On August 25, 2012, the management of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Board of the Woodruff Arts Center locked out the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony.
On September 7, 2014, the management of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Board of the Woodruff Arts Center locked out the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony.
In an often misattributed and perhaps apocryphal quote, it has been opined that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The Atlanta Symphony lockout of 2012 brought negative attention to that great city, and temporarily silenced one of ICSOM’s finest orchestras. It brought division and mistrust to the organization, laying a negative foundation for relationships among all facets of the institution.
So naturally, seeing those results, the board thought they’d go back for seconds, and the 2014 lockout would last over two months.
Musicians and arts enthusiasts all over the world followed the events in Atlanta, and we are all relieved that this second lockout is over. May it be the last time that an orchestra faces such a destructive tactic. The settlement that has been reached could have been achieved by continuing the negotiations and following the musicians’ call to play and talk, leading to the same conclusion without ever missing a concert and without damaging the brand of the orchestra with yet another lockout.
While many of our orchestras are achieving great things, it is difficult to hear the great results over the din of self-fulfilling negativity that emanates when a lockout is inflicted upon an orchestra and a community. And there have been too many lockouts recently: Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony, and…the Atlanta Symphony.
We hear so much talk about business models, but what is so obviously lost in that discussion is one basic fact: lockouts are bad business. Lockouts bring negative international attention to the community, undermine the confidence of donors, and reinforce negative stereotypes about the future of the arts.
We noted at the start of the 2014 ICSOM Conference in Los Angeles that for the first time in several years we were commencing our discussions on a day on which no orchestra was locked out. But we also noted that we didn’t know what would happen even in the next few weeks. We praised the overwhelming and uplifting response from our members to ICSOM’s Calls to Action to assist our members in need, while noting that as uplifting as the response to these Calls to Action has been, we nonetheless hope we never have to issue another.
But we know we will, and we know we must remain prepared to support any musician in need.
In the weeks immediately following the 2014 ICSOM Conference, Atlanta was locked out…again. We issued a Call to Action, and immediately our members, and our friends across the continent, responded. In less than one month, it became the third most successful Call to Action we have ever issued. In those moments when we feel discouraged by the negativity that sometimes surrounds our field, we should take comfort in the fact that the musicians of ICSOM will always stand together, and will always be eager to assist each other.
While positive news inevitably receives less media coverage, events outside of Atlanta have occurred as well since the conclusion of the 2014 ICSOM Conference. At a time when the leaders at the Woodruff Arts Center were once again laying out the tired and embarrassing rhetoric of the goal to establish a new model for orchestras everywhere; other orchestras were working to achieve different things:
- The San Antonio Symphony celebrated its 75th anniversary by moving into its new concert hall after closing its fiscal year with a surplus and receiving a one million dollar gift.
- The Chicago Symphony gala marked 125 years and raised $1.5 million even as the orchestra reported a fourth year of record sales and fundraising.
- The Detroit Symphony reported that annual giving has surpassed the goal of $17.4 million.
- The Grand Rapids Symphony received a $1 million gift for its endowment.
- The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball raised $3.2 million.
- The Kansas City Symphony achieved international recognition as a symbol of its city with its appearance at Game 6 of the World Series.
As I watched the broadcast of Game 6, filled with pride for all of our friends in the Kansas City Symphony, noting how far we have come in working to brand our member orchestras as indispensible to our communities, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had the Atlanta Braves been playing in the 2014 World Series. A moment that the management of the Kansas City Symphony was able to cultivate would have been lost by the management of the Woodruff Arts Center, because they were too busy talking about what was not possible, as opposed to what was achievable.
When we hear the clichéd rhetoric of “new business models,” we must always remember and be prepared to articulate that our friends at Americans for the Arts regularly conduct a study called the BCA Survey of Business Support for the Arts. The conclusions of businesses that support the arts include:
- 64% agreed that businesses could also support other social causes by giving to the arts;
- 59% found the arts to have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line and a direct tie-in to the company name or products;
- 59% stated that the arts can promote employee creativity and growth.
The theme of the 2014 ICSOM Conference was The Art of Advocacy. It has long been our belief that musicians must be their own most ardent advocates, and throughout ICSOM that is being achieved. Virtually all of our musicians have developed skills at utilizing social networking for positive messaging, and the use of Twitter played a prominent role in avoiding a lockout at the Metropolitan Opera. At our Los Angeles conference, George Brown of the Utah Symphony gave a presentation on the development of a Fourth Wall committee by the musicians of the Utah Symphony, designed to ensure that their positive message about the future of the arts crosses the wall of the stage as clearly as their music.
In Atlanta, the musicians and their committee leadership elevated the art form. Building upon the inspiring efforts of the Met Opera musicians, the Minnesota Orchestra musicians and so many others, the Atlanta Symphony musicians built a social networking campaign that was followed by thousands and thousands. Bloggers from across the world took notice and supported the musicians, analyzing every statement uttered by the Woodruff Arts Center leaders. Financial support from other orchestras rolled in, and pictures of the Boston Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and others were posted with many of the musicians wearing ATL Symphony Musicians t-shirts.
The Calls to Action that we issue for financial support for musicians facing lockouts always state: “…if we effectively respond to every call, we will demonstrate the power in collective action. We can and will make a powerful statement to our managements and boards as we work to spread the positive community message of the musicians of ICSOM.”
Every member of ICSOM can take pride that we once again responded effectively. I am so proud of the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony, and privileged to be associated with all the members of ICSOM.