You Didn’t Think The Drama In Jackson Hole Was Over, Did You?

Update: early Friday evening, the GTMF issued a press statement announcing President and CEO, Andrew Palmer Todd, has resigned.

It didn’t take long for labor tensions at the Grand Teton Music Festival (GTMF) to go from “them’s fightin’ words” to “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Adaptistration People 137If you’re just getting caught up, here’s a recap:

  • GTMF President and CEO, Andrew Palmer Todd, decided to dismiss three musicians for non-artistic reasons. All three musicians were musicians’ committee members.
  • When the decision was submitted to the GTMF board, Todd presented the music director’s position as one of support for his decision.
  • After learning this, the aforementioned music director, Donald Runnicles, was less than pleased as his opinion was the exact opposite of what board members were led to believe. He flew from Germany to Jackson hole to personally deal with the matter of willful misrepresentation during an emergency board meeting.
  • Upon learning of the dismissals and subsequent misrepresentation, numerous GTMF musicians, supporters, donors, and former board members expressed their extreme displeasure to the current board over the fiasco. Most of them, including former board members and donors, indicated their desire to see Todd removed from his position.
  • The GTMF board decided to reinstate the musicians but keep Todd in his position, effectively arriving at a decision that ensured none of their stakeholders would be happy.

The latest development was reported in the 12/12/19 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide in an article written by Billy Arnold. It highlighted a letter from the musicians’ committee demanding Todd’s ouster or the orchestra musicians “will not return to the festival in 2020.”

The letter reportedly insisted Todd be removed “immediately.”

As an interesting aside, this is particularly fascinating in that during our previous examination of this issue, an exchange I had with a reader in the comment thread pointed out the GTMF is not a union orchestra. As a result, the musicians run an increased risk of being dismissed without due process.

However, if they were unionized, they wouldn’t have as easy of a time formally calling for an employee’s termination. This is why you see unionized musicians go so far as to take votes of no confidence in executive leaders.

Back at the ranch, it’s worth pointing out that a key group of former GTMF board leaders are planning to send a follow-up letter to the current board reminding them they still want Todd gone. That group includes eight former GTMF board chairs along with former US Senator and GTMF Director (1986-1998) Alan K. Simpson.

According to Arnold’s article, the musicians’ committee surveyed their membership with an eye toward expediency.

In its statement the Players’ Committee claims the entire orchestra is unified, a stance calculated by an “opt out” poll of its 230 or so members. That poll asked musicians to let the committee know if they opposed the stance taken; the de facto stance was consent.

In English, that means the committee asked their colleagues if they would not return unless Todd was removed. If a musician didn’t reply to the query, it was presumed they supported the measure.

As added gravitas, the musicians asserted that Runnicles communicated to them he will not return for the 2020 summer festival if Todd remains.

As of now, Runnicles intent is unconfirmed.

In the end, the musicians could be taking an enormous risk if, in their zeal, they end up doing the very thing that incensed Runnicles to begin with: misrepresent his position to the GTMF board.

Having said that, if Runnicles does intend to forego the 2020 festival if Todd remains, then the GTMF board may learn the hard way that decisions are not always the same thing as resolution.

The likelihood of the festival fielding a new music director of Runnicles’ caliber are slim and there’s even less likelihood they could secure new musicians.

We may not have to wait long for an outcome as the GTMF board is set to meet today. Stay tuned.

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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