According To SAS Musicians, Deficits Reflect More On Governance, Not Capacity

The Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony (MOSAS) published a newsletter on 12/23/17 that includes an article by Peter Flamm, San Antonio Symphony (SAS) Principal Timpani. According to Flamm’s article, the organization’s deficits aren’t the result of inadequate staff efforts or musician expenses. Instead, he suggests deficits over the past few decades should raise questions about governance.

If advertising and promotion is unattractive or sporadic, ticket sales will be low and there will be a deficit. Since there is little or no endowment for our orchestra, the pressure to increase donations and ticket sales stretches an already small and overworked staff to the breaking point. In other words, whether or not a non-profit is able to cover its costs might say more about the governance of the organization than the viability of the organization.

Reflection or ProjectionFlamm does not spell out which stakeholders comprise those at the center of what he refers to as governance, but it isn’t difficult to figure out through process of elimination. The key stakeholders involved in direct orchestra governance include the board members, administrators, music director, and musicians.

You can learn more about each of those groups in this series of essays about Orchestra Governance. They provide an inside look in the good, the bad, and the ugly behind those who influence how orchestras function.

If you subtract musicians and staff from that group, you’re left with board members and the music director.

To date, SAS Music Director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, has honored a long standing practice among music directors of remaining mute on the topic of negotiations. At the same time those who would otherwise be offering statements aren’t offering much more.

There are no press statements from official spokespersons and the organization’s President & CEO, Tom Stephenson, has yet to respond to multiple inquiries for information on their current bargaining position along with their plans should a new agreement not be reached when the current extension expires on Sunday, 12/31/2017.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking.

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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