Woodruff Arts Center President and CEO Virginia Hepner says, “We continue to ask the musicians for constructive ideas to help us address these challenges, and we are frustrated that they have turned a deaf ear to the situation.”
Okay, Ms. Hepner, let me apologize for causing you any frustration. Perhaps being locked out of my job, denied my salary and health care coverage, and treated like a pawn in some Kafka-esque chess game have caused the deafness you bemoan. Deaf though I may be, I am not mute. I offer to you the following Constructive Ideas, in the interest of helping you address these challenges:
Constructive Idea #1: END THE LOCKOUT. This may seem counter-intuitive to you; after all, the ASO’s own spokesperson claimed that the orchestra saves $25,000 to $30,000 every day the lockout continues. By my calculations, you’ve already saved between $1.125 and $1.35 million in musician compensation since the lockout began 45 days ago. Is this your much-touted “contemporary operating model”? An un-orchestra? An anti-philharmonic? A group that is so efficient, so well-run, that it doesn’t even need to function? With savings like that, maybe donors will start earning dividends.
How much would the WAC save if the five highest-paid non-artistic employees of the WAC weren’t paid during the lockout either? Using the most recent 990 available (from 2012), the five highest paid non-artistic WAC employees (President, CEO, Executive VP/CFO, ASO President, and VP for Business Development) earned a combined $1,511,029. If they were forced to go without their salaries (and bonuses) like the entire orchestra (by the way, can I have a bonus for not doing my job? That seems to be the WAC’s policy) – the WAC would save an additional $4,139 a day. Shouldn’t these executives, who care as deeply about the future of the ASO as we musicians (see my previous post, “The Quotable WAC”), be willing to share in the sacrifice? Maybe you’d consider donating your bonuses to the Constructive Ideas for Musicians with Deaf Ears Fund. Then we could afford to benefit the orchestra by staying locked out longer. And we have a proven track record of benefiting the orchestra: remember the $5.2 million in concessions we made in 2012? I’d gladly do my part by accepting your bonus. Make your check payable to “ATL Symphony Musicians Foundation.”
But consider the costs of continuing the lockout. How many donors are reconsidering where they direct their generosity? Does cutting off salary and benefits of your valued employees encourage philanthropy? Does demonstrating to the arts community that you’re more interested in slashing your product and reducing your orchestra to a sweat shop for interns (see Press Statement 10-3-14)- does that sound like the kind of arts organization people would rally behind? Should benefactors trust that your organization will be well-run after this round of cuts, even though the cuts in 2012 didn’t apparently help anything?
Constructive Idea#2: END THE LOCKOUT. Do you really think that NOT presenting the spectacular performances that our community has come to expect will endear the concert-going public to your contemporary operating model? Has the ticket-buying public been clamoring for a smaller, less experienced orchestra? Has the staff begged you, “Please can we work with unpaid interns? These professionals are so darn…professional!” Of what value is an empty concert hall?
Or maybe your strategy is to pass the savings on to our audience. Imagine their glee when they realize how much money they’d save by not attending the concerts you cancelled! In fact, the WAC is saving so much money, you could probably afford to pay people not to come to the non-concerts by the world-class un-orchestra. Perhaps you could offer them a stipend to sit at home and read the minutes from the latest Woodruff Arts Center Governing Board meeting. And we now have new leverage to lobby for public funding: Atlanta is willing to pay hundreds of millions for a new football stadium that will sit idle most of the year. Why wouldn’t they also pay for a new concert hall to remain empty?
Actually, though, on that same 2012 990, you list among our Program Service Accomplishments, “The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra consistently affirms its position as one of America’s leading orchestras by performing great music, presenting great artists, educating, and engaging the community…The orchestra performs more than 200 concerts each year for a combined audience of more than half a million in a full schedule of performances.” So, perhaps you’d have more credibility if you allowed the orchestra to get back to its core mission.
Constructive Idea #3: END THE LOCKOUT. Seriously, you look like a bunch of petulant bullies, shaking down band geeks for their lunch money. We all knew people like that in middle school, and we expected them to either grow out of it, or end up in prison. We didn’t expect them to pursue leadership positions in prestigious arts non-profits. Who treats employees like that? Do you think the public perceives this to be a fair negotiation, when one side can unilaterally deny any salary or benefits to the other, with no reciprocal consequences? Do you think that Doug Hertz’s public speculation about our collective sanity makes WAC leadership sound well-reasoned, judicious, and wise?
And remember, we’re not just the employees, we’re the product, the very reason the Arts Center exists. We’re the reason people buy tickets and Grammy-winning recordings, we’re what they intend to support when they donate. We are who they applaud for. Would you like applause? Would you like the public and the press to express their appreciation for a job well done? It’s a really great feeling – I should know, I get that feeling after each of the concerts the ATL Symphony Musicians have produced and performed over the past few weeks. Here’s what you can do to earn that feeling: END THE LOCKOUT. Start treating us like valued partners in a vital cultural mission, instead of annoying inconsequential vermin. Stop the starvation tactics and save this orchestra, or step aside and let someone who wants to save it step up.