The Concert Association column you did not read in the Miami Herald
A bit of background: In June Dan Chang reported in the Miami Herald that the Concert Association of Florida has made an offer to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts proposing that the center take over the financially troubled presenting organization.
Feeling strongly that an essential part of a newspaper critic’s role is to provide analysis and spark debate on crucial developments on one’s beat, I wrote a column examining the issues raised by the offer. To make a long story short, the Herald declined to publish the column. Because there has been no change in the situation and I feel the issues are still germane and of great significance to the local music scene, I am posting that column today.
Last week the Miami Herald’s Dan Chang reported that the Concert Association of Florida had made an overture to the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to, in essence, take over the financially troubled organization.
The proposal from Concert Association board chairman Robert Hudson requests that the Arsht Center assume all responsibilities for accounting, marketing, ticketing, and production operations. It also calls for the Arsht Center to co-produce a number of events in which the center would assume all financial risk, while most of the revenues would flow to the Concert Association. Further, Hudson requests that the Arsht Center grant naming rights and other advantages to the Concert Association without the center sharing in the financial benefit.
Finally, three “key employees”—CEO Albert Milano, artistic director Rise Kern and development director Marcia Rabinowitz would keep their jobs while the rest of the staff would lose theirs.
Lawrence Wilker, interim chief executive of the Arsht Center, expressed sympathy for the Concert Association’s plight and said he would be meeting with them soon to see if there is some way the center can help. But a more realistic response to Hudson’s proposal would be, “What in the world are you guys smoking?”
It makes eminent sense for the Arsht Center to assume control of the floundering Concert Association. Before the downtown arts center existed, Miami needed a highly motivated dynamo like [founder and long-time president] Judy Drucker to present classical artists via a stand-alone entity. With the Concert Association’s Miami events presented at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall there’s no longer any practical or economic reason to have a middleman.
But it makes absolutely zero sense for Wilker to accept Hudson’s heavily slanted terms—not only for the obvious, woefully unbalanced costs/benefits breakdown —but for institutionalizing a leadership whose record is incomplete at best, and on the artistic front, little short of disastrous.
No one is exaggerating the organization’s problems with a lingering deficit variously estimated at from $2.4 to $3 million, an aging, shrinking subscriber base, and management at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts that seems disdainful of providing available dates to book classical events in Fort Lauderdale. Add the plunging economy and saving the Concert Association is an undeniably daunting task.
Hudson claims that the Concert Association has reduced its perennial long-term debt by $500,000 and that increased ticket sales and more than $3 million in contributions have helped the organization to end the 2007-2008 season in the black by $210,000. Yet even if the financial picture is as rosy as described, Milano’s record on artistic matters is considerably less inspiring.
Next season looks decent on paper, but the majority of the major classical events—the New York Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, and Kirov Orchestra—were booked by Drucker before her exit last summer. The initiatives and additional programming served up by Milano and Kern have shown a remarkable lack of knowledge of basic classical presentation as well as their audience’s preferences—most prominently in the disastrous Florida Symphony project announced with great fanfare in January and then quickly dropped three months later. Anyone could anticipate that Broward Center subscribers would resent paying international-orchestra prices to hear a local freelance ensemble.
Miami is not lacking in presenters of pops, jazz and Latin music, not least the Arsht Center itself, and Milano’s moves have shown a blithe indifference to the fact that classical programming has been the Concert Association’s raison d’etre for forty years. By changing its orientation to include mixed programs of classical and pops, world music and jazz, the Concert Association isn’t “broadening” its profile but diluting it. You don’t build a larger audience for classical music by doing less classical music.
For four decades, under Drucker, the Concert Association of Florida never wavered in its mission of presenting world-class orchestras and classical artists (as well as dance). Concert Association subscribers—the foundation of the organization’s audiences —have said loud and clear that they don’t want “crossover,” local freelance orchestras, or watered-down pops concerts, as evidenced by the numbers of people either not renewing in Broward or renewing only for the five classical events.
With its precarious financial situation, shrinking subscriber base and management that seems anxious to let someone else take over all responsibilities—while they keep their salaries—-it’s entirely possible that the 2008-2009 season will be the final one for the Concert Association of Florida as an independent presenter of events. And it will most likely be the last season for the organization’s series in Fort Lauderdale, where the Broward Center has shown indifference to providing dates for classical events for many years.
An Arsht Center takeover of the Concert Association could serve to shore up the organization financially as well as artistically. Potential conflicts with other resident groups and duplicative programming could be dealt with more easily and overall coordination more efficiently handled.
But it is crucial that the Arsht Center demonstrate a serious, lasting commitment to presenting quality classical repertoire unlike its sister venue in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to more innovative marketing that will stem the dwindling subscribe base, it’s essential that a programming director with a wide and deep knowledge of classical repertoire and practical experience be hired, preferably with an arts center background.
A reconstituted Arsht Center/Concert Association partnership could continue the organization’s historical tradition of bringing world-class orchestras and solo artists and even expanding it, possibly by inviting touring opera companies like the Kirov for multi-week residencies.
So, Larry Wilker’s reply to Hudson should be, “Thank you very much for your proposal. We appreciate your difficulties and would very much like to help. But come back with a counteroffer more rooted in reality—one that gives us some financial benefits as well as risks, and the ability to choose our own personnel who will guarantee not just the financial security but the artistic integrity of the Concert Association of Florida. Then we’ll talk.”
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Sun Aug 3, 2008
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