You’re Doomed I Tell You. Doomed!

The 9/8/2012 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article by Graydon Royce that examines the ongoing labor dispute at the Minnesota Orchestra (MO) and of particular interest is a quote from Richard Davis, the MO former board chair who is currently leading the management’s negotiation team. According to Davis, there are only two kinds of American Orchestras: those that have gone through painful restructuring, and those that are going to go through it. Pretty cheery, huh?

So, all of the orchestras out there who have yet to fall into either of the Davis’ groups should enter the Carrousel.

But in case you feel like running, check out WQXR’s Conducting Business podcast hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise where I’ll be joining Graydon Royce along with an undisclosed guest (s/he has not yet been confirmed) to discuss the state of American orchestras. The show is scheduled to be recorded on Friday, 9/14/2012 and should be available for streaming shortly thereafter.

In the meantime, what do you think about Davis’ assertion that orchestras are all doomed to sizeable downsizing?

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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8 thoughts on “You’re Doomed I Tell You. Doomed!”

  1. It reflects a parroting of the economic ideology that has infected our national politics – that only cuts solve debt rather than growth through investment – the Viennese model rather than the Keynesian that has served us so well in the last century. It’s no coincidence that the “worker bees” are seen as the scapegoat for so much mismanagement due to the “structural deficit” mantra introduced a few years ago. The present situation is just the earlier “structural deficit” meme now put on steroids. Managements are riding that wave since they answer to their employers – the boards. It is all very depressing and the article cited further tries to legitimize that ideology as fact. Very destructive to a profession that relies on the common good through investment rather than the politics of division. No wonder musicians are so shocked and overwhelmed with confusion. Their job performance level has individually and collectively improved while the those with the purse strings have empirically shown quite the opposite. The punishment model that is being espoused from the top down is very puritanical, almost Calvinistic in it’s zeal. I hope the fever breaks soon or the profession will consume itself through very little if any fault of the performing musicians – the beating heart of the profession – the artists themselves.

    very puritanical, Calvinistic

    • Our board members (Cleveland) are a healthy mix of liberals, conservatives and pragmatists – and a quick search for the board chairs of the Troubled 4 shows a similar mix in their political contributions. For the record, I think it’s nobody’s business, but hopefully the facts will put to rest the theory that this spate of slashing has partisan roots.

  2. “…demanding that non-profits act like for-profits?” Really? Since when do for-profit organizations need to make up their 45%-71% cash shortfall by soliciting donations? And it’s somehow bad that the folks who are responsible for finding or giving that large influx of cash are also requesting accountability? (And it’s because of the influence of the Tea-Party–really?) I don’t know of any for-profit business models like that. Either they sell their product (be it goods or services) and make a profit so that they can do it again tomorrow, or they soon go out of business. It isn’t that the times are changing–they HAVE changed. Since when is bringing financial accountability into the equation a dirty word? Only when that accountability doesn’t reflect responsibility, but only supports the status quo. It is so tiring to hear the same responses from both sides of the table. Perhaps a growing trend to make a current player the Exec Dir (Milwaukee and Charleston come to mind immediately) will help to open the door to realistic reflection, rather than fighting to maintain the status quo. Musicians tend to believe their own much easier, than, as Mozzie in “White Collar” likes to call them, “hey SUIT!”

    • Jim, that’s some of what I’m saying… that America HAS changed due to the recent economic near-collapse, which partly gave rise to the uncompromising Tea Party. Large private and corporate donations now have (more) conditions attached. In my earlier statement forgive me for omitting the important word “more” ahead of “like a for-profit”, because it is the relative, not the absolute comparison that I was going for. Only time will tell which changes are long-term.

      Henry, I’m glad you have a diverse board… but I was referring to “the BIGGEST donors” as being largely conservative, not the board overall. Heck, if I could afford to give half a million to an orchestra every year, I might be fiscally conservative too.

  3. To imply that there is a political “balance” on boards and management seems naive, especially considering the present political zeitgeist. “Facts” are not non partisan and “facts” aren’t evidence that necessarily lead to the truth. Any wonder the Minnesota musicians are asking the tough questions about transparency and priorities from their fellow stakeholders.

  4. I agree in some sense. They are doomed if they continue to even attempt reasoning with current management. They could find a way for themselves if they start thinking of some way to make art and money _without_ the support of a corrupted board.

    When one party keeps pulling away the football before you can kick it, the proper response is not to maintain an air of negotiating. Management has already decided they want no orchestra, they just want a shiny orchestra hall they can rent out to one pops concert a year, played by a rented orchestra from another city, and they want to book whatever else they want in the hall the rest of the year. Their idea of reason does not include an orchestra at all, not even a “lesser” orchestra.

    Given the quickly-hidden articles from 2010 saying that finances were fine, and the fact that the donors would probably have liked to know this before investing further in renovations, it’s no wonder the musicians want to see the books so they can decide for themselves what budget they have to work with. Given there have already been financial misrepresentations, they’d be fools to accept management’s word about the books.

    But management is telling us something clearly by not allowing them to see the books. They’re saying that no mater what the book say, they’re not budging. Their offer is not designed to provide a solution that keeps players playing. It’s designed to break the union and squash the orchestra, so management can move on to its plan of hiring other orchestras for guest appearances.

    If that’s what they want, so be it. Maybe we _don’t_ have the money to support a world-class resident orchestra. But I’d hope that the management and board would have the gonads to say so straight to our faces instead of this litany of lies and obfuscations.

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