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.
If you also believe that Parsons should donate an amount equal to the sacrifice she asks of her musicians, say so in the comments below. Show your support to have Parsons donate her shared sacrifice, and maybe it can convince her that she needs to take action to earn back the loyalty of the musicians.
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