Heading Toward A Dark Place In Hartford

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) appears to be the latest candidate for a particularly ugly labor dispute. Over the past month, several news outlets have been reporting on a deteriorating situation that appears to be headed toward one of two options: an imposed collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or a work stoppage.

The 7/1/2015 edition of broadwayworld.com published an article that reports the HSO board recently approved a strategic plan and annual budget that calls for a 40 percent reduction in musician expenses primary through a cut in guaranteed services. Currently, the HSO musician tiers are structured in a hybrid core/per-service configuration:

  • Tier 1: salaried, 33 musicians, 180 guaranteed services per season
  • Tier 2: per-service, 22 musicians, 108 guaranteed services per season
  • Tier 3: per-service, 31 musicians, 51 guaranteed services per season

Adaptistration People 136Each tier earns the same per-service rate as do substitute and extra musicians.

Currently, HSO musicians have been working within a three year CBA that implemented wage freezes throughout its term and although the ratified strategic plan does not automatically determine the outcome of the ongoing negotiations, it certainly serves as an impediment thanks to introducing the specter of zero sum bargaining into the mix.

It is worth noting that the HSO recently outsourced nearly all of its administrative functions to the Bushnell Performing Arts Center (BPAC) along with installing that organization’s president and CEO as the HSO’s president and CEO.

If this scenario sounds familiar, then you’re likely thinking about a deal in 2010 where the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO) outsourced its administrative operations to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) and installed the latter’s CEO as the orchestra’s CEO. Since that time, the CSO/CAPA relationship has produced a steady stream of subsequent budget cuts and decreased activity.

A 6/29/2015 Associated Press article by Stephen Singer reports that BPCA/HSA President and CEO, David Fay, asserts that the service agreement in place between the two institutions saves money but at the same time, Fay’s executive leadership does not appear to be generating much success in the task of revenue generation as the HSO has continually run deficits double digit deficits and has tapped out its existing $2 million line of credit.

In combination to the proposed musician cuts, Fay wants the HSO to increase pops programming and bring in shows that feature pop/rock groups that are popular with baby-boomer generation patrons along with instituting a loosely described format where patrons talk to musicians.

Singer’s article includes a number of quotes from Fay that come across as usual suspect talking points from shortly after the economic downturn.

“We must bring the music to the people.”

“We need to become more market-driven, more market-oriented.”

Worth noting is the HSO’s current music director, Carolyn Kuan, who began her tenure in the 2011/12 season recently added a six year extension to her agreement and has yet to provide any statements on the labor dispute, the recently adopted strategic plan, nor BPCA’s ideas for mission driven artistic activity.

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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