More, And Longer, Cancellations In Chicago

On Monday, 3/25/2019, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) released a statement that it was cancelling a week’s worth of concerts and events through April 2, 2019.

Ticket holders received notifications of the cancellations and their options for what to do with the now obsolete tickets:

  1. Exchange your tickets into the same or similar seating section for other concerts in the current season, for no additional charge.
  2. Return your tickets and put the money on your account, to be used for future concert purchases.
  3. Donate the return of your tickets to the association and receive a tax donation receipt.
  4. Receive a refund, including the ticket price and any single ticket fees, for the canceled concert.

Adaptistration People 010And now that the CSOA is starting to cancel longer blocks of concerts, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if they begin increasing the number of days in subsequent cancellations.

Even though it’s only just starting to feel like spring, June is right around the corner and given the severity of the pension issue, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the rest of the regular season go dark unless both sides get back to the bargaining table.

I elaborated on that point in more detail to Deanna Isaacs for her article about the strike in the 3/19/2019 edition of the Chicago Reader.

I called arts consultant Drew McManus, a Chicago-based expert in orchestra management, for his opinion on all this. He told me salaries and other benefits are likely negotiable. The pension issue, on the other hand, in a worst-case scenario, could kill this season (which runs into June) and even extend into the next. The items of contention in past contract negotiations, he said, “pale in comparison.” What about the musicians’ claim that the CSO needs to keep its defined benefit retirement plan in order to hire the best talent and maintain its status as a great orchestra? “Every other major orchestra offers a similar benefit,” he said. “They certainly need to hold on to it to remain competitive.”

At that time, cancellations only covered one or two days into the future. One week later and that pace has quickened.

Barring any profound change of heart in either side, it’s beginning to look like the stalemate will require some outside pressure to resolve.

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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