San Antonio Symphony Goes Dark

Adaptistration People 192UPDATE 9:05am CT: According to a source directly related to events, Alice Viroslav has resigned as board chair of the Symphony Society of San Antonio. A new chair will be elected during a special board meeting today (1/5/2018). Reportedly, there is a component of the board that favor a strategic direction that attempts to restore as much of the recently canceled 2017/18 season as possible. Additional details will be provided as they are made available.

On Tuesday, it looked as though the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) may have been able to find a way forward in the wake of a newly formed nonprofit’s decision to pull out of the six-month-old successorship arrangement (details). That hope evaporated by late Wednesday evening following the orchestra’s board voted to cancel the remaining season after the scheduled concert events this Sunday, 1/7/18.

Ironically, you probably wouldn’t know any of that if you visited the SAS website, Facebook page, or Twitter account as the organization had yet to post any news about the decision.

The 1/4/18 edition of the San Antonio Express-News published an article by Steve Bennet that quotes SAS board chair, Alice Viroslav, with information about the shutdown decision.

“We had a lot of very good, very thorough, very thoughtful discussion, but the symphony just doesn’t have the resources to move forward with the season.”

In the same article, Viroslav asserts that the decision doesn’t mean the end of the orchestra, but no details were provided regarding whether the board plans to liquidate and dissolve the nonprofit or attempt file for reorganization bankruptcy.

Beyond that, the organization has provided precious few details surrounding some of the key questions related to their recent decision:

  1. Will existing season subscribers and single ticket holders be offered refunds?
  2. Are ticket revenues held in escrow accounts via the existing organization’s name, the new nonprofit’s name, or both?
  3. Does the organization intend to continue participating in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiations?

SAS representatives have yet to reply to inquiries on those three the latter two items. This article will be updated when/if they do.

UPDATE 9:05am CT: The Tobin Center started contacting current ticket holders with the following refund information:

“In light of the decision by the San Antonio Symphony’s Board of Directors to suspend the operations of the symphony at midnight on January 7, 2018 and cancel the remainder of the 2017-2018 season, all tickets purchased for shows scheduled after this weekend’s performances are being refunded.

Your purchase will be refunded to the original transaction credit card, or if purchased by cash or check we will mail a check to the name and address on the original transaction.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please be contact the Tobin Center Box Office at 210-223-8624 and one of our customer service representatives will be happy to assist.

If you’re looking for similarities elsewhere to help figure out what might be in store for SAS stakeholders, the closest example would be the Honolulu Symphony shutdown from 2009-2010.

  1. Sep 2009: After a series of financial problems, the organization hires a new executive director, Majken Mechlin, with a mandate to “development of a comprehensive balanced budget and a detailed business action plan” (details).
  2. Nov 2009: Barely two months later, the orchestra’s board begins to consider bankruptcy (details).
  3. Nov 2009: The board approves filing reorganization bankruptcy and the executive director begins to outline a vaguely defined business plan (details).
  4. Mar 2010: The relationship between the executive director and musicians’ union reps becomes openly hostile with musicians declaring the executive is culpable of gross mismanagement and incompetence. Moreover, the musicians endorse converting the existing reorganization bankruptcy into liquidation (details).
  5. Jul 2010: The executive director claims all the organization’s musicians have resigned although no such action on the part of any musician transpired. (details).
  6. Oct 2010: The organization attempts one final reorganization pivot to become a presenter of live classical music but those efforts will not include any mission driven activity related to a resident symphony orchestra. Unfortunately, this plan never moves beyond visioning stages and the organization misses a deadline later that month to provide bankruptcy trustees with a reorganization plan (details).
  7. Nov 2010: After missing the deadlines, it becomes clear that the wheels have come off the bus and the organization is headed for liquidation (details).
  8. Mar 2011: In the wake of converting to liquidation bankruptcy, the orchestra announces the final bulk asset auction (details).

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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