To say that we live in interesting times would be an understatement. Many of our orchestras face unprecedented attacks on their collective bargaining agreements. Even as I write this, the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are on strike in order to save their venerable institution. The lack of meaningful negotiations by the management in Fort Worth has reached a critical point. The musicians of the Florida Orchestra just ratified a concessionary agreement that reduces the number of weeks and lowers the minimum complement. Orchestras around the country are facing pressure to accept concessions mid-term in their contracts. The continued plight of our colleagues in Honolulu and their efforts to reorganize a full-time orchestra weigh heavily on the hearts of all ICSOM musicians.
Much more is at stake than compensation alone, as if that were not enough. Recent management proposals include abolishing tenure, freezing pensions, refusing to pay for electronic media services, severely reducing health insurance benefits, and redefining our jobs as orchestral musicians. Managers increasingly tout service exchange and service conversion as the next best thing since sliced bread, a cure all for orchestras’ problems.
ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross and I attended the American Orchestra Summit in Ann Arbor this past January. From the opening session, Joseph Horowitz, former Brooklyn Philharmonic executive director and co-creator of the Summit, proclaimed that orchestras produce more concerts than communities can accommodate and have unsustainable fixed costs (code word for musician salaries), and that the solution is service exchange/conversion. A later panel included presentations by the executive directors in Louisville and Memphis. This was my first, but far from last, exposure to the “Memphis model.” In order to preserve one’s salary, according to Ryan Fleur, the Memphis executive director, a musician in Memphis must agree to participate in “approved partnership activities.” These activities include teaching general music classes in public school and taking on traditional staff roles, such as concert planning, development, marketing, and presenting.
I appreciated the concerns expressed by attendees about challenges facing orchestras. I was frustrated, though, by the lack of accurate information most attendees had about today’s orchestras. Many attendees appeared unwilling or unable to acknowledge other orchestras’ successes. Fewer yet appeared open to alternative solutions that did not involve service exchange/conversion or slash and burn measures.
During my address at the Summit, I held up Michael Kaiser’s book, The Art of the Turnaround. I read two of his quotes regarding the problems facing arts organizations. First: “The usual culprit is the absence of a dynamic marketing campaign that conveys the excitement of a thriving artistic program.” Second: “Good art must be marketed well.”
There are plenty of examples that show the current economic model still works when an orchestra fires on all cylinders. Orchestras can thrive, even during economic downturns, but only when creative programming is coupled with dynamic marketing, and when boards and managements work with, and not against, their musicians. When one of these ingredients is missing, organizations usually flounder and rarely achieve artistic success or financial stability.
All too often managers and boards are incapable or unwilling to lead our orchestras effectively. Instead of promoting orchestras, they would rather apologize for their existence. It should be clear to us by now that we, the musicians, must continue our advocacy efforts.
Randy Cohen from the Americans for the Arts delivered another inspiring and highly informative presentation during the OSCM Conference this summer in Montreal. If we could bottle up his enthusiasm and give a small dose to every manager and board chair, our orchestras would see immediate improvement!
Yes, we live in interesting times. Much has changed within our union since the ICSOM Conference in Norfolk a year ago.
The delegates at the 2010 AFM Convention decided that our union needed change. We congratulate AFM President Ray Hair, Vice President Bruce Fife, Vice President from Canada Bill Skolnik, Secretary-Treasurer Sam Folio, and International Executive Board Members Tino Gagliardi, Tina Morrison, Joe Parente, Dave Pomeroy, and Vince Trombetta.
ICSOM is eager to work with the new IEB on behalf of all AFM members. During my 2009 ICSOM Conference speech, I asked whether ICSOM and the other player conferences would be treated as friends or foes throughout the Federation. I am pleased to report that, during the 2010 AFM Convention, we were warmly received by local officers and delegates. Player conference tables typically are placed along the far side wall of the Convention hall. In past years we sometime felt like outsiders, but 2010 was different. Convention delegates came over to talk with us, and several even sat at our tables with us. We appreciated the open communication and dialogue we enjoyed with members of the various Convention committees, including Law and Finance.
None of the changes within the AFM would have been possible without the commitment and hard work of ICSOM delegates. When the Governing Board issued a Call to Action on May 15, 2010, just five weeks before the Convention, over 85% of our member orchestras responded by signing petitions and meeting with AFM Convention delegates and local officers. This unprecedented commitment played a huge role. Local presidents repeatedly told us how much it meant to them to hear from so many of you and our thousands of colleagues. Recommendations No. 2 and No. 24, sponsored by the previous IEB, never made it out of committee. Following testimony by ICSOM and other player conference leaders, as well as deliberations by the Law and Finance Committees, the IEB withdrew both recommendations. Likewise, AFM Convention delegates understood that the issue of raising symphonic work dues was a non-starter.
We cannot thank you enough for the tremendous difference you and your colleagues made at this year’s AFM Convention. What we did together demonstrated unionism at its very best. When we stand together the impossible is indeed possible.
The Governing Board came up with the title of the 2010 Conference, “It’s Time to Embrace the Future,” partially in response to the League of American Orchestras’ June conference in Atlanta that was entitled “It’s Time to Take on the Future.” We believe it is time to embrace the future. We believe it is time to believe in and promote our orchestras and the value they provide to our communities rather than allowing managers and boards to apologize for our very existence.
I recently began another term as chairman of the musicians’ committee in Kansas City. One of my duties is to serve on our symphony’s board of trustees. In September I gave the musicians’ report at our first meeting. I included the following notable excerpts from President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Amherst College on October 26, 1963, regarding his vision for the arts in the United States. His words are as appropriate in the fall of 2010 as they were when spoken, a time when ICSOM was in its infancy.
I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.