The 2009 ICSOM Conference in Norfolk, Virginia, August 19–22, was very successful, thanks in part to a terrific job by the conference coordinator, Tom Reel, as well as to contributions from his colleagues in the Virginia Symphony, Local 125, and its president, John Lindberg. They pulled out all the stops with a harbor cruise and dinner for delegates and guests aboard The Spirit of Norfolk. Local 125 also used the cruise to present the tenth annual John Paul Lindberg Arts Supporter of the Year Award to WHRO programming director Dwight Davis. (WHRO is the NPR station for Hampton Roads, Virginia.) A new ICSOM banner, sporting ICSOM’s new logo, made its first appearance thanks to contributions by six different arts groups in Norfolk. After slight modifications it will also be available for future ICSOM Conferences. A group of restaurants in the downtown area that are strong supporters of the Virginia Symphony offered free desserts to ICSOM attendees, and many showed their appreciation by frequenting those restaurants.
At the Norfolk Waterside Marriott on Tuesday evening, before the Conference officially began, nearly 40 orchestras participated in a session focusing on negotiating orchestras, which ran far beyond the original time allotted. Of course, the ICSOM Governing Board was hard at work before that with a full day of meetings on Tuesday, though our chairman, Bruce Ridge, was diverted during the lunch hour to participate in a call-in radio show on WHRO that included JoAnn Falletta, the music director of the Virginia Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Coming to Norfolk was a homecoming of sorts for our chairman. He grew up in the area, and his first job was with the Virginia Symphony. (He later joined the North Carolina Symphony.) On the Sunday before the Conference, Norfolk’s newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, had a two-page article about Bruce, where he and others reflected on his time with the Virginia Symphony and how it has grown. We hope our presence in Norfolk benefited Virginia Symphony musicians, who were in very difficult bargaining during and following the Conference. Following many years of ICSOM
Conferences in Vail, Colorado, Bruce Ridge has been able to follow through on his desire to take ICSOM to member-orchestra locales so that other musicians, not just delegates, could hear and participate in the Conferences. There was a great deal of participation by Virginia Symphony musicians at this Conference; musicians from all host orchestras are encouraged to attend the Conference.
Conferences can be overwhelming for first-time attendees, but they can also be incredibly inspiring and invigorating. Just before this Conference began, new delegates were treated to a breakfast where they met each other and heard brief presentations by ICSOM officers that gave a sense of what was to come. It was a chance to get one’s footing and meet a few new friends before the Conference officially began.
In this year of concessionary bargaining, speakers and breakout groups provided a number of unifying messages and experiences. Following the first official roll call of orchestras, Mayor Paul Fraim addressed the group with a message that included his belief that the “arts are a powerful economic engine” and “should be supported as an important ally in our economy.” His message was well received, as were the remarks of (proud Local 125 member) JoAnn Falletta.
Following additional introductions and various officer and committee reports, Chairperson Ridge led an interview with Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The interview covered a number of topics, including manager and board training, advanced planning for and investment in projects that can inspire an institution and its community, and the importance of projecting a positive message. Mr. Kaiser also touched on a number of points raised in his book, The Art of the Turnaround, that attendees found to be both practical and reasonable. One was his belief that organizations in financial trouble will not save their institutions without thoughtful consideration of how (and which) expenses should be cut. He pointed out that, at the Kennedy Center this year, he cut $11 million from his budget but did not cut his marketing expenses, salaries, artists. or programs. (He did, however, save $30,000 by cutting out free coffee for the staff.) Mr. Kaiser also answered a number of questions from delegates and guests, who all greatly appreciated Mr. Kaiser’s participation. ICSOM applauds Mr. Kaiser’s attempts to reach out to arts organizations while traveling to all 50 states with his message of the need for proper training for arts managers, and we hope that managers and board members alike will listen to his message with an open mind. [Editor’s Note: See the December 2008 issue of Senza Sordino for a review of Mr. Kaiser’s book, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations. ]
Representatives from Americans for the Arts were on hand to encourage participation in their Arts Action Fund and their advocacy program. They were followed by AFM President Tom Lee’s speech and a brief question and answer period. A presentation by various Symphonic Services Division (SSD) staff rounded out the first sessions of the day. Newly appointed SSD Director Chris Durham was joined by Nathan Kahn (negotiator), Debbie Newmark (director of symphonic electronic media), Doug Lyons (contract administrator), Joe Goldman (benefits specialist), and Barbara Owens (negotiator). Both Joe and Barbara are new additions to the staff. Joe, a Detroit Symphony violinist, has been hired to analyze benefits for negotiating orchestras. Barbara is the former president of Boston Local 9-535 and a current AFM international representative. A moment of silence ended the session to honor Abe Torchinsky, former principal tuba with the Philadelphia Orchestra and founder of the ICSOM emeritus program that bears his name, who died that morning.
Thursday’s sessions began with a presentation about negotiations for an Integrated Media Agreement by AFM Counsel Patricia Polach, Debbie Newmark, and ICSOM Electronic Media Chair Bill Foster. This was followed by an update about the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) by Director of Benefits Vinni LoPresti and Director of Finance Will Luebking. In the afternoon, ROPA President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum, OCSM President Francine Schutzman, and RMA President Phil Ayling each spoke about issues of concern to their constituents. They were followed by back-to-back presentations on hearing protection and injury prevention by Minnesota Orchestra assistant principal cellist and author of Playing (less) Hurt, Janet Horvath, whose newly updated book recently received an Independent Publisher Book Award. In the evening, rather than holding breakout sessions on specific topics as had been done at recent Conferences, Members at Large Matt Comerford, Paul Gunther, Cathy Payne, and Meredith Snow met with their assigned delegates to discuss various topics of interest.
Friday morning was dedicated to the Conference’s annual town meeting, when delegates and the Governing Board meet to discuss issues of mutual concern. Since the town meeting is a closed session, SSD Director Chris Durham met during that session with the numerous local officers attending the Conference. There were local officers representing 14 ICSOM orchestras—from Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Norfolk, and Washington, D.C. The afternoon session began with a presentation by AFM Director of Government Relations Hal Ponder, who spoke about his activities on Capitol Hill on behalf of the AFM. Ray Hair, IEB member and Local 72-147 president, gave a terrific presentation on how to develop a protest campaign (warning: giant inflatable rat in attendance), and William Thompson from the University of Louisville graciously agreed to join us to speak about media strategies and the analysis of financial information for use in negotiations and public relations.
Saturday morning began with elections. Matt Comerford was elected to the AFM Convention Delegate position, and Meredith Snow became the alternate. Incumbents President Brian Rood, Secretary Laura Ross, and Members at Large Comerford and Payne all won new two-year terms. Following the elections, AFM Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith Wright gave a report that included the activities of the Diversity Committee and the awards process for the upcoming 2010 AFM Convention. That was followed by voting on resolutions. Retired Chicago Symphony member Sam Denov was honored for his work as a founder of ICSOM. Delegates remembered the important work of three men who died in 2009—financial analyst Ron Bauers, former Senza Sordino editor and Cincinnati Symphony violinist Henry Shaw, and former principal tuba with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Abe Torchinsky. ROPA was saluted for celebrating its 25th anniversary as a Player Conference. Delegates applauded Mark Perkins and his Dallas-based advertising and design firm, SullivanPerkins, for creating the new ICSOM logo. Finally, a resolution submitted by numerous delegates directed the ICSOM Governing Board to make public to ICSOM members Bruce Ridge’s presentation at the July 2009 Locals’ Conferences Council–Player Conferences Council meeting in Las Vegas.
Houston, Texas, was confirmed as the site of the 2010 ICSOM Conference, to be held August 18–21, 2010. Potential sites for the 2011 and 2013 Conferences were briefly mentioned, while Chicago was selected as the site of the 2012 ICSOM Conference. This selection marks the return to the city where ICSOM’s first meetings were held 50 years ago, in 1962.
After adjourning what was a very unifying Conference, there was a Member-at-Large–Delegate luncheon, where delegates had more time to discuss issues, both with each other and with members of the Governing Board. Delegate feedback for this year’s Conference was decidedly positive.
Text from remarks by Bruce Ridge, Brian Rood, and Paul Fraim, links to the WHRO lunchtime call-in show and to the Virginian-Pilot article about Bruce, and the PowerPoint presentations by Ray Hair and William Thompson are all available on the ICSOM website. Currently you may find the material by selecting “Governance” from the main menu and then clicking “Conferences” and “2009.” Adopted Conference resolutions may also be found there, as well as on page 8 of this issue of Senza Sordino.