A Fascinating, Yet Misguided, Perspective On The Hartford Dispute

Although there hasn’t been very much along the lines of news to report via the ongoing Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) labor dispute, there is one item worth exploring that might shed some insight into why the situation won’t likely improve regardless the outcome.

Adaptistration People 133Although we don’t usually examine op-ed posts, there is one from the 9/18/15 edition of the Hartford Courant that merits an exception.

This op-ed piece comes from Ronald Compton, a former board chair of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA), the institution that now serves as the HSO’s outsourced administrative arm.

Moreover, the HSO’s board installed the BCPA’s CEO, David Fay, as the orchestra’s CEO so that Fay now serves as a shared CEO with similar duties and responsibilities for both institutions.

The part that stands out from Compton’s piece isn’t what he identifies as the issue, rather, his glossing over of the conflict of interest laden relationship related to both institutions using the same person as CEO.

As to the management services contract between The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and the symphony, you can keep it or do away with it. Either way, it will not affect this situation very much. The expiring labor contract predates this management arrangement by many years.

It’s worth pointing out that Compton’s post doesn’t reference the shared CEO role at all but inside the contemporary field of nonprofit performing arts, the CEO is the key figure that serves as the catalyst for board fundraising performance; consequently, the omission comes as a surprise.

An effective CEO galvanizes a board behind a single, inspiring institutional vision and utilizes board connections to maximize unearned income potential while simultaneously building donor relationships that can be regularly cultivated down the road. In this crucial capacity, the CEO maintains a highly competitive relationship with other nonprofit performing arts organizations.

Consequently, the inherent conflicts of interest in a shared CEO arrangement become increasingly clear; as a result, the HSO/BCPA shared services and joint CEO relationship isn’t something that should be so easily dismissed.

Maintaining the existing shared CEO relationship only invites underperforming stewardship by both institutions along with negative byproducts such as ongoing labor disputes and decreased valuation of local arts and culture initiatives.

Until this issue is rectified, don’t be surprised if the HSO’s labor dispute continues to degrade.

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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