In Norfolk, VA, in 2009, at their pre-conference planning session, the ICSOM Governing Board heard a presentation and began a discussion that would ultimately result in the formation of the American Symphonic Advocacy Project (ASAP). We introduced the Governing Board to Mark Lindsay, Director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Division of The Livingston Group, a lobbying firm in Washington, DC. Lindsay is an attorney who previously served on President Obama’s transition team and in President Clinton’s White House as Assistant to the President for the Office of Management & Administration. (Lindsay’s full bio is here). We felt he was the perfect person to bring to ICSOM because in addition to Lindsay’s professional CV, which includes deep connections to public officials and years of advocacy experience, he happens to love symphonic music.
As the Governing Board described the issues that symphonic musicians were facing—declining ticket sales in some markets, claims that audiences were aging, pressure on some managements to decrease pay and reduce contracted numbers of highly trained musicians—we began a discussion. What might it be like to have a national organization that specifically advocates for symphonic musicians throughout the country, and in many communities? One whose primary purpose is to educate board members and policy makers about the economic and cultural value of the arts and symphonic music in particular? This organization would need to be able to raise money for projects, and devote time, energy, and resources to grand ideas. And thus what was to become the American Symphonic Advocacy Project (ASAP) was born.
Chair Bruce Ridge and President Brian Rood asked Lindsay to chair the nascent organization and both Ridge and Rood agreed to serve on ASAP’s initial board of directors along with Norbert Nielubowski (Minnesota) and Dr. Lawrence Mitchell, a lawyer, educator and friend of Lindsay.
After a name was chosen for the organization, ASAP was registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the appropriate bylaws and legal documentation were completed, and the volunteer board spent time discussing how best to be relevant to the symphonic community. Slocum spoke several times with Michael Kaiser at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts about ASAP, and arranged a meeting where she introduced Kaiser and Lindsay. Kaiser agreed to serve as an advisor to ASAP.
During the first and second years, Lindsay met individually with a number of community leaders on behalf of various symphonies but it was usually after a crisis point had been reached. The ASAP Board discussed at length how to assist musicians to develop advocacy skills, so they can form relationships with leaders in their own communities, and during a sudden crisis musicians (and their consultants) will find their pleas more effective, and their community leaders and legislators far more receptive to the musicians’ viewpoint.
In ASAP’s second year the quarterly Advocacy Training Calls were instituted. Lindsay, ably assisted by ICSOM’s favorite PR guru, Randy Whatley, began to offer regularly scheduled conference calls, each for a dozen or more musicians from various orchestras around the country to ask questions and to discuss what was happening in their orchestras, and how best to handle those situations. These calls have proven very popular and very helpful. In the words of Brad Mansell (Nashville), “I learned so much from just listening to my colleagues from other orchestras on how they are getting their members, especially the younger players, involved in advocacy projects such as web sites and social media.”
There was consensus that a board made up mostly of musicians was unlikely either to represent the community well or to raise money as effectively as we hoped. In August 2014, at the end of the second year, six new members joined Nielubowski and Mitchell on the ASAP Board of Directors, while Ridge and Rood rotated off the Board in order to focus their efforts more directly toward ongoing ICSOM activities. The new Vice-Chair of ASAP is Paula Bresnan Gibson, an attorney and the author of Voices from a Chorus, about the Washington, DC, Gay Men’s Chorus. The new Treasurer is Lee Henderson, a Minneapolis attorney who was instrumental in assisting the musicians during their sixteen-month lockout. Other new board members include Dave Adams, a retired naval aviator and CEO of Healthcare Pays; and Erika Laws, Founder and President of Boswell Communication in DC. The two new musician board members are ICSOM Member-at-Large Jennifer Mondie (National) and George Brown (Utah). Slocum’s background is as a consultant and fundraiser, and she will continue to serve as ASAP Secretary.
Last year the ASAP Board identified one particular partnership program from several possibilities as the one for ASAP to focus on, and the goals for 2014-15 include initiating it and setting it up to run in at least three states. Called Voices of Valor, it is a therapeutic program to assist veterans with reintegration into civilian life by addressing issues of stress and trauma through the creative use of music and songwriting. The program has a history of delivering measurable results as well as being cost-effective. The ASAP Board is currently fundraising in order to implement this program using symphonic musicians beginning in 2015.
At present, ASAP is developing a logo and a website. The quarterly Advocacy Training Calls will continue. And we plan to add several additional board members.
ASAP will hold our mid-year meeting in Washington, DC, in early December 2014. There, board members will attend an annual event sponsored by the Rock and Roll Caucus of the United States Congress. Lindsay is seeking ways to increase the exposure of musicians as prominent members of American culture, and by inviting the ASAP Board to this event, he is hoping to encourage a relationship between ASAP, members of Congress, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (on whose Board he serves). During the mid-year meeting ASAP Board members will also attend an open rehearsal of the National Symphony conducted by Helmuth Rilling, with a backstage tour of the Kennedy Center.
ASAP is planning its annual meeting to occur just prior to the ICSOM Conference in Philadelphia, with the intention that ASAP board members might be able to meet ICSOM members and hear some speeches and presentations. The more the ASAP Board members can engage with musicians and learn about the issues that are important to musicians, the more effective advocates they can become. The ASAP Board looks forward to working with the other groups who also support musicians and especially welcomes and invites your input—there is much work to be done.