Monday, September 8, 2014

Closing the Gap ... Ed Watkins

Dear Friends:

I hope they can get together.  It's easy when times are flush and more
difficult in times of scarcity.  For one who has sung in the ASOC since
1974, I certainly wouldn't want anything but harmony.

We should all remember that these are negotiations and each side has a
position.  That is nothing new.  Unions will always be the louder party,
sort of like a defense attorney in a criminal case. ("My client is not
guilty. He wasn't even there. We are looking forward to the trial.") That is
nothing new, either.  The union, regardless of the situation will always
tell you they are in the right. Who is "right" and who is "wrong" remains to
be seen.  Maybe both are in their own way. This is not a "fun" situation.

I  talked to a member of the negotiating team for the Orchestra before the
end of last season. (I can't recall who.)  He told me there had been
considerable progress in paying down the debt.  I was hopeful about
negotiations.  It would be nice if we knew the actual and projected
financial conditions of the Orchestra. That way we could understand the
picture better.  I wonder myself how much fund raising effort has been
extorted.  Small money is not too hard to get.  Big money ($5 million, for
example) takes a lot of cultivation, maybe a few years.  Sometimes someone
has to die first. (Of natural causes, of course.  No accusations, please.)
In the current political environment and sorry "recovery" from the deep
recession of 2007-08, many with big money are husbanding their resources,
waiting to see what happens in elections and internationally.  I have almost
no confidence that the city or state governments will help out.  They have
their own problems and it's an election year.  It's sad to say, but I think
the Orchestra and all arts in Atlanta are on their own.

I sometimes lament that the Yoel Levi situation led to alienation of some
potentially big donors.  I think those donors were off-base to look at it
the way they did.  I appears the Orchestra didn't handle the situation very

No one, and I include management, wants to see the Orchestra reduced or go
into bankruptcy.  That would mean that a bankruptcy judge would impose a
solution probably to no one's liking.  A judge could cut staff severely.  He
(or she, as they case may be, "he" is correct grammar) could decide that
Norman, Jeff and our accompanist are superfluous in a bankruptcy situation.
Maybe he would decide that the resources available will only support 75
orchestra members and that 35 weeks is all that can be afforded.  Who knows?
That's why it's imperative for all concerned to reach a solution.

I haven't looked at how the Philadelphia situation came out.  Allison took
them into bankruptcy, as you know.  Ironic, isn't it?  She spent this
organization into serious debt and left to "straighten out" Philadelphia,
which was a more serious case.  Didn't you ever wonder who was paying for
those big productions we were putting on?  The perilous finances of the ASO
were known at the time. And look at staff growth during those years.
Organization tend to grow staff beyond need when times are good and
sometimes neglect basic functions.  See the federal government, except the
Military, and many state and local governments.

Lets hope that the sides can get together and preserve the season and the
organization.  I would still like to know how much management can give
without danger.

Best regards,

Ed (as in Watkins)

P.S. It's easy for someone like me to speculate, hard to actually be on
either side.  We are dealing with real people here.  Jobs are at stake, as
well as what kind of arts environment Atlanta will have.  To lose the
Orchestra would be a major tragedy for the city and the region

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