Are We There Met?

In case you missed it (although I don’t know how that’s even possible), there’s been a substantial fuss over the past several weeks surrounding Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera (Met), and his public brush war against criticism. Gelb lost; and just in case he didn’t realize just how big of a loss it was, the King of All Culture Media, Alex Ross, authored an article for the 5/23/2012 edition of The New Yorker that spells it out in no uncertain terms.

What’s worth noting in Ross’ article is toward the end where he mentions the Met board and their involvement during this public relations train wreck.

[Gelb’s] sensitivity to criticism appears to be extreme, his way of responding at once brutal and maladroit. Some might say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but investigative stories on page one of the Times are in another category. Members of the Met board, who so far seem to have given Gelb free rein, may no longer be able to look away.

hanging on by a threadThose are all good points but one thing seems certain during this period of economic unrest: don’t underestimate a board’s fight or flight driven decision making mechanism. Sure, it’s counterintuitive and all but guaranteed to make things much worse but when boards feel like they are losing control during a down economy, they’ll be tempted into swatting flies with shotguns.

And even though the Met lost this brush war there are plenty of examples elsewhere where similar patterns have produced wins (NEC, Cleveland, Philly, and Detroit come to mind).

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind that the notion of wins and losses is a misnomer since there are no winners in situations like this given that the only way to win is to make someone else lose.

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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