As If There Weren’t Enough Problems Already

A colleague of mine posted a picture of a frozen rat on a Chicago city sidewalk via his Facebook wall yesterday with the caption “Even the rats are suffering, folks. Even the rats. #PolarVortex” and on the same day, one of my clients in Florida sent an email noting that there was a 93 degree difference between her temperature and Chicago, 123 degrees if you factor in the wind chill. And they aren’t just Whistlin’ Dixie, the global warming induced record low temps have had a profound impact on Chicago arts org attendance levels and so goes the same for other areas impacted by the shifting Polar Vortex.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-105Well prepared arts groups positioned in northern states have always maintained a certain degree of wiggle room when it comes to events and inclement winter weather in that they can expect a certain percentage of cancellations thanks to snow and ice. But what happens if extremes such as the current bout of weather become the norm for the next few years; do you cut back on next season’s winter schedule or risk absorbing even larger losses in lost earned income?

It’s one thing to have emergency plans in place but something like the recent changes in weather patterns that carry the potential for increased risk over lost earned income over the next few seasons throw one more item on top of the ample pile of reasons behind the need for expanding contingency funds. Simply put, you don’t want to end up as the arts org equivalent of a frozen rat on the sidewalk.

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 “As If There Weren’t Enough Problems Already”

  1. Last night my wife watched Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and I must admit to being drawn in. It’s 8 years old and the predictions he shared in 2006 are definitely coming true across the world – coastline and river flooding in the UK, extreme temps in Winter and Summer in the USA and India, etc. We need the live arts more than ever to boost morale and keep people communicating with each other, especially if they can’t get out the house. I’m wondering if good old Radio will be making a comeback as a reliable source of sharing live music…

  2. Interesting observations Stephen, I haven’t thought about that since when it came out (and I admittedly don’t remember much about it) but I’ll have to find some time to give it another go.

  3. Drew, when you ask “do you cut back on next season’s winter schedule or risk absorbing even larger losses in lost earned income?”, the next question is “where else on the calendar would those revenue-producing events go?” Many orchestras explicitly define their main season as a September through May affair and fill their available dates in that timeframe already. There’s no way to stay out of January and February; for many of us, summer is a completely separate animal and may not even be included in the contract year. I’m not suggesting any ready solution, just pointing out that if weather events like this week’s “Polar Vortex” become common in the northern US, all of us may have a lot of re-thinking to do. As it was, it was probably a great thing for the field that the coldest days associated with this week’s event were Monday and Tuesday; not typically big performance nights. If the deep freeze was over the weekend, that would have been bad news for us here in Dayton, for sure.

  4. And that’s the $10k question. I think that issue will ultimately be addressed based on whether or not the group has minimum service requirements in place or not but assuming it is the former, then you’re absolutely right in observing the additional layer of issues to deal with.

    Setting aside the potential conflict involved with those discussions, the experience does have some potential for positive results in that it provides a very good reason to reexamine conventional wisdom with regard to scheduling. Older assessments may not hold true plus there’s the unknown variables of how lower potential winter attendance may impact spring audiences.

    Then again, I did receive a text message from a Canadian colleague this morning that simply read “welcome to our reality” so there’s also something to be said for not being too much of an alarmist.

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