Letter To The President On The Occasion of His Second Term

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

On the occasion of your first inauguration, I wrote to you with the request to consider building a bold program of cultural diplomacy as one answer to the problem of improving and maintaining international relations. In hindsight, I believe that we can still do much more and I continue to encourage and support your daring leadership in those efforts.

Likewise, I have high hopes that you will seize the value of a second term by leveraging your position to accomplish the following:

  1. Reinstate individual NEA artist grants.
  2. Publicly recognize and validate the significance of the arts as not only our shared cultural heritage but a vital component of a healthy economy and vibrant communities.
  3. Help the arts help themselves by developing and enforcing governance rules and regulations that protect the integrity of arts organizations.

There will undoubtedly be resistance to moving so far in such a comparatively short time but there has never been a better moment to launch these efforts than now and the rewards far outweigh the risks. To that end, we need your administration to encourage progress and lead the way into a new model for success and stability.

Most respectfully,
Drew McManus

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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4 thoughts on “Letter To The President On The Occasion of His Second Term”

  1. Hmmm…#1 is noble but naive. It could put orchestras once again in the position of defending jars of urine as art, and we have quite enough problems already, thank you. #2 is fine. #3: I don’t agree with the management tactics in play in several of the current labor disputes, and there have certainly been some other blunders in the field as well, not related to labor relations. With that said, I don’t think the answer is more regulation/government intervention, and I think both labor and management have to be careful what we wish for, on that one.

    I agree with Andy – I think the President could help a lot by publicly identifying with classical performers (a la JFK; even it was Jackie’s idea, he did it) and visibly attending performances. Unfortunately the current discussion of musical performances and the President, now and as was the case at his first inaguration, seems to be mostly about the pros and cons of lip-synching.

    • On Point #1: Why would orchestras need to fight any specific battle in the old (or potentially future) culture wars? This was one of the greatest failings related to how arts organizations fought the culture wars to begin with and there’s no reason to shy away from it now. Simply put, individual artists deserve consideration for NEA grants every bit as much as arts organizations. Making distinctions only provides greater control for those critical of arts funding.

      On point #3, I entirely agree that everyone involved needs to be careful what they wish for but it is increasingly clear that the traditional forms of self regulation are failing and fast. Short of an alternative solution (which I’m always up for examining) or the field becoming far more aggressive with reinstating self regulation measures, this is better than the path we seem to be traveling.

  2. Public money is dangerous stuff. It can get yanked any time and becomes so politicized.. Private money can be diversified and broadened. I am amazed at how a pittance of public money affords so much public outcry and demands leveled against an orchestra for what it is supposed to be doing according to PC critics. Of course, nobody wants to turn down public money. It’s not really the NEAs place to finance culture itself, nor can they.They are just about toast, anyway. But, what if the president and first lady were leaders in the idea that ” classical music study brings better outcomes for children” and hosted regular concerts at the White House? What if tax-paying parents started demanding that music be part of the curriculum again, just like the private schools? What if all those children studying music again needed to be inspired to play in the first place by attending youth concerts and open rehearsals? This new mantra of “education first” is a wave that could be ridden by orchestras.

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