Stop Being So Goddamn Nice!

With all the frenzied attention on the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) strike it almost seemed like that was the only work stoppage taking place. Almost. Once the shiny curiosity of the SFS started to wear off, it became tough to miss the hulking twin disasters that are the thirteen or so fortnight long lockouts at the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

noBoth work stoppages have festered for so long that in order to add some variety to the discussion, one must resort to antiquated measurements of time just to add some faux variety to the otherwise well worn topics.

Fortunately, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond has added a genuine spark to the debate with a post from 3/18/2013 that spoke candidly about what he thinks might be some of the problem in all of this. In short, the Minnesota temperament may be too good for its own good.

It was interesting to hear one person reflect on one aspect of why they left the MN Orchestra many years ago, despite its considerable artistic cachet and (at that time) unmistakable upward trajectory. To paraphrase- “If there’s a serious problem, everyone puts their head in the sand. People in Minnesota hate conflict, and this is Exhibit A. Even the audience seems to think that it’s better to sit back and let it all play out rather than get off their asses and directly confront this idiotic Board; it’s just part of the culture up there. This time things may really come crashing down; they probably have already”.


I lack the details of the local politics and personality clashes that are such a huge part of this now…but what I find most amazing is that this is Minneapolis, a city with a supposedly literate, highly-educated, culturally aware populace, and an economy that (while not ideal) is certainly able to sustain (and has sustained) major cultural institutions for decades… I cannot think of another instance in which such a shining point of civic pride was abandoned for what now appear to be ideological and mean-spirited motivations, not to mention outright stupidity and incompetence.

For a moment, I thought Bill Eddins had marched across the Inside The Arts blogging borders to annex Almond’s blog; after all, barbed observation directed toward the MOA executive leadership has been a recurring theme in his articles this past year.

Nonetheless, that’s not usually Almond’s style; but after triple checking, it was indeed a genuine Almond article.

And this seemingly inconsequential point should make some of the MOA board members pause and take a step back to get a better view of exactly what their colleagues on the executive committee, not to mention the CEO they are accountable for, are really doing. If you’re on the MOA board and you’re not sure what I mean, simply reach out and get to know Frank Almond. Once you do, it won’t take long for the light bulb to go off.

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 “Stop Being So Goddamn Nice!”

  1. It would behoove all other orchestras headed into negotiations to look at the two Minnesota orchestras and now the SFO situation and ask yourself if you are headed in the same direction. The strike and lockouts didn’t just happen by accident. Chances are extremely high that management thought the process through and did their homework and preparing for a stoppage of any type. Musicians weren’t prepared for this and quite possibly they never will be because management isn’t working with their own personal money as musicians are. I don’t have the answer to either side (publicly that is), but my suggestion is for musicians to be more diligent with their homework. Remember, the lawyers get paid on both sides whether you work or not. They are happy to dig in and ride it out. They are the winners. The losers? The musicians, management and the public. I speak from experience.

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