Clearly, the current discussions are merely variations of a debate that has been unfolding for decades and will likely continue for decades to come. Engaging in a live, moderated conversation that can be extended to a much wider participation level via interactive webcast has considerable value at this point in time by providing a forum to dig deeper into specific issues in such a way that will help others form thoughts and ideas. After all, look at how successful the YouTube Symphony event was thanks to its broadcast components.

I doubt anyone will consider either of our voices as a definitive position on any of these issues but what it will provide is a great deal of additional depth and expression to what has unfolded in the very two dimensional environment of blogging. Consequently, my original offer stands and I happy to begin putting plans into motion including, but not limited to, selecting a date, time, venue, format, and moderator. To that end, I’m also happy to conduct the entire process with complete transparency by publicly hashing out the details online.


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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0 thoughts on “A Reply To Tony Woodcock”

  1. “the orchestra problem” is more than sufficient reason to decline Tony’s invitation.
    Of course, the stated topic/agenda pre-determines context.

    Thanks for your continual transparency & willingness to engage.


    • Thank you for writing that Paul, I had a bit of back-and-forth struggle with some of the wording for today’s post and one item I ultimately edited out was the phrase “self fulfilling prophecy” when referencing Tony’s idea of a virtual symposium. Instead, I opted for reinforcing the notion that a meaningful discussion needs to be free from pretense; of course, that doesn’t mean anyone won’t be able to assert that there is a crisis and provide supporting reasons but it does mean that any reasonable discussion shouldn’t be bound by restrictions.

      This is precisely why a live discussion event has merit, especially in this particular setting.

      I’m going to be an optimist here and believe that Tony will see the value in the original idea and reach out with a gracious change of heart.

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