Well, it has been an active day on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) front. On the one hand, there was an explosive press statement made by the musicians. And now to bookend the day, there is an exclusive interview with Douglas Hertz, chairman of the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC).
I thought I was going to have a quiet evening, but Mr. Hertz’s comments really need to be addressed.
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“ ‘I disagree that the public has sided with the musicians. I think the artists’ friends have sided with the artists. But I think the corporate community and the philanthropic community understands, like any businessperson would, we’re not going to make an investment in a business that keeps losing money.’ ”
Mr. Hertz, with respect, this can be reversed to say exactly the same thing about you and the board: “I think the corporate community has sided with the board.”
Of course your like-minded friends feel the same way you do… that’s just how the world works.
The real question is to what degree the public at large thinks about this topic, how passionately they feel, and what they as a whole decide to do as a result. You sidestep those issues entirely… but those are the issues that will ultimately determine what happens here.
And I do find it striking that you seem to think the public might be on your side—although public pressure has already forced Stanley Romanstein to resign. And, apparently, you to agree to this interview.
“ ‘It’s frustrating, because the whole allegation, whether it’s by musicians or supporters of musicians, or journalists who want to take the musicians’ side — I’m using “journalists” pretty loosely … for them to allege that the WAC doesn’t want a fantastic symphony orchestra, or the governing board doesn’t want to take care of the musicians, is so far off base if they looked at the facts.’
As evidence, Hertz mentioned the work of other Woodruff governing board members including retired BellSouth executive Jere Drummond, “whose raised millions of dollars for the ASO’s endowment” and Paul Garcia, the recently retired Global Payments chairman and CEO, who along with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson raised nearly $1.5 million over the last two years to reduce the orchestra’s deficit.
‘It makes you wonder, you know,’ Hertz said, ‘are we supporting a bunch of crazy people.’ ”
I understand that you are frustrated, but this is astonishingly petty.
So… first you insult any writer who might possibly think the musicians have a point by tossing out the line, “I’m using ‘journalists’ pretty loosely.” With respect, I don’t know that open contempt will help attract people to your point of view.
But you also completely avoid the question at hand… does the board want to turn the ASO into a minor-league ensemble to save money? You respond, in effect, that some people are still contributing large sums of money to it. Great. But that doesn’t answer the question. And makes me all the more curious to know if you plan to shrink the ensemble specifically to match the total that handful of gifts that has come in, rather than to seek out additional funds.
And finally… the fact that the musicians raise legitimate questions about your aspirations for the ensemble means you get to categorically insult them as “crazy people?”
Wow. Just… wow.
“ ‘The sad part of it is … there are not enough people that care. If the public cared maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation. When you’ve got less than 5,000 donors in a metropolitan area of 5 million, that’s my concern. We (board, administration and musicians) need to be getting together and figuring out together how do we grow support for the symphony.’ ”
Mr. Hertz, I find this deeply disturbing on several levels. First, I would obviously question the notion that people don’t care. They do. An earlier post of mine attracted 12,100 readers from all around the world. That’s an intriguing bit of data… you seem so sure no one cares in Atlanta, but given the ASO’s international reputation, there is a vast international constituency you could be drawing from. But you aren’t.
And let’s unpack your comment further. What businessman goes out into the world with the attitude that no one “cares” about his product, and just gives up? A successful businessman fulfills demands the customers don’t even know they have. A successful businessman creates a market for his goods. He creates an appetite for his product. He creates demand.
And he doesn’t do that by denigrating his product in statements to the press. He doesn’t try to turn the public against his product as part of a labor negotiation strategy.
And let me ask you something. Just seconds ago you insulted your musicians by suggesting they are all crazy. But you need their help in growing support for the symphony… you just admitted as such. How do you propose to get them to help you when you actively insult them?
“Well, we are very interested in exploring alternatives. We are not, cannot and will not move from ending up with a balanced budget moving forward. But there are a lot of ways to get there, and if we were to do it together, we may be able to find a way.”
As I’ve said before—this isn’t actually a negotiation if you won’t budge from the first (and only) number you propose. Think of it this way: a clerk asking if you want to pay by cash, check, or credit card does not mean the two of you are negotiating about an item’s price.
“ ‘Well, it’s my impression that our symphony orchestra got the same artistic reviews over this past year as they have had in previous years. We had 116 separate musicians that played with our orchestra (who were) not part of our (88-musician) complement — 116 additional musicians who sat in just last year. Yet no one’s told me that artistically that we were any better or worse.’ ”
It’s your “impression?” No one has “told” you?
Do I take this to mean you have no first-hand knowledge of the group you oversee?
Do you think it is good that a business leader has no such first-hand knowledge of his or her product?
Look, freelancers can absolutely be as talented as their counterparts with permanent positions. As subs, they can also bring passion, fresh ideas and flexibility to the group. Subs play a critical role in every standing ensemble. And yes, a group that uses subs can still sound great and get rave reviews.
But that’s not what you’re saying here. You are saying you just don’t care. You don’t care about the fresh perspective subs bring, or their passionate playing. You don’t care about how much work it is to integrate them into the ensemble. Conversely, you don’t care about the added value permanent players can bring, or about how you could use their familiarity to the community as an advantage. You don’t care about personnel. You don’t care about the orchestra sound—its brand.
You are simply saying you can’t tell the difference and you don’t care.
I can’t imagine being a leader of a group if I were so indifferent to it.
“ ‘Again, we’re criticized for not wanting a great symphony, right? But we signed Robert to a five-year contract (that’s just beginning) with a raise. And Robert’s getting paid. And we signed (principal guest conductor) Donald Runnicles to a three-year contract. He’s getting paid. So don’t criticize WAC management or the WAC governing board for not wanting to put our money where our mouth is.’ ”
“He’s getting paid”? That’s the criteria?
So proof that you want a great orchestra is…the fact that you haven’t unilaterally revoked the conductors’ contracts?
What an astonishingly low bar.
“ ‘Maybe Robert’s feeling a little bit guilty because he’s getting paid and the musicians aren’t. But he could be a big help in solving this.’ ”
Do you have any evidence to support this speculation?
Let me ask: is it correct that Spano provided $50,000 to finance a tour to Carnegie Hall that the board was ready to cancel to save money? Is it possible, then, that he has been appalled by the lack of support you and the board have given the organization, and is genuinely upset?
And is it possible that most observers would consider that he was justified in his feelings?
“ ‘Encouragement of the musicians to come back and talk. But he hasn’t been particularly constructive to this point.’ ”
Please consider. If you and he switched roles, would you suggest to the musicians that they should get back to the table, based on everything that’s been said and done? Or would you see the WAC’s actions as an existential threat to their interests?
“ ‘We’ve got a division of the arts center that threatens the ability of the other divisions (the Alliance Theatre, High Museum of Art and Arts for Learning) to produce the great work that they’re doing. We owe it to everybody to make sure that everybody is pulling their weight.’ ”
Really? So you are publicly stating that the ASO is the problem? That the ASO is a drag on the collective finances of the WAC? And as the problem it has to be brought into line? That’s worth remembering….
“ ‘Don’t forget, when you have earned ticket revenues of only $5 million and have salaries and benefits just for the musicians of $10 million to $11 million, you’re losing money from the very beginning. …Every day, we lose money.’ ”
I don’t think I can convey how disappointing I find it that the head of the WAC doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization, as defined by the IRS.
Mr. Hertz, the WAC is a non-profit. By definition, your earned income does not, and will not cover your expenses. As a 501 (c) (3) you are given the right to engage in fundraising to make up the difference. That is what you do. Just like every other non-profit in the country.
This isn’t a failure in your business model. It is your business model.
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I find this whole interview deeply depressing.