I’ll See Your Study And Raise You A Proposal

Recently, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) released a report examining how arts and culture institutions that accepted Payroll Protection Program (PPP) handled staff layoffs.

It’s a good report and if you’re interested in a deeper dive, you can find some good analysis and commentary from Hakim Bishara at hyperallergic.com and Joe Patti at Butts In The Seats.

These initial studies provide useful context for ongoing analysis and while I hope AFSCME continues to examine the money trail as more information becomes available, I would love to see a Foundation or Service Organization go in a different direction. Specifically, how nonprofit performing arts orgs that maintained artistic activity over the pandemic are faring compared to those that went dark.

Groups like the Dallas Symphony and Toledo Symphony made the decision to invest in their people, accept the challenge of keeping those people safe, and pioneer new program and revenue opportunities. On the other side of that coin are groups like Indianapolis Symphony, that opted to shut down entirely and lay off nearly their entire workforce (musicians and staff).

It would be remarkably useful to see a comprehensive study designed to identify patterns and rates of recovery among groups across the operation spectrum. At the very least, it would provide a reliable reference for future boards and executives if (when?) they face a similar crossroad.

It would be more than a shame if we lost this opportunity and found ourselves failing to learn from the past.

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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