Thursday, February 19, 2015

Masters In This Hall

Happy Birthday, ASO!

It was a coherent vision which began this organization 70 years ago ... and guided its evolution into the world-class orchestra that it is today.  70 years of distinctive, live music-making from some of the finest orchestral masters are exciting to celebrate.

However, I still have a lingering fear, the same one which pervaded the lockout weeks, which still occasionally comes upon me:  the fear that the orchestra is doomed to be trapped in a cycle of having to justify its existence every couple of years, with events and arguments eerily echoing themselves.  The fear that a few years from now, someone -- perhaps not even connected with recent events -- will take a look at a balance sheet and cry out that 'something must be done!' about the orchestra because 'OMG! -- There's a deficit!'  And there we go again ...

Why did the lockout happen again in 2014?  How forgone is that conclusion for the next round of negotiations?  Is it possible that two groups who are historically on opposite sides of the negotiating table -- management and players -- can set aside entrenched modes of behavior and expression in order to move forward?

Breaking old habits is hard.  There is a saying which, when accompanied by the Gallic shrug, expresses an entirely French blend of cynicism and resignation: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ... 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.'  Like that second lockout in 2014 ... it was a forgone conclusion, quite frankly ... two years prior, WAC went into siege mode and stayed there. Where are they now?

We need to explore issues which affect ASO's future, and the future of classical symphonic arts in general, by asking more questions.    

  • The Donor Question -- 'What happens when I send my money to ASO or WAC?' --  continues to be carefully examined, because the WAC needs to raise money, too, in order to fulfill its contractual obligations to the orchestra. There are good reasons why donors need to contribute to the ASO -- and historical reasons for them not to (that pesky 'spiraling deficit': why throw good money after bad?)  
  • The Debt Question -- How effective is a non-profit organization which is $189M in debt and can't satisfactorily account for the cash it had in hand? An exploration into WAC's debt and management history must contain a demand for transparency, if contract terms and 'best efforts' are to be achieved.  Lack of operating funds is having a devastating affect on the way ASO connects with its audiences.  To judge by appearances, there is no money currently being spent on cleaning up technology, or the timely marketing and promoting of concerts.  What else will bring audiences to Symphony Hall, if not the reaching out to interested people and the technology to make the experience easy and fruitful?  
  • The Orchestra Chair Endowment Question -- What is the current status of the endowment? What about the $8M matching grant?  Has there been any matching?  What ways can we plug in -- officially or otherwise -- to assist ASO and WAC in their efforts to bring the orchestra to its full complement?  
  • The Interested Parties Question -- Who needs to be involved in our efforts to maintain the financial and artistic level of the ASO? Interested parties consist of elected officials, arts groups, teachers, movers-and-shakers, community leaders, schools, e.g. We will continue to disseminate information to various concerned groups through email campaigns.  Mr. Doug Hertz is advocating for tax money to support the arts!  Read about it here:   http://www.atlsymphonymusicians.com/. The ASOC blog's up-to-the minute Resources Page, maintained by Andrew Gee, is a valuable archive of press releases, op-ed pieces, editorials.  
  • The Art and Culture Awareness Question -- What is the current state of cultural growth in Atlanta? in Georgia?  Answering this question is for WAC's benefit as well as the players. Many different arts groups show sturdy support and growing numbers on the SOSA Facebook page.   How are WAC and ASO reaching into the community to build awareness and community relationships?  Are these results being measured somehow?  
  • The Leadership Question -- Perhaps one of the most fundamental questions.  What are results of the search for ASO's CEO?  Who is on the search committee and who are the candidates? Can we get to know any of them?   We know that in the past that 'absolute compliance with WAC' was a chief requirement for a CEO ... but will that serve ASO in the future?  How about 'experience and success leading a world-class arts institution' as a chief requirement? What about Board members: what constitutes a good ASO Board member? Again, 'compliance' was a past prerequisite, but the angry exodus of board members during the lockout indicated that 'compliance' came at too high a price. 
  • The Support Group Question --  Who is dedicated to preserving the financial and artistic future of the ASO?  We know there are groups affiliated with WAC and ASO; what are their functions?  Who are their members?  It is our hope that through all the social media outlets, two grass-roots organizations can continue to explore constructive and interesting ways of building the orchestra's profile in the community.  
    • SOSA is a force for community and world-wide awareness, getting the word out through the Facebook page, the SOSA blog, and Twitter.  The support base for these efforts will grow exponentially as SOSA continues to be an up-to-date resource, SOSA's mission is to build community awareness of ASO and Atlanta arts programs, help stimulate and grow financial support through fundraisers/projects, promote ASO concerts and ticket sales and promote Foundation-sponsored concerts outside Symphony Hall.  SOSA has a FB and Blog page.   
    • ATLSM Foundation (website only):  The Foundation will also continue its work of finding playing opportunities, helping the players partner with band and orchestra directors in community schools, performing free concerts, coaching students, holding auditions and master classes. In future, there will be some overlap with SOSA as far as community awareness projects, which benefit the Foundation's educational outreach mission.


Let's assume that the collective 'we' did learn something from only two horrific experiences.  Let's assume that four years from now, a 'transformation' has taken place:  in that time, players and player advocacy groups have built bridges between the orchestra leadership, staff, board members, donors, the community of audiences, and fellow WAC divisions to allow smooth, meaningful communication and mutual support.  Audiences are up.  Money is being raised; debts are being paid down.  Players have taken a measure of control over their destiny, even to helping choose board members and leadership.  And as proof of the environment of trust, carefully nurtured, all parties are working together in a shared artistic mission.  They did it in San Francisco; we can do it here.

The ASO's future depends on our accepting new genres of thought, if you will, opening our minds to the reality that in breaking old destructive patterns, we can actually change a predicted outcome. 

When the future generation celebrates ASO's 100th birthday, our combined efforts today will account for the number of candles on the cake.  



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