Sometimes I Scare Myself

I’m honored and humbled to be at the center of Joe Patti’s 58/2013 Butts In The Seats article titled “It Only Appears A Mockery of Reality” where he harkens back to a series of Adaptistration posts from 2004 and 2006. Patti drills down on a series of Mock Negotiation exercises I conducted for the MBA students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration and Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership.

Adaptistration People 146These mock negotiation exercises had the students negotiating as the musician representatives and thrust them into a fictional world of an orchestra master agreement negotiation that was loaded with conflict, damned-if-you-do choices, and emotionally charged hostile relationships.

I recall that at the time the parameters for these exercises were seen as a bit melodramatic, most academics I pitched on the idea thought it didn’t have any real practical application and only promoted divisiveness.

But even before the economic downturn when the field was riding high on record gains, it was clear to me that winter was coming.

In the case of the UW-Madison Mock Negotiations, the timing was freakishly ideal; almost two years to the date before the economic downturn would have been just enough time to adequately prepare the latest generation of arts administrators for what was coming.

In hindsight, it would have been beneficial if I leveraged connections better or simply pushed professors and department heads to implement the mock negotiations in as many schools as possible. It would have been equally useful to conduct similar exercises via professional development offerings from the major service organizations.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

At the same time, this mock negotiation session (and variations thereof) is still an ideal endeavor, albeit from the perspective of an all too real world reference rather than an exaggerated academic exercise. So I hope to hear from academics and service organizations alike to see about scheduling one of these sessions.

UW-Madison Mock Negotiation Series

UW-Madison Mock Negotiation Reflections Part 1

UW-Madison Mock Negotiation Reflections Part 2

Mock Negotiations: Contrasts & Comparisons

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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3 thoughts on “Sometimes I Scare Myself”

  1. Thank you for your article, Drew. When I was the Rektor of The International Theater Academy Norway in Oslo (2008-10), where we combined practical business & entrepreneurial skills with performing arts training in theater, we did exercises related to contract-negotiation. These were based on, and in some cases lead by, Aaron Landsman (USA), based on his work with Creative Capital in New York. And later, while in residence in Chicago with my company Ensemble Free Theater Norway at the Greenhouse Theatre (2010), we collaborated with Lisa Canning, who was beginning to develop her Institute for Arts & Entrepreneurship, now in its 2nd academic year. Similar to my program in Oslo, IAE aims to offer business practices for artists across disciplines.

    Currently, I manage a Theatre in Western Australia. I think the kinds of mock-negotiations that you are discussing would be invaluable for professionals as well as students in the performing arts (theatre & dance) industry here. Perhaps we can talk and see how we can facilitate something together here?

    Brendan McCall
    Manager, Cummins Theatre

    Artistic Director, Ensemble Free Theater Norway

  2. I’m especially interested in how prescient the UW-Madison session was in light of what’s happening in Minnesota – management presents a terrible first offer, musicians find irregularities in the financials, and the musicians walk away in disgust without even presenting a counteroffer.

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