The Curious Case Of Carlos’ Compensation

There’s an intriguing discussion brewing in Portland, OR where Oregon Arts Watch executive editor, Barry Johnson, ran into a brick wall while attempting to verify the annual compensation for Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar. It started with an article by Johnson on 10/29/2013 that reported on the conductor’s contract being extended through June, 2018 which also referenced a corresponding compensation figure from Adaptistration’s 2013 Compensation Reports.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-152According to Johnson, the Oregon Symphony disputes the figure but when he asked for the correct amount, Johnson reports that the organization wouldn’t divulge the information.

As it turns out, Johnson went to great lengths to better understand the orchestra’s position and spoke with several representatives, including Janet Plummer, Interim Co-President & Chief Financial Officer. He published those accounts, along with feedback from me about the compensation report data, in a follow-up article on 10/30/2013.

I won’t spoil the details but suffice to say, Johnson’s article is one of the most clear-cut contributions on the topic of music director compensation in quite some time. Perhaps needless to say, it is well worth your time and at one point, he asks the question that crosses most minds when orchestras fail to embrace transparency.

So, why so coy about the actual number?

It is important to point out that the vast majority of nonprofit orchestral associations have no trouble complying with IRS requirements as they related to executive compensation; granted, those figures are fodder for disagreements between respective stakeholders but they are there nonetheless. As such, it is always puzzling when the occasional group comes along to challenge this common transparency practice. These actions rarely produce anything but a blow to public relations when they could be used as an opportunity to justify value and the end result of a rigorous and transparent executive review process.

In the end, it will be interesting to see where Johnson’s investigation leads.

In the meantime, what do you think about the Oregon situation and the larger issue of transparency and compensation?

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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6 thoughts on “The Curious Case Of Carlos’ Compensation”

    • In addition to the elimination of numerous administrative positions the staff has also taken a pay cut. Existing staff is serving double duty in an interim executive director capacity. Carlos has demonstrated his commitment to the community by moving his permanent residence to Portland and without a doubt the driving force behind the artistic improvement in the last decade (no disrespect to Jimmy).

      More transparency is the bottom line. The number appears to be in the 990s and looking at Drew’s Premium content the number is consistent with other orchestras (as % of total expenditures).

  1. Having read Johnson’s excellent piece, I’m struck that the symphony’s response is “I cannot say what the number is but it is not that particular number”. This suggests that Johnson, or any journalist, could try publishing a variety of numbers until the symphony can no longer deny the number is incorrect, a la The Price Is Right. Is this a new style of communication? In the age of email and telephone and print journalism, with a newspaper that cares enough to follow the symphony’s goings-on, are we supposed to stab each other in the dark until someone is forced to say something “true”?

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