Fuck the Board of Directors

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We don't know what expletive Junichi Hirokami used to describe his board of directors. But it's not hard to guess. The New York Times talked to the music director of the Columbus (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra and got his two cents on the news that the orchestra will shut down June 1.

Increasing financial pressure has frayed the relationship between the board and the orchestra’s music director, Junichi Hirokami, and risks permanently damaging its musical level even if the Columbus Symphony finds enough money to keep going.

The latest development prompted an angry response from Mr. Hirokami, who used an expletive [italics mine] to describe the board.

“It’s catastrophic,” he said. “Stupid people. I don’t care if they fire me. They have no idea.” He said that if Columbus were to lose its orchestra, “all the people in the world will laugh at this city.”

Like the musicians’ union, Mr. Hirokami said the board had not done enough to raise money. “You have to use your brain — ‘How can we save this orchestra?’ — but they didn’t do that.”

He said he had tried to solicit funds from companies in his native Japan. “But they don’t trust our board,” he added. “That is why they hesitate to support our orchestra.”

Don't trust the board. Hmm. Sounds like they got a problem. But why solve the problem when you can deflect scrutiny? That's what Buzz Trafford, board president, did.

It looks really, really bad for his music director, the guy the board of directors hired, the guy who is their guy, the guy who represents them all, who is the public face of the orchestra and its administration, to talk shit about the board.

So what does he do? He talks shit back.

“Junichi is passionate and has a very close relationship with the musicians,” Mr. Trafford said. “He doesn’t spend a lot of time in this country. He spends very little time with board members. He really, to be honest, doesn’t have a basis for a lot of the statements that he makes. They should be regarded for what they are: emotional outbursts that aren’t grounded in fact.”

Aw, poor Buzz. He doesn't get to spend quality time with his music director. Jeez, that's a shame. Buck up, little guy.

Problem is, Buzz doesn't recall that the buck stops with the board. He and his fellow palsy-walsies evidently think the orchestra's future balances on the musicians' union taking a pay cut. But it doesn't. Its future depends on the board doing its damn job.

Like Hirokami said, the board needs to raise more money, rally support, provide leadership, make compromises, yada yada yada — all the things that don't occur to people who sit on a board expecting personal prestige without the hardships that come with sitting on a board. All the things that don't occur to people who expect an orchestra to run like any other business and who clearly don't understand nonprofits.

Cutting labor costs is a short-term solution to a much larger and more complex problem. As Drew McManus notes on Adaptistration, a professional blog about the management of professional orchestras:

The legitimate source of their problems is a history of ineffective leadership and a complete lack of strategic planning (frankly, the structural deficit position is a cheap excuse based on an economic theory that by and large isn't even applicable to the orchestra business – more on that in another article).

Instead of addressing these deficiencies in a responsible fashion by crafting a strategic plan that addresses the financial problems via a process guided by artistic integrity and community responsibility, the CSO executive board adopted a "quick fix" solution in the form of their proposed financial plan that removes the burden of necessary fundraising.

It's petty and short-sighted and embarrassing for the city of Columbus, which does in fact have a vibrant cultural life. If the CSO folds, it'll be another black-eye for Ohio. Buzz & Co. will, of course, deny that — to the detriment of everyone else. How do you tell the people in charge to be more in charge of what they're in charge of? You can't.

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