How Many Times Can You Cut The Budget And Still Claim To Be World-Class?

If you don’t already read Drew McManus’ blog Adaptistration, you may want to take a look some of his recent posts as well as the conversation on Facebook that ensued.

Drew started out yesterday linking to an article on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that suggested the drop in people auditioning for the Pittsburgh Symphony might be a consequence of the pay cuts musicians agreed to after a strike in 2016.

The article in and of itself is interesting in terms of considering if musicians are factoring this in a decision not to audition versus those that are just eager to gain some relatively stable employment, regardless of past labor negotiations. While I was reading it, I wondered if there might be a similar drop in applicants and auditioners in states whose governments have enacted laws and rules artists and administrators deem problematic.

Drew goes on to mention the “orchestra caste system” providing some insight into the dynamics between orchestras.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: those who earn less and work in organizations with smaller budgets must defer to those who earn more or work at larger budget groups because the latter are “better” than the former.

…For example, if musicians from an orchestra like Minnesota are on strike or locked out, it is assumed they have carte blanche when it comes to offers of substitute work at a smaller budget orchestra, like Grand Rapids. They won’t be expected to go through any formal substitute hiring process and existing subs will get booted in order to make room.

But if the situation were reversed, you’re far less likely to see a group at the level of Minnesota extending the same degree of latitude. Instead, you’ll see positive thoughts and well-wishes and by the way, we have this substitute hiring policy and you’ll to go through that before we can offer you any work.

He goes on to talk about how standards are established and enforced in orchestras. That is the part that has turned into a lengthy conversation on Facebook that gets into the standards being enforced, who is enforcing them, if others can override, people taking leadership about standards and so on.

The conversation got so involved, when last I looked, there was a suggestion that a few conductors, musicians and Drew get together and videotape a discussion of the issues.

Even if you aren’t involved in the classical music/opera scene, check the conversation out because some version of this situation probably exists in your field, just with different players wielding the power and influence, but also preferring to skirt similarly difficult conversations.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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