Reactions to Anne Parson’s new three year contract.

Recently several columns have been published that are strongly critical of the DSO Board of Director’s decision to extend Anne Parsons’ contract for 3 years. These columns are from outsiders with no connection to the organization.  The first is from John Guinn, a longtime arts critic in Detroit, the next is from David Zoltan who writes about arts management from an insiders view, and the last is by Shannon Jones who writes for the World Socialist Web Site.

Our members from around the metro area and around the continent have contacted us with questions about the issues raised in these columns, so in the interest of transparency and open communication, we are posting them here and invite comments and input from all interested parties.


On the Contract Extension of DSO President Anne Parsons
by johnrockneguinn – June 10, 2011

The apparently blue skies that opened up with the ending of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike turned grey and stormy with the recent revelation that the orchestra’s board had offered DSO President Anne Parsons a three-year extension of her contract.

In March, shortly before the orchestra’s nearly six-month strike ended, the board approved the extension of Parson’s lucrative contract. That wrong-headed decision, preceded by the sad news that Emmanuelle Boisvert, the orchestra’s longtime concertmaster, was departing to join the Dallas Symphony, makes the DSO’s weather forecast gloomy indeed.

Clearly, Parsons’ contract extension is a collective slap in the orchestra’s face, an arrogant confirmation by the board that her campaign to severely alter the orchestra’s artistic purpose and vision will continue.

But it is vital to remember that the blame for the ongoing struggle for our orchestra’s future lies not with the inept Parsons but with the board and its autocratic chair, Stanley Frankel, who issued a lavish statement supporting her.

As long as Frankel and those misguided DSO board members who agree with him continue to exert power within the organization, the future of the orchestra as a viable  artistic force remains in serious jeopardy.

So the storm clouds continue to gather. Don’t expect to hear any thunder, though. The entire DSO percussion section has already departed for more secure artistic futures.


Internal loyalty
by David Zoltan

Anne Parsons is the kind of arts manager that gives the rest of us a bad name. The president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has been in the news quite a bit over the past year. The latest news to feature her is perhaps one of the most telling, however.

In March, while the fight was still raging between Parsons and the musicians over a 23% pay cut for the musicians as well as some other issues surrounding outreach and community involvement, Parsons got her contract extension with the DSO board wrapped up and then kept under wraps, waiting until after breaking the strike and the spring concert series to announce her contract extension. And who could blame her considering that announcing the fact that she was being brought back for exactly the same pay would have given the musicians even more resolve to wait out Parsons and the board?

Parsons reportedly makes close to $300,000 per year along with a long list of fringe benefits, not the least of which is the house she lives in. I haven’t looked deeply into top-tier orchestra management salaries of late, but that doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, for better or worse. So by pure market value of experienced top-level management, I’m sure that it’s reasonable for the level of management talent we’re discussing. Of course, the argument that Detroit would lose its status as a first class orchestra if it made such drastic cuts was summarily dismissed by management, so why would the market for management talent be different? But this isn’t purely a factor of economics.

Parsons already has an image as a union-breaker given her role in the strike and her intransigence in negotiating, even when top politicians and mediators came in to try to help put an end to the long dispute. The loss of Emmanuelle Boisvert, the long-time concertmaster of the DSO, to Dallas where she will be willingly taking a demotion to associate concertmaster, as well as the loss of other musicians towards the end of the strike, showed the lack of trust and confidence already prevalent among the musicians.

So now, how can these musicians that finally bowed to time and accepted that huge 23% cut in pay possibly feel to this latest slap in the face that Parsons will force them to take hugely painful cuts without bothering to take any of her own?

Would $69,000 make everything at the DSO better? Of course not. But one of the constant refrains before and throughout the strike from Parsons was the need for more outreach and community programming, a fact I strongly supported. $69,000 would certainly make an impact on expanding such programs. I could still think of many interesting things to do with $69,000 that would help reach out to new audiences.

More important though is the sense of shared sacrifice that was asked of the musicians that Parsons abandons completely here. After all, if the average musician was making just over $100,000 (about a third of what Parsons makes), each individual musician’s share of about $23,000 that they sacrificed won’t make or break the orchestra either. It’s the shared sacrifice together that makes it possible for the orchestra to realign itself, but it’s not one that Parsons contributes to in any real sense.

This is why artists rail against arts management so often. This is where the accusations that we’re exploiting their work to make money for ourselves comes from. Parsons shows with such a simple misstep that she doesn’t believe in supporting artists, just institutions. This makes it just a little bit harder on the rest of us that are working to ensure that starving artists are a thing of the past to earn the trust of the artists we work so hard to support.

This comes down to my favorite topic on this blog, loyalty. This move shows a complete lack of leadership on Parsons’ part, and in the aftermath of the strike, she needs to be rebuilding loyalty if the rest of her programming has a real chance to help rebuild the audience base and expand into new audiences. She needs willing and enthusiastic collaboration with the musicians that decide to stick it out.

Let’s assume for a moment that her salary is deserved for those “deep connections within the national funding community” among other things. Fundraising is going to be a critical part of rebuilding the orchestra’s position in Detroit and the world stage. There’s still a chance for her to lead here, to make a very substantial commmitment to the orchestra and its musicians.

So I call on Parsons to donate 23% of her salary back to the orchestra as long as the musicians also must sacrifice for the health of the organization. Parsons is already a donor, as I’d hope all arts managers would be to the organizations they love and support, but at a more modest 3-7% level according to the article.

This is a chance for her to make a powerful statement to the musicians, to donors spooked by the strike, to those national funders to which she has deep connections that she believes in the orchestra, in the city, and in the long-term strength of the organization and its mission. This would allow her to match action to her words. And as it would be a voluntary effort, it may even mean more, in the end, than had the DSO board done its fiduciary and moral responsibility and reduced her salary through negotiations.


Detroit Symphony renews contract of Anne Parsons
By Shannon Jones – 7 June 2011

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board of directors has agreed to a three-year contract extension for DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons. Parsons oversaw the imposition of drastic concessions on musicians in the agreement ending the recently concluded six-month strike.

Parson’s contract renewal was agreed to late last March, but management delayed making public its decision until the conclusion of the strike-shortened 2010-2011 concert season and the announcement of the 2011-2012 season.

The decision to retain Parsons is an expression of the contempt of orchestra management for DSO musicians and the broader musical community in Detroit, as it continues its plan to impose a for-profit business model at the expense of artistic excellence.

Parsons received $299,679 base salary in 2009 and $93,000 in “other compensation,” including a house, pension, health care and a car allowance. For their part, DSO musicians took a more than 23 percent cut in pay under terms of the agreement ratified in April at the conclusion of the strike. The cuts dropped the DSO, long considered one of the best orchestras in the United States, out of the top 10 in terms of pay.

Linton Bodwin, a DSO bassist and chairman of the orchestra committee, told the WSWS that the decision by management to retain Parsons was “puzzling based on what has happened over the last five years, that she would be rewarded. We had hoped for a clean start at the top. It wasn’t a great surprise, but it wasn’t great news. It boils down to a few people making a decision to continue carrying out their philosophy.”

Musicians struck on October 4 last year against concession demands, including a more than 30 percent pay cut and changes in work rules that would turn orchestra members into little more than servants at the beck and call of management. Musicians turned out to the community, organizing well-attended support concerts that kept the dispute in the public eye.

As important as the economic issues were in the strike, perhaps more significant was the determination of the musicians to defend the DSO as one of the greatest orchestras in the world. However, the efforts of the musicians could not overcome the impact of the isolation from the official labor movement, which refused to organize any serious support for the strike in the Detroit area. In April, musicians were finally forced to agree to a contract with deep pay cuts.

The DSO strike drew national attention as orchestras across the United States struggled with declining corporate donations and ticket sales in the wake of the financial crash. The end of the DSO strike was followed within days by an announcement from the Philadelphia Orchestra that it was declaring bankruptcy and would seek to abrogate its contract with musicians.

Since the end of the strike, the orchestra has lost several of its most talented musicians, including Emmanuelle Boisvert, DSO concertmaster for the past 23 years. Boisvert joined the DSO at the age of 25, the first female to win the concertmaster position at a major US orchestra. Her departure is an implicit rebuke to DSO management. She is leaving to take a lesser associate concertmaster position with the Dallas Symphony. On previous occasions Boisvert had indicated her intention to remain with the DSO until the end of her musical career.

The DSO has suffered other major losses, including Philip Dikeman, acting principal flute since 2010; violinist Lilit Danielyan, an 11-year DSO veteran; and the entire percussion section.

Concerning the departure of Boisvert, Bodwin indicated that the highly talented violinist had been the target of personal attacks on the DSO Inc. Facebook page during the strike, which at least in part influenced her decision to leave for Dallas. He added, “We are sorry to see her go. I hope she will be better off where she is going. It is a gamble, because she is leaving some of her family behind.”

Reflecting on the mood of orchestra members, Bodwin added, “It is still an unsettled situation. I think the musicians are unified as a group and are not prone to letting themselves be divided. Unfortunately, we still have to be in a reactive position.

“I have to say that the reception we have been getting at concerts is like we are heroes. I think the public is standing with the musicians.”

DSO musicians gave thanks to supporters of their strike, including the World Socialist Web Site, at a post-concert party held backstage at Orchestra Hall on June 4. Musicians expressed their appreciation to this reporter for the honest coverage and analysis of the strike, which stood in sharp contrast to that provided by the corporate media. Many musicians indicated that they felt their struggle was part of a broader defense of art and culture and expressed determination to continue to oppose the agenda of DSO management.


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2 Responses to Reactions to Anne Parson’s new three year contract.

  1. Cornelia Pokrzywa says:

    I am working hard to understand how this contract renewal, at full salary and benefits, makes economic sense. If the entire organization faces cuts (administrative staff was reportedly reduced by up to 30%, and musicians were forced to finally accept 23% in cuts) why would the CEO retain full salary and an additional $93,000 in benefits? This fact doesn’t just alienate the musicians and staff, but also the audience and small donors. Are we being asked to tighten our own belts and pitch in to save the beloved orchestra while some on the payroll enjoy extravagant lifestyles? It looks too much like what happens in big business, and I feel certain it will harm the institution when it comes time to ask for money.

  2. June Zydek says:

    All three of these articles tell it like it is. Frankel is such a bully, and Parsons shows extremely poor judgement as an arts administrator by taking full salary and not taking the same, if not more, cut that the musicians were forced into. I say it over and over again, but it is really just shameful of her. And, Frankel needs gone, even with all his gazillions of dollars……he is destroying our orchestra with his bullying tactics.

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