It occurs to me that whenever an orchestra ratifies a new contract ahead of time , or Atlanta who wants to take a hatchet to it, there is still an underlying foundational problem in both cases.
The fact is musicians are smart. Problem solving, challenges, obstacles and overcoming them are what got them to where they are now. It’s not just talent. Becoming a professional musician is all about being proactive, about sustaining and exceeding standards moment to moment as well as conserving energy so that they can finish strong. It’s not a race, it’s a climb. Addressing weaknesses and turning them into strengths is paramount. Alternatively it seems more and more that the management and board approach is not proactive but reactive, about minimizing losses and not maximizing strengths. Instead of the step ahead approach, it seems that it is a step ON heads approach. The answer to when trouble approaches is all too frequently to as the cliche goes: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it….only to find out that the bridge is gone when they get there!
The foundational problem is that musicians are not being asked nearly enough to play a part in the building and sustaining of their orchestra. A good CEO/leader/board should have nothing they need to hide or fear, and should always look for ways to involve everyone in the ongoing process so that when trouble is brewing, a unified organization is actively problem solving and coming up with ideas, plans and action steps together and ahead of time instead of fighting each other when catastrophe strikes and it’s too late.
This is not just for bad times, it is just as important in times of health also, because then we are building a model for FUTURE success for when times are not so good. Part of the structure should be inclusiveness in the process. Self inflicted wounds are the hardest to recover from, because it seriously erodes public trust, and we look like too risky of an investment when they start paying attention to what is happening behind the curtain and worse when it spills into the streets.
What should come out of an agreement should not just be contract terms, but also a future prevention plan that will involve all stakeholders. Don’t lock musicians out, lock them in (figuratively speaking of course) and work out a plan. They are your lifeblood and the smartest and most committed people in your organization, who by the very fact that they turn over every 30 or so years when managements turn over in only about 7 years on average means that they have the most to lose and therefore will be the group that thinks long term solutions over quick fix band aids. Especially in Atlanta they have proven that they are willing to make concessions, so to treat them with such callousness is proof that debate has been replaced with destruction and ignorance. Is this a plan for future prosperity? One place they are getting this right is in Tulsa (I have a long term association with them) where it is joy to see their development out of bankruptcy as a truly stakeholder driven organization. Read about their model here
As I do every year I call on the League to consider creating a crisis team, a kind of national guard for orchestras. These should not just be mediators, but an experienced proven team of experts (musicians, former board members, governance experts and administrators) available in person or remotely to musicians and managements/boards alike to help prevent the need for mediators! Time and time again disaster strikes and all it becomes is a lecture and/or roundtable at the next conference (not to suggest the league doesn’t have any value) on what to do next time. That cycle needs to be broken so that there are very few or no next times!
We need activism, not “reactivism” and Atlanta needs it now! Open the doors and let them help fix things, you will be surprised just how they will continue to be reasonable while the public enjoys their artistry and passion.
I recommend that everyone should read this post from Tom Service of the Guardian, proof that this crisis is resonating far and wide.