To Withhold Or Not To Withhold

There’s a fascinating discussion underway in the comment thread from the 7/19/13 article about the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Specifically, there’s a good bit of back and forth on the issue of whether or not patrons who are still angry and hurt over a lockout that ultimately gutted the musician roster and produced little to no change in leadership should begin to once again support the institution with ticket purchases and donations.

ITA-GUY-113To put it mildly, this is a sensitive topic but one of the dynamic byproducts from the Season of Discontent is the rise in organized patron stakeholdership. The field has witnessed a veritable flood of independent audience associations and support groups in cities where labor disputes and work stoppages have ravaged the local orchestra. The result is an increase in the amount patrons can influence an orchestra’s strategic decision making process.

But back to the uncomfortable issue at hand, those same patrons almost always end up in a position where they have to decide if the aftermath merits their support; especially in the wake of instances where the change came in the form of sizable musician departures and little to no changes in institutional leadership.

There are a number of perspectives being tossed about in the discussion thread that are worth reading but what do you think?

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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9 thoughts on “To Withhold Or Not To Withhold”

  1. Here’s an interesting article – more “admin” personnel (where did they get the money?) and the first comment:

    http://blogs.mprnews.org/state-of-the-arts/2013/07/retired-violinist-tom-kornacker-takes-new-role-at-the-spco/

    What a deplorable state. anyone who isn’t already familiar should know that Mr. Kornacker was a key figure in working with Mr. Coppack during the former’s initial term as president to bring about changes in the workplace that favored his position. It is certainly no coincidence that Mr. Kornacker supported Mr. Coppock’s return without notifying his fellow musicians about the decision and this was all likely in the works to help marginalize collective representation and assert an unchallenged level of authority to warp young minds as they see fit.

    The quid pro quo on the dime of a nonprofit should be enough to make anyone sick and to brazenly grind insult into injury into the faces of the musicians who pushed back but ultimately surrendered to draconian tactics is not only disheartening, it is out and out criminal.

    Anyone who previously loved the SPCO should cease buying tickets and giving donations.

  2. This particular question has had me in a bit of a quandary – one hates to give money to something or someone that one finds to be odious. In this particular instance though, if one finds the executive and board leadership of an orchestra to be the odious party and one withholds one’s donation or ticket purchase the board and executive leadership become right – there is not enough community support to maintain the organization. Unfortunately for the patrons who want to support orchestra musicians by making sure they have employment the way that is accomplished is by purchasing tickets to concerts and making donations to the musicians employer. I hope in the now resolved SPCO situation, their patrons come back to concerts and that patrons see supporting the orchestra as a way to heal the wounds which would likely only become deeper if the people who care the most about the orchestra (whether it be the musicians themselves or the SPCO organization which of course encompasses the musicians) decide to no longer give their support.

  3. I’m pretty convinced there is no good solution here. The system as it is doesn’t work. End of story. Some ideas to try to reform it…

    The following are going to have to be embraced by rogue managements or rogue boards in order to work (in other words, don’t hold your breath it will happen):

    – a voting system, where regular people get to vote in community members to positions of influence on the board
    – a recall system, whereby if enough signatures are collected by the community the board is obligated to kick the CEO or board chair or both out
    – a program whereby board members partner with smaller donors to better hear and understand their concerns
    – regular open houses with board leadership, the CEO, and audiences that are covered by the press
    – a rule that board leaders are required to respond to patrons’ letters and emails (in Minnesota, board chair Jon Campbell literally disconnected his phone when too many patrons were calling him complaining about his handling of the lockout)

    In short, anything that triggers accountability and constructive dialogue.

    The following could work with musician/patron cooperation, leaving rogue managements and rogue boards out of it entirely:

    – a separate fund maintained by musicians that goes directly to support them and is not an endorsement of management’s tactics
    – a fundraising drive by patrons to create a large gift that will be delivered to management in five years’ time if certain conditions are met
    – detailed reporting by individuals on what’s happening, probably in blog form (don’t look to the mainstream press for that; those reporters don’t have the time or inclination to cover and analyze every little development within an orchestra that isn’t locked out)

    Obviously there’s a lot less you can do as an audience member when management doesn’t want to work with you.

    Ideally you never get into this conundrum in the first place. But we obviously did. So the system needs to be re-hauled. Regular citizens need to have more input into the governing process. But the cynical part of me fears an organization will need to be started from scratch for that to ever happen. Those who have power don’t give it up easily, especially when they’re in an echo chamber and they think they’re doing an amazing job.

  4. Mgmt and Board have not been interested – for the past several years – in any sort of fundraising or audience involvement. They had their Grand Coppock plan and are convinced that it will solve their fiscal problems. The (millionaire) Board is considered to be sufficient for any sort of audience representation. There will be no major changes and the musicians will continue to suffer unless mgmt and Board are changed.

  5. Support – or lack of it – can also be used as leverage. There will be another contract to negotiate in a few years. We will see what the situation is then. In the meantime, I feel it is up to those who support the “new model” in theory to support it financially. This isn’t over yet by any means.

  6. Emily’s suggestion of some form of accountability and possibility to change poses good alternatives to the current vast sucking vacuum caused by the absence of either any meaningful system of checks and balances, or any form of artistic or audience input into the management and board decision-making process.

    Bill Eddins radical suggestions of a total revamping of the model of orchestral governance include well-thought-out, feasible solutions to the woes that face the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra, and should be required reading for boards, management teams, philanthropists, concerned audience members, and musicians to see what they’re doing well, and where they’re oblivious and failing. http://www.insidethearts.com/sticksanddrones/2013/05/10/billeddins/13906/

    What’s needed from all parties? Engagement. Accountability. Commitment. Openness to listen to and try to understand other points of view. Above all, Love and Understanding of the art of symphonic music and musicians and what it can and should bring to a community.

  7. Emily, I agree with your thinking. At one point, I was thinking that Orchestrate Excellence could organize and implement a fundraising campaign that would involve pledges — IOUs from patrons, donors, anyone — that would not be collected until certain conditions were met in the current situation. It would provide a window into community support and fundraising for the orchestra. Glad to see someone is thinking about this too!

  8. I think Becky Brown makes some astute points. I’m really torn. I’ve been a loyal supporter of the MN Orchestra for over 30 years — not always financial but always a supporter. The way I feel now, I’m not certain I want to be connected in any way to the Minnesota Orchestral Association as long as current management is still there. I want the MN Orchestra to continue its existence with management that cares about classical music, artistic integrity and excellence, and knows that its job is to support those who know more about artistic matters than it does and keeps its nose out of artistic planning, auditions, and programming. This lockout has made me so angry about the way management has treated the musicians, I’m not sure I could ever be able to forgive them and move on. How does one do that? This management team has no clue the damage they’ve already done. I cannot support a management team that is so clueless, closed, and unwilling to listen to the community they are supposed to be serving. We’ll see what I finally decide. It’s definitely not final…..

  9. my donor days are over for either orchestra as long as the current leadership is in place. minimally the exodus of the executive committees. coppock has been on the board of the spco throughout the lockout with no apparent dissent. his last tenure was terrific but i will only buy concert tickets for the foreseeable future

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