This summer I delivered speeches to the AFM Convention, the ROPA Conference, and the ICSOM Conference. The following are excerpts from each of those speeches.
AFM Convention, Las Vegas, June 24
There can be no doubt that these are difficult times, both within our union and for the arts across North America. But we believe that every crisis is an opportunity, and we believe that the ways things are is not the way things have to be. Out of the difficulties that our orchestras have faced in this recession has come a renewed sense of unity amongst all of ICSOM, and ICSOM is truly a collection of 4,000 friends who are performing at the same time on the same night.
There is every reason for optimism about the future of symphonic music, and for all live music. But too often we fail to hear these positive facts over a din of negativity that pervasively undermines a successful future of community service for our orchestras. The media is not making our case, and our managements certainly are not making our case. We can no longer sit back and expect others to articulate the issues that the members of this union know far better than most.
It is therefore our responsibility to act in unity to advocate for the arts in America and beyond. This union could be a beacon for the future of live music of all styles, and for a thriving livelihood for all of its members. I do not doubt what we can achieve together.
In my music room back in North Carolina, I have a small piece of the Berlin Wall, given to me as a souvenir when I represented the AFM and ICSOM for a presentation in Germany. This small, painted chunk of concrete inspires me in moments of doubt. That wall stood in the middle of Berlin as a symbol of division and cost many their freedom, and many their lives. It stood for 28 years as a monument to destructiveness.
My friends, if that wall can fall, then I believe that any obstacle can be overcome.
We congratulate the new president-elect of the Federation, Ray Hair. I’d like to take this opportunity to assure President Hair, along with the new International Executive Board, and indeed every member of this union that you will be able to count on ICSOM for support. We are eager to begin the great task before us, and I know we will achieve great things together.
ROPA Conference, Omaha, August 2
We live in a time of great fundamental change. There are new opportunities seemingly every day to reach more and more people with a positive message of promotion for virtually any idea or product. Evolving media, the Internet, and social networking provide unedited forums for expressing ideas that used to have to be filtered through the editorial process of print media or broadcast outlets.
It is a time of great change—and great opportunity. Unfortunately, as symphonic musicians, we work in a field that has not been quick to adapt to new marketing strategies, and in some cases has not even adapted to old marketing strategies. As a result, we find that our orchestras sometimes seem to be promoting and undermining themselves at the same time. Even while printing glossy brochures that introduce our seasons with the fanfare of the same tired slogans, the words in our inky newspapers send a message to our community that questions the sustainability and value of our orchestras.
It always strikes me as stunning that in many places our development departments are not well coordinated with our marketing departments, and that a basic tenet of fundraising is overlooked. People will donate to, and invest in, organizations that inspire them, and they will not give money to organizations that question their own sustainability.
Ideas and products that cannot offer anywhere near the level of community service that our orchestras provide have mastered the art of marketing and thrive through the promotion of a positive image. The same could be achieved for our orchestras and the all the arts in America. There is a positive message and a positive future to be promoted. But instead, in city after city, we see our managements undermining that positive message, and as a result the common reaction of the public to our orchestras is that we are a dying breed.
At a time when America is greatly concerned about unemployment, the arts provide 5.7 million jobs throughout the nation. And further, at a time when Americans are concerned about economic stimulus, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Boston Symphony alone accounts for $166 million in economic activity annually.
Why are these positive facts not more commonly known, instead of the self-perpetuating mythology of waning interest in our orchestras? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy to promote a negative image. When the national view of our orchestras, a view that is promoted by national managerial organizations, is one of diminishing attendance, there can be no doubt that those images hurt actual attendance. After all, why would anyone leave their home to attend a concert when they’ve read in the paper that the orchestra’s own manager and board chair have said that no one is attending?
We must be suspicious when we hear our own managements promoting a negative message. Have they become convinced by their faulty rhetoric, or are they asserting an apocalyptic view that serves only to create what they call “A New Economic Reality” that merely would reduce our organizations to a size that their skill levels are capable of managing.
ICSOM Conference, Houston, August 18
We must resist the negative messages promulgated by many of our managements and by national managerial organizations that should be the most reliable sources of advocacy instead of the most consistent sources of destructive thoughts and ideas. For years, ICSOM has been alone in this wilderness, articulating our positive message of hope for our orchestras and the communities where our children learn and our companies do business.
But lately we have been joined by other voices who are recognizing that the negative message of unsustainability is a detriment not only to our art form but also for the communities we seek to serve. Just last week I exchanged messages with a writer for New York’s City Journal, Heather Mac Donald, who wrote, “It is a mystery to me how anyone can think that harping constantly on the allegedly dire condition of classical music is a strategy for attracting new listeners.”
It is also a pleasure to read the words of Minnesota Orchestra violist and noted blogger Sam Bergman, who asks, “For exactly how many decades do we plan to allow the prophets of doom to continually shout from the mountaintop that orchestras are withering on the vine before pointing out that their dire predictions have been consistently, unceasingly, 100% wrong?”
The fact that orchestras have survived can only mean that we do have something to offer, that we do have supporters, that we do reach people of all ages, that we do contribute to a healthy business environment, and that we do achieve success when we aspire to the noblest of endeavors—the elevation of the human spirit.
It is not the music that has failed the citizens of Charleston, Honolulu, or Detroit. It is the managements of those orchestras that have failed. What other business tolerates such failure, and what other business uses its failures as examples to promulgate a so-called “new model”?
In 1965, the arts and culture industry in America was a $3 billion marketplace. Now, it represents over $166 billion dollars in economic activity every year. This is the message our orchestras should be expressing in times of economic difficulty. The arts should be recognized as the growth industry that it is.
There is no crisis in classical music. The crisis lies in arts management.
The musicians of ICSOM have accomplished great things, but now we must do more. We must recommit ourselves to the advocacy that is so needed. At this time in America’s history, people are eager for the message of hope that we provide, and they long for organizations that truly aspire to quality. They seek organizations that create pride in their cities and restore the belief that they can have what they deserve for their children’s future. Our orchestras fulfill all of those aspirations, and more.
But we each much ask ourselves “have we done enough?” We must take this message back to our colleagues. We must ask them to do more. We must continue to explore our partnership with Americans for the Arts. We must continue to build our press contacts so that the truth about the arts in America can be heard. We must continue to build relationships with the communities that surround our orchestras.
We must be our own advocates. It is abundantly clear that no one is going to do it for us.
I truly believe that ICSOM has never been more unified than we are today, and this accomplishment belongs to each and every one of you, and to my friends and colleagues who serve you on this board. But we must be ever vigilant in seeking out new opportunities to unite in support of each other and in support of the arts in North America and beyond. We must provide inspiration to our communities when our managements do not. We must believe that every crisis is an opportunity, and in this crisis before us we can offer hope and service where others offer only uncertainty.
I thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve as your chairman.