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The bottom-up theory of institutional accountability

0 Robert Levine

Buried in an article in yesterday’s Courier-Journal article about the state of the Louisville negotiations (which are being mediated by Ralph Craviso, as discussed in this post) was this gem:

In an essay that appeared on the Forum page in The Courier-Journal last month, orchestra board president Chuck Maisch laid responsibility for the orchestra’s woes at the feet of the musicians.

“When our musicians declined to relinquish or delay their scheduled pay increase (as was stipulated in the prior contract) to help avoid bankruptcy, the board was forced to file for court protection to keep this organization from permanently shutting down,” Maisch wrote.

It’s not very often that one sees such plain talk from someone reporting on the arts. But Elizabeth Kramer, who wrote the article, nailed this one. What the board and management of the Louisville Orchestra have done, by “[laying] responsibility for the orchestra’s woes at the feet of the musicians,” is to completely abdicate their fiduciary and moral responsibility for the state of the orchestra and instead blame the disaster in Louisville solely on those who have the least control over the orchestra’s affairs - the musicians. It’s like saying the French Revolution was the fault of the sans-culottes.

With that kind of attitude, it’s not surprising that the board’s attorney - without even consulting the board -rejected the musicians’ offer yesterday to reduce musician costs by $750,000 in the first year with a five-year pay freeze, as well as to cut the size of the orchestra. Of course, under this new theory of “accountability,” he had no choice. Clearly the musicians have not yet fully accepted the extent to which they are at fault for the institution’s problems.

I wrote in the post I referred to earlier that my biggest fear about Craviso wasn’t that he would be pro-management, as his management-side background led some to believe he would be, but rather that the LO management and board would simply refuse to budge - for him or for anyone else - from their insistence that the orchestra be downsized to the level of their competence. Being able to say “I told you so” has seldom felt so ungratifying.

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