Atlanta Approaches Another DeadlineUpdate: tentative deal in the works…

Adaptistration People 136The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) lockout approaches its latest in a series of deadlines this weekend and if they fall short of reaching an agreement, you can expect another round of concert cancellations. According to an article in the 10/5/2014 Journal-Constitution by Howard Pousner, mediated negotiations resumed that day but at the time this article was written, an agreement as failed to materialize.

Barring considerable movement on key issues of wages and numbers of musicians employed, it is highly unlikely they will reach a new agreement before cancelling additional events. Over the past two weeks, musicians have conceded a number of terms, including sharply concessionary terms to benefits but their employer, the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC), remains firmly entrenched on its position to eliminate any required minimum number of employed musicians.

According to a report in the 11/5/2014 edition of by Jenny Jarvie, the WAC is maneuvering to eliminate as many as 30 full time musicians via an early retirement offer and replace with substitute musicians.

Some [ASO musicians] note that management is also proposing a voluntary early retirement incentive of $150,000 for experienced, tenured players who make up about a third of the company’s existing ensemble.

Management has argued that the early retirement offer, which would be paid for by a private donor, will not impact the orchestra’s repertoire, and that the company would simply bring in more part-time players.

Meanwhile, one concerned ASO patron, Robbie Clark, has taken it upon himself to launch a series of articles hammering WAC leadership this week with allegations of mismanagement and attempts to conceal conflicts of interest. To date, and outside of Clark’s individual efforts, the presence of an organized audience advocacy group capable of wielding a measurable degree of influence has been less than noticeable when compared to similar efforts in Minnesota during its recent season-killing lockout.


It looks like both sides managed to reach a tentative agreement and early reports point toward the WAC making concessions on minimum numbers of guaranteed musicians in exchange for added wages concessions from the musicians. Stay tuned…

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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36 thoughts on “Atlanta Approaches Another DeadlineUpdate: tentative deal in the works…”

    • Thanks for your note Wanda, I’ve been following the Facebook page for some time now although I do notice that there is no indication about any of the individuals who founded the group, if there are any officers/directors, a mailing address, etc. Moreover, what is your role in the organization?

  1. While it may not equal the efforts of Save Our Symphony Minnesota yet, there is, in fact, a Save Our Symphony Atlanta presence on Facebook. According to their statistics, as of today, they have 9,388 followers. That is not an unsubstantial number to have been built up in 2 months, especially considering the fact that SOS Minnesota only has 11,840 members after 2 years.

    This is where I go to get my news about all efforts to support the musicians and the movement that seems to be underway to investigate the financial mismanagement of the WAC. According to their page, they will have a blog up soon.

  2. WAC management has usurped the fiduciary responsibilities from the ASO Board and impose untenable demands. Following so closely on the heels of the last lockout -the one in which they said “this is all we need to fix the financial issues” is repugnant. WAC Management plays fast and loose with the numbers, and few trust their accounting or claims. The self-dealing is rampant (witness all the related-party transactions relative to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, for example). The minimal fundraising efforts of the ASO – and the gutting of community programming such as the summer parks series, have caused a drop in individual donations. If these draconian personnel cuts are enacted, you can kiss any future Grammy’s goodbye – — as well as most of the experienced musicians, who will scatter to other, more secure orchestras.

    • This is very interesting comment Kate, I’m particularly interested in your use of the word usurped, which implies the ASO board was at one point the legal stewards of public trust. Since the initial lockout two years ago, it seems that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the role and responsibilities of each board; to that end, and if the dispute does not resolve by next week, I think it is high time to analyze how the board relationships are structured.

      • The WAC should be the umbrella for facilities management and logistics, integrating the entities – High Museum, Alliance Theater, ASO and Young Audiences. Those entities should have robust and independent boards to manage the mission of each – visual arts, dramatic arts, musical arts and arts education. I’ve been very disappointed by the lack of clear information and the convoluted transactions of the WAC to each entity.

      • That’s certainly a reasonable perspective on how the relationship might be structured and in what you’ve described, the WAC would function as a service provider to the three separate institutions. I’m assuming, but correct me if I’m wrong, that you’re purporting each of those three groups operates under its own unique 501(c)3.

      • Drew, you have hit the nail on the head. Unlike other major Symphony Orchestras across the country, the ASO does NOT operate under its own 501(c)3, nor do any of the other member divisions of the WAC. With its single 501(c)3, the WAC is the umbrella corporation and holds ALL the power, to be used or misused, as the case may be.

      • They do not, Drew, but perhaps ought to — for multiple reasons, moistly concerning how “allocations” take place and how donations are accepted and directed, and those funds ultimately managed. I would personally like to see the WAC split up like “the telephone company” was years ago, with the ASO’s endowment going entirely with that split-off 501(c)(3).

      • You’ve certainly hit on the prime issues related to how difficult the process is for groups like this to divide into mutually exclusive 501(c)3 organizations; specifically how endowments are divided. the blending of monies involved make it impossible for all of the resources to be divided via a simple division of funds based on donor intent. Having said all of that, it certainly isn’t impossible either.

  3. Thank you for your reporting on the ASO lockout, but I have to differ with you about the absence of an organized audience advocacy group. If you will check the Robbie Reports blog, you will see that he has partnered with Save Our Symphony Atlanta to get his reports distributed. SOSA has an active presence on Facebook (with almost 9400 followers) and Twitter and has been promoting letter-writing campaigns, participation in pickets and demonstrations by the orchestra members, and other efforts to support our beloved orchestra. Members of the all-volunteer Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus (who are also patrons and donors to the orchestra) have also been very active, both on their own and in tandem with SOSA. (

    • Thanks for your note Keith, and for the sake of accuracy, my article doesn’t assert that there is an absence of an organized patron activity, rather, it states that any group capable of wielding a measurable degree of influence has been less than noticeable when compared to similar efforts.

  4. MANY are supporting the Atlanta Symphony musicians during the lockout. Maybe this perception that their supporters are not as visible as MN’s orchestra, is due more to the current length of the lockout and the lack of media coverage for it. Musicians, listeners, patrons, teachers, students, Atlantans and many others statewide and in the region have been indefatigable in their efforts on behalf of the musicians. Visit the Save Our Symphony Atlanta Facebook page for a more accurate representation of the support from people of the city of Atlanta and surrounding areas for our dear orchestra. What The Woodruff Arts Center is trying to get away with, briefly alluded to in your article, is to punish the musicians for questionable financial planning, conflicts of interest, with a disregard for the transparency needed to understand exactly what has transpired behind the scenes. Much more reporting needs to appear about those issues, rather than the merits of destroying an orchestra that has done nothing except be an exemplary reflection of musical artistry in Atlanta.

  5. As an amateur cellist and ASO patron, I am deeply concerned about the lockout and strongly believe that the complement must be rebuilt. Aside from donating more money and attending the ATL Symphony Musicians concerts, I feel there has been little I can do. I wish I knew more ways I could help show my commitment to the ASO musicians.

  6. It took nearly one year for patrons in Minnesota to get fully engaged. Save Our Symphony Atlanta has jumped into action much earlier in the process. Let us hope that the administration in Atlanta comes to their senses much faster than the 16 months that it took to end the lockout in Minnesota.

  7. I am a patron of ASO weeping for the cancelled concert. I had a membership to ASO but I forgot to renew when the WAC stopped to call for renewal as they were doing every year. I have a museum membership but I plan to call WAC and cancel it if they don’t stop the lockout and resume the 70th season. Players are phenomenal and I still remember personally some older ones when they were coming in the local public school for a Saturday full of music and learning: they have done a lot for Atlanta community. Chorus singers have volunteered all their wonderful performance. What do you want more from artists? Why don’t we ask the same to board members? Please do all of us living in Atlanta a favor WAC board: RESIGN!

  8. I am an avid supporter of the Atlanta Symphony Musicians, my son has performed with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and his teacher is a member of the ASO. This lockout by the WAC is devastating to, not only our musicians, but the youth of our city who had looked forward to performing with the ASYO and being coached by the ASO musicians. The outreach they do for the schools will be felt for years to come if we don’t get our beloved musicians back on stage. I sincerely hope that the investigations into corruption by the WAC board members continues to hold them accountable for their mismanagement of the orchestra’s funding and endowments. The compliment of musicians needs to stay in the hands of the music director, Maestro Spano, and out of the hands of the no-nothing board. If this board were running the Braves, Falcons, or Hawks in the way they are running the ASO, the sports fans would be all over them. There are thousands of us Atlantans who love our orchestra. Tarring and feathering the board is too good for the WAC board.

  9. My heart goes out to the ASO musicians. Even more so, my heart goes out to the state of Georgia. We are losing a world class orchestra. The level of musicianship has been a guiding light for the community, and it seems that the WAC is content to destroy this. I have read allegations of money being intentionally withheld from the symphony to create a deficit. It seems the administration is perfectly happy to throw musicians out on the street leaving them to fend for themselves. Perhaps they are secretly thrilled to hear that several players have found new jobs with other major symphonies. I, for one, am disgusted. If the WAC continues with their actions, the ASO will soon be nothing more than a community orchestra. The administration who are in charge of looking after the ASO appear to be the ones most hell bent on destroying it.

  10. I would have to disagree with your assessment that “…outside of Clark’s individual efforts, the presence of an organized audience advocacy group capable of wielding a measurable degree of influence has been less than noticeable…” Save Our Symphony Atlanta has garnered over 9,000 likes since the Facebook page was started, less than two months ago, which is no small feat. Furthermore, ATL Symphony Musicians has over 12,000 likes, and constantly posts articles, pictures and status updates showing support and solidarity from listeners and other musicians around the country. It would be great if you could update your article to reflect these two groups’ impact on the lockout situation. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment and your final sentence is where we run into the gray area. Setting aside for a moment that the ATL Symphony Musicians is the association comprised of the ASO musicians and not an audience advocacy group, Save Our Symphony Atlanta has no discernible presence outside of the FB page. There is no official association; no list of founders, leaders, directors, etc.; they issue no press statements; there are no bylaws; in short, it’s very much a collection of like-minded individuals willing and capable of demonstrating support for a cause, but that’s not the same as a formal association. It’s certainly a likely place where a formal presence can form, but they aren’t there yet and wielding influence is better served with a formal structure that provides points of contact and is responsible for actions and outcomes.

  11. During the lockout, ATL Symphony Musicians have made it their goal to continue their work in educational outreach to further classical music in the Atlanta community. This is a crucial area. The WAC and ASO Management have systematically cut back community orchestra programming and education in their eagerness to reduce costs. In response to this situation, the ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation was created by the players to find playing opportunities and fund them through donorship and paid-ticket concerts. The Foundation’s mission has been to partner with schools, work with band and orchestra directors, perform free concerts, mentor auditions, hold master classes, provide career planning. (When ASO’s management cancelled the season through Nov. 8, they also cancelled concerts at Kennesaw University, which the players were scheduled to perform as KSU’s orchestra-in-residence. The ATL Symphony Musician Foundation pays participating musicians a living wage, which allowed them to perform those free concerts as scheduled.) You will not find a more dedicated, or active group of people than these players, who are working to preserve not only their livelihoods and organization, but their artistic reputation and the symphonic arts for the next generation of symphony musicians. The players are committed to living here in Atlanta; they send their kids to school here, and consider themselves a necessary part of Atlanta’s cultural, educational, and social fabric. Save Our Symphony Atlanta is a widespread citizens advocacy group, dedicated to raising awareness on the issues surrounding the lockout, helping promote community concerts, steer funding to the musicians, letting people know how they can help and providing systems for doing that. The ASOC Singers and Friends Blog is where you will find the ongoing work of the chorus, which was begun during the last lockout (2012) and continues to this day. The work of these three entities will continue, even after a settlement is reached. Save Our Symphony Atlanta on Facebook

  12. As an Australian composer living in the USA, I have contributed music to this great orchestra in their quest to engage the wider community with the incredible sounds of the orchestra. I recall the words of Gough Whitlam, late Prime Minister of Australia and a giant of sweeping reforms.

    He said of his government:

    ‘In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be seen as remote from everyday life. Of all the objectives of my government, none had a higher priority than the encouragement of the arts; the preservation and enrichment of our cultural and intellectual heritage. Indeed, I would argue that all other objectives of a Labor government — social reform, justice and equity in the provision of welfare services and educational opportunities — have as their goal the creation of a society in which the arts and the appreciation of spiritual and intellectual values can flourish.

    “‘Our other objectives are all means to an end. The enjoyment of the arts is an end in itself.’

    Australia is watching you Atlanta.

    Save our Atlanta Symphony.

    • Gough Whitlam’s words are so important and true and I thank Sean O’Boyle for sharing them. It is shameful that the WAC seems determined to turn our great treasure of an orchestra into a shadow of its former self. It is an assault on the spiritual health (precarious as it is!) of the Atlanta community. I’ve been a subscriber and supporter of the symphony, and at this point in my life would be able to contribute more substantially, but not as long as the WAC is calling the shots — who could think of handing over hard earned dollars to these destroyers? What to do?

  13. I am a long-time ASO patron and am beyond disgusted with the mismanagement by the WAC Board. In light of the dishonorable actions by the Board in locking out the musicians for the second time, I have cancelled my membership to the High Museum and will boycott any WAC activities until an equitable agreement is reached.

    I have given money to the ATL Symphony Musicians but don’t know what else I can do. I would appreciate any suggestions of people to contact who have pull in this situation and who are willing to listen.

  14. Drew, I understand what you’re saying. But I’m not sure that bringing up an inflammatory comparison between the two audience advocacy groups is helpful or enlightening…especially at this early stage of the conflict. As others have pointed out above, it’s early.

    It would be newsworthy if there WAS an audience advocacy group capable of wielding a measurable degree of influence weeks into a conflict. As points of reference for bystanders reading…

    Save Our Symphony Detroit set up its blog about ten weeks into the 2010 strike.

    SOSMN didn’t begin for about ten months into the lockout (although Orchestrate Excellence began about eight weeks into the lockout).

    Right now we’re nine weeks into the Atlanta lockout, and SOSA has already been pumping out Facebook content for weeks.

    Emily E Hogstad, SOSMN volunteer

      • Inflammatory on is defined as “tending to arouse anger, hostility, passion, etc.,” which is the definition I had in mind. And the comparison between the two groups clearly aroused passion, as well as defensiveness (see the many preceding comments). I personally feel that a comparison between two similar organizations, combined with the insinuation that one in its infancy has not been as effective as the other in its adulthood, could easily be perceived as inflammatory.


      • Thanks for the clarity Emily; it’s always good to see patrons passionate about their respective orchestra. In the wake of the impending agreement, I’m curious to see if the audience advocacy efforts in Atlanta actually materialize into a formal association as opposed to its current social media based configuration. Nonetheless, to assume that my statements about effectiveness transfer wholesale to matters of passion and support is, to put it mildly, a stretch.

      • Not really, but you do appear to be having a good time looking for controversy where none exists. 🙂

        The vast majority of comments to this post focus on expressing sentiments about specific aspects related to the lockout, declaring support for musicians, and/or to point out that a patron support page exists at Facebook; all of which are highly commendable actions. I encourage anyone who feels strongly about their respective arts organization(s) to do exactly the same thing.

        Social media has certainly gone a long way toward amplifying sentiments such as those expressed here along with providing an improved platform for individuals to connect; from a historical perspective, those are comparatively new advancements yet these sentiments have existed for decades in comparatively large ratios during labor disputes. Consequently, it shouldn’t be startling to see them here during this round of Atlanta’s labor trouble.

      • Oh, no, rest assured I’m not having a good time. 🙂 I’m an INFP; conflict is hard on us (which is why writing so much about Minnesota over the past couple years was in many ways very draining!). I just wanted to gently point out that some people were feeling defensive about the comparison (even though of course that wasn’t what you were intending!). To give further context, that’s judging not just by what has appeared in this comment section, but also on the SOSA Facebook page and on my Atlanta Facebook friends’ pages.

        It’s really a small thing and doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The important thing is we agree that patron involvement is FABULOUS, and that we will both be keeping an eye on what materializes from here. Signing off now. No hard feelings.

        Peace, Emily

      • Finally! Many thanks Mark, there are now names attached and a minimum degree of formality although they would have likely been far better off forming as a LLC; ideally an L3C would have been best but Georgia has yet to join the new economy in that sense and begin recognizing this type of business entity.

  15. I’m shocked that the leaders of Atlanta and the state of Georgia have not taken a more active role in supporting the musicians. Purely as a business decision, it makes sense for them to want to save one of the true gems of culture in the Southeast. The ONLY reason we come to Atlanta is to hear the symphony, and when we are there we spend money for meals, a hotel, parking, etc. If Atlanta diminishes the quality of its orchestra, it will suffer a national and global black eye. Detroit supports a fine orchestra, but somehow Atlanta can’t? Instead of asking for additional help from patrons BEFORE the contract expired, WAC locked out the musicians and then made a series of boneheaded decisions that have made them look even worse than they had already. They do not even acknowledge email messages; they have shut down comments on the ASO Facebook page; and they seem to be hell-bent on alienating potential donors. I will never donate to WAC, although I look forward to helping out with the Symphony when I can be sure that my donation will be used _for the symphony_, not for bonuses to incompetent executives. I hope that music lovers from around the U. S. will post on the WAC Facebook page, which (so far at least) is allowing comments to be posted:

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