Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

“Atlanta Again? Still.” The Elephant in the Room for Arts Organizations Today.

This article, found here, is about the reemergence of the labor disputes with the ASO- the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Seen below is Atlanta’s Symphony Hall, full to the brim with audience and musicians alike. 

So how can such seemingly healthy organizations, some of the largest, meatiest opera organizations and symphony organizations in our country, be facing such egregious labor disputes one after the other? The elephant in the room: As emerging arts managers, we may inherit the problems (or solutions) created by arts managers before us, perhaps before proper or sustainable business models were used for non-profit organizations of this size. One by one the major organizations of our time are reaching these unfortunate climaxes; hot on the heels of the Metropolitan Opera and the San Diego Opera, now it’s Atlanta’s turn. 

With such high overhead costs and employment costs for so many musicians, you find management fighting to keep the costs of the organization as low as possible to meet the bottom line. As this seems to often mean, the salaries and benefits of the musicians themselves often come to the chopping block, and are met with negotiation issues at the union level. Hence, the ASO locked out their musicians in 2012, and without proper resolution and impending further deficit, are two short weeks away from having to face the issue all over again.

This is extremely relevant to us as young arts managers. We have to stay informed about the current issues in our industry and learn now what they are and how to deal with them, both from a financial management standpoint, and also from a people-management standpoint. Negotiation skills, en-garde! 


7 comments on ““Atlanta Again? Still.” The Elephant in the Room for Arts Organizations Today.

  1. benjamendouglas
    August 27, 2014

    Eek! Maybe our program should add a class in partnership with the law school on negotiations. Seriously.

    • Drew McManus
      August 27, 2014

      Your Arts Admin degree program doesn’t include a section on labor relations and negotiations (with artist managers, artist unions, service unions, and non-union key employees)? That’s too bad but I can’t say it isn’t unusual either. Nonetheless, the one area I see most promising arts executives crashing and burning is labor relations. Moreover, I would recommend not using traditional bargaining courses as your exclusive exposure; they are certainly helpful but not always applicable to the field of performing arts negotiation.

      • Andrew Taylor
        August 27, 2014

        Hey Drew,

        Thanks for the comment to the class blog. Our program integrates labor relations throughout the curriculum rather than separating it into an independent course. It’s central and intertwined with everything an arts manager is and does.

      • Drew McManus
        August 27, 2014

        I was hoping you might weigh-in on that Andrew and that took less than an hour, kudos 🙂 Are we ready for another mock exercise?

  2. qfloyd
    August 27, 2014

    There seems to be a disconnected between the administrative/executives and the musicians at the ASO. In class, we spoke about the “Lemonade stand” creating an even balance between production and consumer. In this case, the orchestral members who are a part of the production process are not happy with the negotiations going on thus hindering the opportunity for the ASO to have shows for the consumer. Negotiations can make or break organizations and this would be an excellent class topic and a valuable skill to learn as we progress to becoming arts managers.

  3. Jenni
    August 28, 2014

    This reminds me of the Minnesota Orchestra’s 15 month lockout over proposed salary cuts that ended in January of this year.

    Negotiation and mediation are definitely valuable skills to develop.

    • jessicamallow
      August 28, 2014


      I definitely followed every stage of Minnesota’s lockout! We had several players come down and perform with us at Orchestra Iowa in the meantime, looking for work.

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