Acknowledging Courage

One of the most challenging aspects within the field of arts and culture is navigating the political landscape. Short of safe positions such as opposing funding cuts to arts and culture, adopting public positions on politically charged issues almost certainly produces outcomes that require enduring institutional pain. Consequently, it is worth noting when an organization decides to stake a political position and that’s exactly what happened this weekend at a regularly scheduled performance of the Broadway show “Hamilton.”

In case you missed the firestorm, here’s a summary of what transpired: Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a Hamilton performance and after the cast finished taking bows, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon read from a prepared statement that addressed Pence politely but straightforwardly.

It’s worth pointing out that what might appear to some as a heartfelt appeal such as this would be a veritable death knell if delivered by a typical nonprofit performing arts organization.

They could expect an exodus of board members (or worse, a board coup), reprisals from government funded agencies, and a drop in unearned income thanks to donors withholding gifts in protest. The financial impact would be almost certainly disastrous. If you’re curious about just how deep those passions may run, just read up on the Preside-elect’s response to the cast’s statement.

But Hamilton is an exception to that rule.

The hit musical has the resources to almost certainly endure, if not shrug off, any negative financial impact. Consequently, the production was in a unique position to engage in a very public political statement in support of civil rights.

Regardless your political perspective, it is difficult not to recognize the amount of courage it took for the Hamilton cast to reinforce the musical’s message via the post-performance statement.

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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