Friday, March 14, 2008

Margaret Elrod and Scott Green on finances and negotiations between the SSO board and musicians

In regards negotiations between Shreveport Symphony musicians and the SSO board, Scott Green has issued a statement:

Not unlike a myriad of symphony orchestras since 2001, the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra has found it difficult to operate at a break-even level. This is an era of challenge and change within the arts and culture industry, when the very definition of arts and culture has been called into question with the emerging popularity of the likes of American Idol and Amateur Night at the Apollo.

The Shreveport Symphony has operated at a break even level only twice in the past six years. Following an operating loss of more than $700,000 in FY 01, the orchestra has accumulated another $500,000 in losses over six years. This caused the Symphony to transfer funds from the endowment. The Orchestra now finds itself in a place where endowment transfers are not available to fund continued losses. The Symphony has been told by two outside consulting firms that it has no choice but to look immediately and realistically at revising operations to secure its future.

A long-range plan designed to create a more financially stable organization is imperative. With the support of a grant designated specifically to support a new plan and a gift from an anonymous donor, the Symphony is moving forward with a financially feasible and sustainable plan.

"Analyzing where budget cuts can be made, what the Shreveport-Bossier community wants from a symphony and what it will realistically pay for is an inherently difficult situation,” said board president Margaret Elrod. “Faced with net assets and debt that demands serious consideration in order to secure the future of the organization and the added stress of negotiations over a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is almost a given that tempers will flare and there will be misunderstandings and accusations on both sides of the equation,” added Elrod.

Because of the length of the release and complexity of the SSO board's explanations of the negotiations process, please continue your appreciation for the situation at shreveportsymphony.com.

20 comments:

trudeau said...

The link to the full text of the SSO's statement has been fixed, thanks to a helpful caller.

Anonymous said...

Instead of cutting players salaries from below poverty level to basically a voluntary status, why don't they get rid of their inept management team? Hire a few people who are willing to work for the orchestra; people who believe in it and will put their energy into promoting it and getting it back on it's feet. Start these new people out at a base salary with commission; they want more money, they have to work for it; I promise there are people out there that could handle this job.
How much money does Mr. Green make; how much of a salary cut is he planning to take; how about Margaret?
I really do not understand the problem; it seems obvious to me why the orchestra is in the state it is in. What I don't understand is why no one is looking at management, making them explain how they have let things get to this point.
How many fund raisers has Mr. Green organized? How many letters have been sent out to people that love the arts, explaining the dire situation, and asking for help? I don't recall ever seeing one. What exactly does "management" do? Just curious...it's not like they can say they "manage" this orchestra.

Anonymous said...

I have read the press releases from both sides and have a few comments to make. I don't know how much the previous poster knows about business models for today's orchestras, but it is obvious they are not informed about our Symphony's situation. Major cities are losing their orchestras for just the same reasons as we are having issues. A community the size of Shreveport/Bossier is hard-pressed to support full-time musicians in a symphony. As a point in case, the concertmaster of our symphony has a full-time job at the local public radio station. How many people do you know that have two full-time jobs? Many of our musicians have the same situation--teaching and performing. If our symphony required full-time musicians then it would be a different story. Fact is, the full-time musicians are getting paid for about twice the number of performances that they actually perform. I don't know about you but I would love to get a gig like that!

The number of symphony orchestras which have recently closed their doors because the communities would not support them is staggering. People say that they want a great orchestra but are not willing to pay for it. I wonder how much money the previous poster has given to the symphony this season. As Maestro Shenaut said on a recent TV program I saw, and I paraphrase, "we need to find people that WOULD support the Symphony, not that COULD support it." Unfortunately, the number of people in our community who WILL support the arts is drastically less than the number who COULD. My guess is that many of them are spending thousands of dollars on weekends in Baton Rouge for football games and all that goes with it. Our current federal government does very little to support the arts so it is up to us.

The Shreveport Symphony has been in poor financial condition for a number of years, this is no surprise to most of us. I applaud the board of directors for finally taking the steps necessary for making this organization fiscally responsible. Perhaps they were motivated to make the difficult decisions coming to light because of the events at another local high-profile non-profit organization's blundering. As for the dedicated staff of the Shreveport Symphony, they do a terrific job. As a volunteer for arts organizations, I know what it takes to make this kind of organization operate and Mr. Green and his staff are to be commended-not chastised or belittled for holding together a stumbling and floundering organization.

I am absolutely convinced that the Shreveport Symphony will be able to make this work. No one will get all that they want but hey, that is usually what happens when I argue with my husband!

Anonymous said...

So....the musicians are being paid too much because they do not "work" enough to suit you? Who decided to cut back the amount of programs per year? Let's see....hmm....could it be MANAGEMENT?
So, a yearly salary of 12,600., I think you said, is too much for the musicians with no more work than they do...Am I wrong to say that Mr. Green's salary is 60,000? It's not under 50,000., is it? Now; if the musicians are being paid too much because they do not play enough concerts, explain justification for management's salary. I seriously want to know what "duties" management has, that would justify all this. Do you have any idea of what the cost of instruments and their upkeep is? Are you trying to tell me that tanning beds and hair gel cost more than that? Are you saying that "visiting" with the patrons during a concert is harder work than playing in the orchestra? Even if it were, he is not "visiting" enough times a year to justify a full-time salary. He should be the one making 15,000 a year and working a second job,not the concert master.
I am aware that there have been problems for a long time, but this orchestra is like most all businesses that are in trouble; they forget what is important and pay upper management some outrageous salary. When times are hard and they need to cut back, they cut back on what is most important, the product, and continue to spend on the "fluff." Then they sit around and say stupid things like, "People are more interested in "American Idol" than the orchestra; American Idol does not air on Saturday nights. Yes, there are ball fans, but those people have been ball fans all their lives; they were never orchestra supporters.
You are going to have to come up with something better than the bull you have been trying to feed people. Some may be foolish enough to listen to it; but I know what the problem is. You can not just sit in the office and wait for people to beg you to work for them. You have to "sell" what you have. It's not that difficult; I can think of many things that could have been done, and still could be done to revive this orchestra. Like the other poster; I want to know what you/management have done to try to raise/make money. Where is the business end of this?
I realize Scott Green is not the only one, but he is the "front" man.
You just keep being absolutely convinced that the Shreveport Symphony can make this work, and I will continue to be convinced that your musicians will begin to go away, replaced by temps and sometime musicians; the quality of the programs will go to dirt level, and if you think it's difficult to get people to pay to see shows now, try to get money out of them to hear some mediocre orchestra. You are going to end up with nothing, and Shreveport will go down a notch or two on the "social" ladder.

Anonymous said...

This is a truly sad situation. Having spent countless hours volunteering with both staff and board members, I can honestly say that the ineptitude in both areas is shocking.

There have been many orchestras facing crises around the coutnry, but there also some shining examples to counter those. Even the best-run arts organizations have problems. Shreveport's problem isn't largely due to a national trend. It is bad management, incompetent staff and a board that has been operating on autopilot for a long time.

I don't believe the staff makes much money, which is part of the problem. (Check out the organization's 990.) They don't hire folks with any real expertise. They hire people who they know locally. Unfortunately, the level of talent that they need to be highly productive just isn't there.

Unfortunately, it would probably be better to sink the Titanic and start over with a clean slate.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to know music to be a good sales person; and that is what you need in a front man/woman. They have to be able to "promote" you; that doesn't just happen.

You are right; it is a sad, pathetic situation. Management should not be fooled by people who just smile and nod at what they say; the majority of people know what has happened here. They just feel it is an impossible situation as long as the same people are running things.

trudeau said...

The remarks offered by people who care about the SSO have been, in most cases, thoughtful and analytical. Thank you, readers.

While I offered an emotional response in my post which followed the OPUS announcement, I have come to see the issue more dispassionately. Having been an SSO board member for a couple of years and having seen myself burn out on fundraising, I sympathize with management. Since I have several friendships within the core player group, I have a stake in the musicians and families being affected.

The crux is that we come together as a community to make a compromise
and resolution that consciously avoids bitterness.

Btw, people across the country are following our struggle. Let's do the best we can to bring our best ideas to the fore.

Should we call on outside expertise to aid this crisis?

trudeau said...

As one respondent wrote, the Columbus, Ohio, symphony is going through a shakedown eerily like the one in Shreveport.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they are; and like the Shreveport Symphony, management has run the orchestra into the ground.

Anonymous said...

In the interest of keeping things in perspective, I would like to point out that SSO board members are all volunteers. I don't know of any of them who have nothing else to do, and in many cases that includes making a living. A previous post insinuated that Margaret was paid. She isn't, quite the contrary. The board members contribute both their time, efforts, and financial support to the Symphony as a service to their community. Those who are prepared to devote their time, efforts, and personal fortunes to serve the Symphony should certainly do so, especially those who are confident they would be so much less "inept." The board needs candidate for nominations every year.

It would also be a great benefit to the SSO to have a professional development staff. Professional staff do have to be paid, and, apparently, there's resentment in some quarters that management staff is paid anything already.

It is true that the current situation is an agonizing one for the musicians, the community, and the current board. The time to have made this transition was probably several years ago when things went bad before, but the fact is that it wasn't, and there's no going back; we have to deal with today's situation. Fretting about what somebody else should, could, or would have done won't help.

The reality, today, is that there isn't another city in America the size of ours that supports a core orchestra the size of ours, not even close. Many of our SSO musicians, including the full-time musicians, play in several other orchestras in the Ark-La-Tex on a per service basis. Baton Rouge has a per service orchestra. Shreveport-Bossier has not demonstrated that it will, in fact, support a contingent of 24 full-time musicians. The continued effort to do so will only prolong the agony and result in the loss of the orchestra altogether, which won't be good for the musicians or the community.

Anger, bitterness, resentment, finger-pointing, accusations of ineptitude or incompetence are contributing nothing whatsoever to finding solutions for the problems SSO and its musicians face. What a waste of energy! All this acrimony simply prevents a reasonable dialogue from taking place. Whether SSO changes its business model and goes to a per service orchestra or goes bankrupt in the futile effort to support a 24 member core orchestra, the result is going to be the same. Shreveport-Bossier will not have a symphony orchestra and the musicians will not have even the opportunity to play per service. The organization will survive for the musicians and for the community only if everyone works TOGETHER.

In a crisis like this, the easiest thing of all to do is talk about how other people are inept or not doing their jobs. It is much more challenging and much more rewarding to contribute your time, money and expertise. So I challenge those who think the SSO board and staff don't raise enough money to make a gift to the SSO annual fund today. I challenge those who criticize the job the SSO staff and volunteers are doing to pitch in and do better. That's how you can help the musicians. Criticism and name-calling serve no constructive purpose. It even lessens those who engage in it.

Anonymous said...

I think it is unreasonable to expect management staff to work for free; there is so much work that NEEDS to be done, (needs, being the key word here). A management person, that is a real "go-getter" with proven sales/promotion experience could have, at some point, saved this orchestra. Obviously, a person like that would be worth a good salary. I think a moderate salary with commission would encourage a person to put all their energy in their work.
The term "management" makes one think the musicians are under the manager; in this case, that is not/and should not be true. They need a "promoter/agent" far more than "management".

Anonymous said...

What would be done with money I contributed today? They got their hands on 200,000 dollars and it didn't even make them pause on what they were supposed to do. A previous posting used the 200,000 as justification for the pay cut! I know they needed much more than that, but who wants to give it to them where they can continue on this vein; I don't.
Have any of the board members who rub shoulders with Jindal thought about asking him for money? The state has a huge surplus, and can not decide what to do with it. Their might be some strings attached as far as doing performances for public schools, but they used to do that all the time.

Anonymous said...

The real problem here is that the organization has lost its historical memory. The point isn't that other cities don't have a full-time core, but rather how incredible that Shreveport symphony organization once realized how terrific and smart it was to have one. Do we want to be just like other cities? I hope not! How many other cities of our size also have 4 working movie soundstages? How many others would ALSO have a chance at the Cyber Command center? Geez, people - have a VISION! Don't just be an also ran. Take some pride in being better than the rest or we never will be the next great city of the south!

Anonymous said...

SOMEONE BLOGGED:

What would be done with money I contributed today? They got their hands on 200,000 dollars and it didn't even make them pause on what they were supposed to do. A previous posting used the 200,000 as justification for the pay cut! I know they needed much more than that, but who wants to give it to them where they can continue on this vein; I don't.

The way that I understand it, $100,000 was given to them by the Community Foundation board and someone who gave another $100,000 (thank you, BTW) on the condition that they USE IT ONLY to head in this direction. The Community Foundation does not give $100,000 without carefully examining the usage. If the feel that the symphony had no other choice than to follow the organization's restructuring plan, then I am willing to put my faith in that decision.

Anonymous said...

Wow, someone gave 100,000 dollars with the stipulation that you get rid of the core musicians? What a prince! (NO THANK YOU, BTW!)
Where's Rudy Giuliani when you need him?

Anonymous said...

According to a symphony board member, that money from the Community Foundation was left over from a challenge grant two years ago. Since the symphony didn't need it last year (!) the Foundation allowed them to use it a year later. I really doubt the Community Foundation would get into the business of internal negotiations and it seems unlikely they would require the symphony to fire 24 people in the process.
As for the other money, that supposedly came from another board member who's been trying to eliminate the core for years and years. Granted this is hearsay, but I have no reason to doubt it.

Anonymous said...

It all sounds so sneaky, dirty, lowdown and underhanded. Sounds like there is more moral and ethical bankruptcy than actual financial bankruptcy. How scandalous; like a trashy soap opera; let us name it,
"As the Stomach Turns."
Wonder what "actor" they'll get to play the leading man??? Maybe one of those "method" actors....

(I have to stop...I'm killing myself here!)

Anonymous said...

Okay. Say someone wants to give $$$ to the Shreveport Symphony. Can they give it to go toward the musicians salary, say, this year's salary and not "fire the 24 players"? Could a fund be set up to help keep the current highly qualified musicians? Who would be the custodian of the fund? Musicians seem to not trust the management and management seems to want only to get rid of 24 musicians. Creative minds and business minds need to get involved and find a solution before we loose a symphony and a command center and who knows what else will not even think about coming here without a high quality symphony.

Anonymous said...

Poor Scott Green.........$75,000.00
Shouldn't that buy some outstanding talent?

You know, the musicians even volunteered in the office for two years to help the staff do its work.

Ouch!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I know; it's positively nauseating, the gall some people have; demanding the players take a pay cut.