Tag Archives: Virginia Hepner

Since you asked, Ms. Hepner…

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.


The Quotable WAC


A few gems from the Woodruff Arts Center Leadership:

“We must make sure the management structure is as efficient as it needs to be without compromising the artistic direction at each of the divisions…The Woodruff Arts Center board has no business telling Robert Spano about the musical direction of the symphony.” – Larry Gellerstedt, Chair, Woodruff Arts Center Board of Trustees, in an interview with Maria Saporta of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, June 2012

Mr. Spano said he was troubled by a provision in the latest management proposal that would give it discretion over whether to fill positions, which could further shrink the ensemble. – New York Times, Sept. 2014

…It was important for Hepner and her board to not make “the symphony a scapegoat for everything that’s wrong” at the [Woodruff Arts] Center. “I think it’s easy for everything to get blamed on the symphony,” she said. “But there are other issues.”  – Penny McPhee, President of the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, in an interview with Maria Saporta of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, June 2012

Easy to blame everything on the Symphony. Hmmm…

“We all have a real desire to grow the collective audience in Atlanta and the region and the state. There’s more to do,” Hepner said. “But I can tell you, it will be a lot more fun to grow the organization.” – Virginia Hepner, President and CEO, Woodruff Arts Center, in an interview with Maria Saporta of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, June 2012

(Apparently, “growing the organization” means rewarding management failure with large bonuses.)

“We’ll never sacrifice the quality of the art…To me, it’s all about artistic excellence and access…My personal thrill would be that everybody in the community got to see what we do.” Virginia Hepner, in an interview with WABE Radio, Aug. 2012

“The lockout is essentially the board and management punishing the orchestra… It’s a one-sided attempt to force the orchestra to its collective knees. It also paints the orchestra as this intransigent group of musicians. But in fact they have shown extraordinary willingness to come to a common agreement, as what happened two years ago proves. The fact that it should have come to a lockout again is simply devastating.” – ASO Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles, in an interview with the Guardian UK, Sept. 2014

Atlanta Magazine: You also have to keep the artists happy, an issue that got attention from the ASO musicians strike. [Note: The 2012 event the interviewer refers to WAS NOT A STRIKE. It was a unilateral, management-imposed LOCKOUT. Apparently, Ms. Hepner did nothing to correct or clarify the important distinction for the interviewer or the readers.] 
Virginia Hepner: “The symphony is very well-run. We want it to be a world-class orchestra…that is extremely expensive… the symphony was $20 million in debt. We couldn’t find any more ways to go without asking the musicians to participate. And I really appreciate the fact that they did. It was essential to ensuring that we have a symphony in the future.”
“I’m a huge Atlanta fan, and I believe we can do anything we set our minds to. I’m pretty optimistic. I have to be; I work in the arts.” – Atlanta Magazine interview with Virginia Hepner, Dec. 2012

“Very well-run.” Really? REALLY? 

“I tell my colleagues here, the most important thing for me to do is bring resources so that they can fulfill their artistic vision.”  – Virginia Hepner, in an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, March 2013

(I don’t remember ever hearing this from her, but, then again, we really aren’t “colleagues” since you locked us out…)

“If you are comfortable with the people you hire, you have to let them do their job.”  – Doug Hertz, Chairman of WAC Board of Governors, in a interview with Barbara Kaufman of the Atlanta Business Chronicle, May 2013

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I would like very much to do my job now.

“I learned a long time ago that everybody’s replaceable.”
“I’ve never seen a for-profit business get more out of an investment than artists do—they’re so creative in terms of how they produce what they do with minimal investment.” – Virginia Hepner, in an interview with GA Center for Nonprofits, Winter 2013

In Ms. Hepner’s defense, when she mentioned being “replaceable” she was apparently referring to some hypothetical future situation in which she herself might be replaced.  Can we pencil in a date for that one?
As for “minimal investment,” how minimally should anyone invest in the ASO? Way to encourage philanthropy!

“I think that the measure of both an individual and somebody representing a company is, in fact, the relationships that we have. Because you’re not going to have long-term relationships unless you’ve built up a trust. And that’s a trust with your customers, a trust with your suppliers, and frankly, a trust with your associates.” – Doug Hertz, Chairman of the WAC Board of Governors, in a promotional video for United Distributors, March 2014

So, is the reason you’ve locked us out because you don’t trust us? Or should we not trust you, since you apparently aren’t interested in a long-term relationship?

Keep those gems coming, WAC! We’re listening!