“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Donald* who felt uncomfortable when a colleague, who usually snubbed and ignored him, began treating him normally. Of course, there was a reason for Donald’s sudden promotion to Lyndon’s* “Best Buddy.” You can read about it again if you’d like. Today we tell the story of Vicky*, a community chorus singer and member of the chorus board who tells a tale of a cycle of snubbing she is not sure how to handle.
Vicky lives in one of a group of small communities about two hours from a large metropolitan center. Her community, and others in the region, has created vibrant arts organizations which feed the cultural spirit of the area. There is a small professional orchestra with a youth symphony, there are art galleries and a museum, and a concert series in the largest town along with the community chorus Vicky sings in. It is not the city, nor claims to be, but a community which supports the arts and their own local artists.
Vicky moved to the area when she and her husband were first married. He had grown up in the community and had the opportunity to return. She agreed. One of the selling points for her was being near extended family as well as the fine chorus and other musical organizations. She has grown to love the galleries and small museum and has many friends involved with those fine organizations. She is generally happy with the community and content with raising their two young children there.
She wrote me in early March after she thought she would “lose it” during a reception for the professional symphony. Once again, she had been ignored and “looked through” by members of the symphony board and made to feel uncomfortable. This is a regular occurrence at symphony events such as concerts, fundraisers or receptions. But it doesn’t happen all the time, which is what confuses her. She wrote to me to help sort it out.
Vicky’s chorus sings regularly with the symphony. She, as a board member, encourages their collaboration when it comes time to decide if they will or won’t do it again. Some of her colleagues on the board are always against it for reasons that weren’t clear to her. She sees now what they have said before has some merit. They have spoken about a sort of hierarchy of arts organizations. The symphony board feels they are at the top and can treat any other performing group any way they want…except when they want something. Ah, I told her, now I see.
Vicky and her fellow board members should realize the symphony board will treat the chorus, chorus board members and chorus contributors any way they want because they always have. They’ve been allowed to “get away with it” with no further repercussions. If Vicky and her fellow board members want to “fix it,” they will have to do something.
There should be consequences, however mild. What do I mean? If it is not convenient or short notice or their director doesn’t want to, the chorus should not have to sing with the symphony when they snap their fingers. The chorus has always gone the extra mile for the symphony; that should stop. If chorus board members are symphony contributors, perhaps they should not donate as much or not at all. I would tell them why if asked. Money talks so it might be only way to get them to listen.
Many art organizations and other non-profits have similar problems, especially with their boards. The board is a clique and makes everyone else feel like intruders. They don’t quite grasp this fact; if you want a healthy organization, respected by all, then welcome all to your concerts and other events. If you want donors, or want to KEEP your donors, shake everyone’s hands and slap a smile on your face even if you can’t stand them. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it?