Service Organizations And Principles

There’s a fascinating article by Lee Rosenbaum in the 3/27/2014 edition of her CultureGrrl column where she discusses the decision by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) to denounce one of their members for selling off key items from their collection in order to pay for debts and build the endowment.

question markAccording to Rosenbaum, the decision was prompted because the museum in question, the Delaware Art Museum (DAM), violated an AAM principle that “the museum is there to save the collection; the collection is not there to save the museum.”

AAM standards dictate that proceeds from deaccessioning be used for either further acquisitions for the collection or for direct care of the collection. Clearly, the announced parameters of this pending sale meet neither of these strictures.

Rosenbaum goes on to state that DAM’s actions potentially damage public trust and tear away at long term sustainability.

It is fascinating to juxtapose this action with what has been happening within the orchestra field over the past several years.

What got me thinking about this was the comment from a Minnesota Orchestra Association board member who recently resigned in protest over their controversial CEO being dismissed. Her statement was excerpted in the 3/28/14 edition of the Star-Tribune and made it clear that her governance position was that the board should be more supportive of executive leaders rather than the institution as a whole.

“By encouraging a person to resign — one who had tirelessly helped us work toward sustainability — we send the wrong message to future applicants for that position,” wrote Teri E. Popp, a Wayzata attorney and member of the board’s executive committee, in a letter to board chairman Gordon Sprenger.

When the insanity that was the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute was at its peak, the field’s primary service organization, The League of American Orchestras, remained mute on the executive committee’s governance practices and actions by the CEO.

Moreover, I’m not aware that the League even maintains principles similar to those adopted by AAM and if so, they certainly don’t rise to the level of actionable results like those highlighted in Rosenbaum’s article.

Granted, this is a well-worn topic but in light of the AAM’s actions, I’m curious to know what you think and if it makes you think about things from a new perspective. Should other service organizations take note and adopt similar policies?

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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