As a member of the Bellevue Philharmonic I continue to work for the BPO because the orchestra has grown artistically since I joined. The caliber of players and the artistic standards have risen significantly over the past several years. As Bellevue grows as a community I hold out the hope that a suitable performing arts center will be built that will accommodate the orchestra and enable it to expand it's season. As the community grows I remain hopeful that it will recognize and value the professionalism of the orchestra and the contribution it makes to cultural life of the city and the Eastside.
The most serious concern is the upper management. The current CEO has virtually no experience managing an organization of this type or scale. Aside from a shocking lack of experience this person has also demonstrated very poor management, organizational and communication skills. Her actions over the course of her tenure with the BPO led many to question her motives and integrity.
Since joining the BPO the CEO has made no secret of her disrespect for the Music Director, musicans and administrative personnel. Presenting herself to the relatively small board of directors she convinced them that she would transform the organization into a artistic force on the Eastside. The intent seemed to be to dismantle what was in existence, replace BPO musicians with other area musicians contracted by personal acquaintances or hers and co-op the BPO into her existing chamber music/salon music management company.
To accomplish this she dismissed the Music Director of 10 years without putting in place a process for finding a replacement; voided a longstanding policy agreement claiming she did not need to abide by any agreement; arbitrarily fired 14 members of the orchestra's string section; refuses to work with the orchestra members to implement new guidelines - this in spite of hiring a mediator who recommended that this take place; cut lines of communication with the orchestra members resulting in a very contentious labor dispute; reduced the size of the board of directors to safeguard her position; failed to develop a long range business plan/vision for the organization; failed to secure pledged funding; is in the process of dramatically downsizing upcoming concerts - the real possibility exists that the current season will end in January of 2009.
Operationally staff turnover in administrative positions has never been higher. The CEO's has poor communication skills have resulted in numerous problems relating to issues of personnel, circulation of marketing/media information and the coordination of performance and rehearsal venues. Some staff report that she is not truthful when questioned about statements or decisions she has made. Staff also report that she is manipulatively self serving in how she handles employees and the board.
The CEO has failed to take a lead in the marketing and promotion of the orchestra. While much attention is paid to programs that involved her past associates, promotion of the BPO in general is conspicuously lacking. One program that did do get media attention over the holidays was canceled with virtually no notice. The visibility of the orchestra in the community and Puget Sound area has fallen dramatically in the past 10 months.
Advice to Management
Recognize that this organization, which has a 41 year history is poised on the brink of disaster resulting from the reckless mismanagement of the current CEO.
Fire the current CEO. Find a replacement as soon as possible.
Convene a meeting of present and past board members, orchestra members and administrative staff to develop a strategy for salvaging the current season and in creating a long range organizational plan/strategy.
Recognize that members of the orchestra are professionals who regularly perform with the Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Tacoma and Auburn Symphonies and area theaters (Fifth Avenue, Paramount, Village) - in fact members of these organizations have provided written statements of support of the current BPO musicians and have urged their members not to work for the BPO until the current labor situation has been resolved.
Recognize also that members of the orchestra, aside from attending the finest conservatories and universities in the country are also very acutely aware of the financial struggles facing all arts ensembles. Acknowledge that the members of the orchestra represent an invaluable resource in helping the organization weather the current economic crisis and in moving it forward in the future. Enroll them in the common cause.
Recognize that no professional orchestra in the world exists without a bargaining agreement/work policy guide. Engage with the musicians immediately to create such a document. This only supports the common goal of everyone to create a more profession organization.
The current board should acknowledge the history of the organization and the efforts made by those who came before them to create the Bellevue Philharmonic as it exists. Accept that funding an orchestra is a monumental challenge. Lead or get out of the way on this issue. Finally acknowledge the contribution, commitment and professionalism of the orchestra members - try a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T (thanks to Aretha Franklin)
Working and performing with my fellow orchestra members, occasionally performing wonderful compositions and until last year, the hope that this little orchestra would continue to expand and raise the performance quality. The most recent pay raise was a good incentive to work for the BPO but that doesn't really apply anymore now that concerts have been cancelled. Another reason to work for the BPO was that they were going to be holding a conductor search. This is always a positive and exciting move for an orchestra and the community. But unfortunately, that search is on hold until they figure out the future of the organization.
Inexperienced management has just about destroyed this orchestra. Budgets have been cut, personnel fired, laid off and hours cut to make up for the inept E.D. Work is not guaranteed anymore, contracts are worthless and the board and management will not recognize the musician's request for union representation. This orchestra has been turned into a joke of an organization and almost all of the freelance musicians in the area know not to work for this group.
Management would like to shut down the orchestra and recreate it with a brand new roster of musicians. This is in effect a lock out.
Advice to Management
Give it up and resign and never ever try and run a non-profit arts organization ever again. Let the musicians run the orchestra and dig it out of the trash heap that you have thrown it in.
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