What's a Performing Arts Executive Worth?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

As orchestras, opera companies and presenters wrestle with declines in funding and ticket sales, some have cut back on the number of full-time musicians they employ, others have reduced salaries. With those measures come questions of wage parity. How much money should the head of a major performing arts organization be paid? And should executives be paid less for failing to keep finances afloat -- or more, since managing such a crisis is tough?

In this podcast, host Jeff Spurgeon poses these and other questions to two expects: Drew McManus, an orchestra consultant and author of the blog Adaptistration.com, which compiles an annual compensation report of orchestra executives; and Debra Oppenheim, the co-founder of Phillips Oppenheim, an executive search firm that specializes in arts institutions.

Weigh in: What do you think is a fair salary for a top executive the classical music business? Please share your thoughts.

Podcast producer: Brian Wise; Engineer: George Wellington

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Comments [9]

Michael Meltzer

Of course, the Rolodex is that card file sitting on the blotter next to the typewriter.
Just to add to the problems you cite, It is next to impossible for new talent in composition to make its presence known to the cost-accounting management of the absentee-owned recording industry. And, the industry seems to be at a loss as to how to market new talent when they have found it.
New charismatic talent in performance hardly ever makes it to the finals in the competitions, which have superseded the old debut recitals with reviews. Newspapers no longer attend or give reviews. The competitions have homogenized the product, A young Horowitz or Gould would not sweep a committee.
Real entrepreneurial talent in artist management has defected to the popular field, no Sol Huroks on the horizon.
It's not a pretty landscape. It makes it all the more difficult to measure the management performance of the arts CEO's we're talking about, who have available more excuses for
failure than they should be entitled to.

Sep. 19 2011 06:44 PM
Janis from Los Angeles

A related-but-only-indirectly comment:

I agree with Michael Meltzer in that one of the major qualifications for being a good arts exec is simply put to be a filthy-rich man with a bulging rolodex. (Does anyone even know what they are anymore?)

However, that comes with problems ... mostly that orchestras are all in a froth lately over being "relevant to their communities" and interacting with people other than rich, white males. Unfortunately, most of the ideas that will attract that newer, less stereotypical arts crowd will be entirely stillborn in a room full of caviar and riding club cocktails. When the arts survive on sponsorship of the very wealthy, the arts begin to reflect what the very wealthy want to see and hear, or even what they consider "hip" and "edgy."

Which runs directly counter to all the simultaneous parallel talk of attracting a more diverse population (ethnically, financially, etc.). Unless you're talking about billionaire oil sheiks. Even if you want to attract simply more young people, the only young people who can afford to take on the unpaid internships offered by most arts organizations will be the kids of those very wealthy people.

I'm not sure I see a way to reconcile those two streams.

Sep. 19 2011 05:37 PM
Michael Meltzer

I agree with David about business "experience." Success in business, on the other hand, means moving in social circles with others with abundant discretionary incomes, if not out-and-out wealth. The most successful fund-raiser in the history of classical music in NYC was John D. Rockefeller III, who called on every person of means he knew to kick in something for the building of Lincoln Center. He wasn't even a music lover, by his own admission.
What is required is ready access to that community, and an understanding of what numbers really mean.

Sep. 18 2011 02:04 AM
David from Flushing

The chief responsibility of museum directors, university presidents, and performing arts CEOs is fundraising and not curatorial, academic, or whatever.

The dean of the medical school where I worked spoke to us during his first year on a subject in his area of past research. He began his remarks with a lament that he was now more familiar with lists of donors in Palm Beach than in recent work in his field.

Business experience does not normally involve chasing donors and I would question its value for arts CEOs. In these tough times, I do not envy anyone seeking funds for the arts.

Sep. 16 2011 06:28 PM
Michael Meltzer

To add to Bowtie's comment, so did CBS, and they probably still do. I worked fr a CBS subsidiary in the 1980's and attended a series of seminars at CBS about not-for-profit management. Not only did CBS want their execs to have a presence in the arts, but they recognized the special management skills that had to be acquired there in order to motivate volunteers without having the "management tools" of the fear of firing or the carrot-on-a-stick of raises and bonuses.

Sep. 16 2011 11:32 AM
Concetta Nardone from Elmont, NY

These comments pertain to another field, philantrophy. I check out various charities to see what kind of rating they get. Do not know why executives of charities pay themselves salaries that sometimes exceed $500,000. Comfortable is one thing. I will not name these charities but you can find out on your own.

Sep. 16 2011 11:31 AM
Brunhillde from NYC

Why not have administrators who love the art and, heaven forbid, understand the art at the helm???? A comfortable salary is all that is necessary. High salaries, especially for sinking ships, is absolutely the wrong way to go. The hope to "turn it around" with new ideas, is a fatal blunder. It can not be shoved down people's throats. Art evolves. New ideas are exciting and are part of the creative process, but should not be the sole trend for the organization. People who love and support the arts are a special brand of people. They will love a performance with a simple black-drop.....if the performance is good. And that is where the administrator comes in....maintaining a quality of performers, not a "creative" team to do new things!! Do they teach THAT at business schools?

Sep. 16 2011 11:18 AM

Furthermore some businesses, the pre-split AT&T for one, encouraged their executives to be involved in arts and knowledgeable about their local arts organizations.

Sep. 16 2011 11:06 AM
Michael Meltzer

Once upon a time, arts organizations were led by patrons who had been successful in business, and who retired from business to step in with all their financial experience AND their personal network of high-rolling benefactors.
Now, arts mangement has become a degree-bearing field of graduate study, and arts organizations are led by PhD's in arts management, and at the operations level by ivory-tower "educated" middle management that is clueless in the marketplace.
I don't think that the awful state of arts organization financial health is just a coincidence

Sep. 16 2011 06:34 AM

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