Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People

It is becoming increasingly clear that the power players in the Atlanta Symphony lockout are the members of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board. This impression was solidified once former ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein resigned and it was revealed that the interim CEO would have no role in negotiations. Nowadays it’s all Woodruff, all the time.

During the upheaval of the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting online with disgruntled Atlanta patrons. Lately we’ve been wondering who the Richard Davis / Jon Campbell equivalent is over at the WAC.

Well, good news: We Found Him!

His name is Doug Hertz. He’s Chair of the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center, and also President and CEO of United Distributors, his family’s beverage distribution company. And yesterday he surfaced to give a nice long insulting interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

You know that old Colbert joke from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?

The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!

In their article, the Atlanta Journal Constitution just reprinted everything Hertz said. Like, that was the article: Douglas Hertz pontificating on various topics. It was literally “make, announce, type.” No analysis, no fact-checking, no rebuttals from the other side. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: That Was The Article.

I can already tell that Doug Hertz and I are going to be great friends.

The piece starts off with such angsty observations as:

The barbs got so brutal on the ASO’s own Facebook page that management turned off commenting.

Haha, um, okay. I took screenshots of the posts. You can read them here. Spoiler alert: they’re not that brutal. Methinks the WAC has paper-thin skin. Vellum-thin skin.

Classical music blogs


some more opinion-oriented than journalistic in nature,

Oh, burn. BURN!

You know, how dare blogs be more opinion-oriented than traditional journalism? It’s almost like the function of a blog is to be casual, chatty, and opinionated. (Just like it’s the role of Atlanta Journal Constitution to be vaguely dickish about blogs. Apparently.)

I’d also like to remind the room that over the last couple years I’ve broken stories that traditional journalists ignored, including Henson and Romanstein’s bonuses, as well as the Minnesota Orchestra’s “save our orchestra” domain purchases. I’m not saying I’m a journalist – because I’m not! – but I have, at times, ended up imitating one, and in the process, I’ve occasionally acted more journalist-y than the actual journalists. Just wanted to throw that out there.

have spread the accusations across the virtual universe.

Woah, I’ve spread accusations across the UNIVERSEAnd here I was, merely aiming for world domination.

This article is getting more ridiculous by the moment. Excuse me while I pop some popcorn.

‘Kay, I’m back. *munch*

Hertz, an Atlanta native and president and CEO of United Distributors, a beverage distribution company, grew up in a family grounded in philanthropy and arts patronage. The Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage was named for Hertz’s father, Jennings Hertz Jr. With a gift of $1 million, Doug Hertz endowed the ASO’s Jill Hertz Chair, named for his mother, who herself was an orchestra volunteer.

Bwahaha. Good for you, man. But so? Big donations don’t make one an expert in what makes a non-profit work. My mom – and my grandma! – used to volunteer in the family waiting room at the local hospital. That doesn’t make me an expert in healthcare reform.

And I think the Minnesota Orchestra debacle proved Once And For All that people who give big donations aren’t necessarily the same people who should be leading the enterprise. Notice how we’ve entered a new era at the Minnesota Orchestra now that big givers Jon Campbell and Richard Davis have left the board. In fact, anonymous donors came forward with $13 million over the summer.

On public support of the musicians and rebukes of ASO and Woodruff leaders in media coverage and blogs: “I disagree that the public has sided with the musicians.

Wise position, Mr. Hertz. Totally ignore the Facebook Save Our Symphony Atlanta page, which has garnered 8760 likes in – *checks calendar* – three weeks. The 12,000 Facebook likes for the ATL Musicians. Totally ignore the fact that this blog had its biggest month ever in September, on the basis of a mere three entries on Atlanta. Ignore the sold-out self-produced concerts. The petition to end the lockout. The massive checks various orchestras are cutting to support Atlanta musicians. Those things are senseless and must be ignored.

I think the artists’ friends have sided with the artists.

Ohhhhh, I see. So all that support is from the artists’ friends. And as we all know, support from friends doesn’t count.

I do have to say, though, this realization is triggering a bit of an existential crisis… I backed the Atlanta musicians’ cause before I met any. And since I’ve started writing about Atlanta, I’ve only met one musician. She came to Minnesota to sub during Mahler weekend. That being said, we did speak for the hugely long length of time of approximately five minutes about such militantly Communist topics as Alisa Weilerstein’s dress and the Clarke viola sonata, and it is theoretically possible that during this conversation she indoctrinated me with her Marxist ideology. Dammit.

But I think the corporate community and the philanthropic community understands, like any businessperson would, we’re not going to make an investment in a business that keeps losing money.”

Oh, I’m sorry; I was operating under the assumption that the Atlanta Symphony was a non-profit. But apparently it’s a business.

I wish the non-businesspeople leadership over at the Woodruff Arts Center would take this advice to heart, because their High Museum of Art is bleeding boatloads of money, and there’s apparently no brave board chair there willing to take a stand. Where’s the Woodruff Art Center’s equivalent of Doug Hertz?? Where???

According to the latest 990, the High took in $3.3 million in revenue with nearly $26 million in expenses. The same form says the orchestra had $22.4 million in revenue and $51.5 in expenses.

According to the latest 990, the High took in $3.3 million in revenue with nearly $26 million in expenses. The same form says the orchestra had $22.4 million in revenue and $51.5 million in expenses.

On charges that Woodruff leaders want to turn the ASO into a minor-league ensemble to save money: “It’s frustrating, because the whole allegation, whether it’s by musicians or supporters of musicians, or journalists who want to take the musicians’ side

Wait. What journalists have taken the musicians’ side?

Do you mean bloggers?

I’m using ‘journalists’ pretty loosely …

Yeah, you mean bloggers.

Also, why the ellipsis?? I want to hear how much this guy hates me and my bloggy colleagues!

for them to allege that the WAC doesn’t want a fantastic symphony orchestra, or the governing board doesn’t want to take care of the musicians, is so far off base if they looked at the facts.”

Yeah. If people would only look at the facts. Despite our differences, I think we can all agree that a great way to take care of people is to lock them out twice in two years. That’s a fact.

As evidence, Hertz mentioned the work of other Woodruff governing board members including retired BellSouth executive Jere Drummond, “whose raised millions of dollars for the ASO’s endowment” and Paul Garcia, the recently retired Global Payments chairman and CEO, who along with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson raised nearly $1.5 million over the last two years to reduce the orchestra’s deficit.

Richard Davis and Jon Campbell gave a crapton of money to the Minnesota Orchestra, too. Their leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra also led the City of Minneapolis to discuss taking over Orchestra Hall (and I am not joking about that; that is the truth). If you’re a cynic, you know that these donations are cheap prices to pay for social prestige and resume-buffing, and the chance for powerful men to make ideological statements. Be grateful for their generosity, sure. But don’t ever assume that the men who make these gifts are automatically qualified to chart organizational direction.

“It makes you wonder, you know,” Hertz said, “are we supporting a bunch of crazy people.”

Uh… You do realize you’re dealing with a bunch of professional musicians, right? #crazybydefault

Also, you’ve just characterized your musicians – and presumably their supporters – as “crazy people.” Why are you supporting “crazy people”?? Isn’t supporting crazy people a little…crazy? Have you met the enemy? Is he – gasp – you?

Mind blown

Mind blown

On a major point he feels is lost in the contract issues: “The sad part of it is … there are not enough people that care.

Riiiiight. If people don’t care about the orchestra, why have you apparently commissioned a long-form interview in the newspaper?

If the public cared maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation. When you’ve got less than 5,000 donors in a metropolitan area of 5 million, that’s my concern.

Yeah. It’s almost like this is a concern that should be addressed by a development department. Huh.

Or by ensuring the preservation of a high-quality product. Huh.

By the way, I’ve been chatting with various Atlanta patrons who haven’t gotten requests from the Woodruff Arts Center for money in months and months. Huh.

We (board, administration and musicians) need to be getting together and figuring out together how do we grow support for the symphony.

Yeah, well… “The Atlanta Symphony: Pay More For An Orchestra Doing Ever Less!!” is probably not going to get the job done.

I’m also not sure how you’re going to build support for a bunch of people you’ve just labeled as crazy?

Well, we are very interested in exploring alternatives. We are not, cannot and will not move from ending up with a balanced budget moving forward. But there are a lot of ways to get there, and if we were to do it together, we may be able to find a way.

Which explains why you took the collaborative step of locking your players out…

On if that means that leadership would reconsider its position on giving management power over filling positions — essentially ultimate control of the size of the orchestra: “Sure. We’re not stuck on anything other than a balanced budget. We would love to protect the integrity of the art, and we want to do it in a financially responsible way.”

We would love to protect the integrity of the art? You say that like protecting the integrity of the art is a bonus. A dessert. Like the special wax option at the automatic car wash. Dude, you’ve got to protect the integrity of the art. That’s not an extra.

On feedback from the musicians, seconded by Spano and Runnicles, that management controlling the number of full-time players would destroy the ASO’s sound: “Well, it’s my impression that our symphony orchestra got the same artistic reviews over this past year as they have had in previous years.

Hey, everybody! I’m excited to announce that in his spare time away from beverage distribution, Doug Hertz has developed a musical expertise that not only outstrips Grammy-winning musicians’ and music directors’, but far outweighs them. Let’s hear it for Doug Hertz and his prodigious musical expertise! *applause*

We had 116 separate musicians that played with our orchestra (who were) not part of our (88-musician) complement — 116 additional musicians who sat in just last year. Yet no one’s told me that artistically that we were any better or worse.”

How much money did you save from employing 116 subs? Following this logic, why doesn’t the orchestra pursue a strategy of All Subs All The Time?

On music director Robert Spano showing support for the musicians when maestros are typically neutral in labor disputes:“Again, we’re criticized for not wanting a great symphony, right?

*dramatic sigh* Again! Criticized yet again! *waves self with fan* Will the unpleasantness never end?

But we signed Robert to a five-year contract (that’s just beginning) with a raise. And Robert’s getting paid.

“Guys! We want a great symphony! We’re so serious about it, we hired a music director. And – wait for it – we’re even paying him! If that doesn’t spell commitment to a great symphony, I don’t know what does!”

And we signed (principal guest conductor) Donald Runnicles to a three-year contract. He’s getting paid.

“And we’re paying a guest conductor, too! Obviously we want a great orchestra, if we’re springing for extras like those!”

So don’t criticize WAC management or the WAC governing board for not wanting to put our money where our mouth is.

Yeah. Because the sole benchmark for supporting a great symphony is if you’ve hired a conductor and a guest conductor. As we all know, after that, everything’s gravy.

Maybe Robert’s feeling a little bit guilty because he’s getting paid and the musicians aren’t.

Hmm. Thought-provoking. Doug Hertz is apparently more than a business leader and musical expert; he’s also qualified to publicly muse about Robert Spano’s inner demons.

But he could be a big help in solving this.”

On how Spano could help: “Ideas

Yes. Spano could help…with ideas.

Mind blown

Mind blown

Encouragement of the musicians to come back and talk. But he hasn’t been particularly constructive to this point.”

Soooo. In this single interview – which keep in mind isn’t even the full interview – Doug Hertz has been dickish toward

  • bloggers
  • journalists
  • patrons who support musicians
  • musicians
  • Robert Spano

What other stakeholder is left to take a dump on?

On the governing board’s fiduciary responsibility to all four Woodruff divisions: “We’ve got a division of the arts center that threatens the ability of the other divisions (the Alliance Theatre, High Museum of Art and Arts for Learning) to produce the great work that they’re doing. We owe it to everybody to make sure that everybody is pulling their weight.”

Yeah. The orchestra should start pulling its weight, like the High Museum does. According to the 990s, the High’s revenue covers a full 13% of its expenses, while this slacker symphony over here has revenue that covers a paltry 44% of its expenses. Get with the program, ASO!!

Although… If the symphony really is threatening the rest of the WAC… And since the Atlanta Symphony board is currently very publicly pissed-off at the Woodruff board… It begs the question: why does Hertz not address the obvious potential solution: an amicable divorce? If the ASO is such a millstone around the neck, why isn’t the WAC trying to cut it loose?

Or…is that what they’re trying to do?

*plot thickens*

On if he’s concerned that negative coverage of the lockout will set back fund-raising in the long run: “Sure, I mean if it lasts too long it will.

Dang, Doug, dude. I hate to break it to you, but your fundraising has already been set back. In fact, on your own website you say:

However, 2014 contributions were the lowest since 2009.

And I know this might be a stretch – the crazy ramblings of a syphilitic brain – but bear with me… What if…this means that donors are holding back money because of the profound institutional dysfunction the WAC displayed in the wake of the 2012 lockout? I mean… I know that’s an incredibly far-fetched idea. But what if?

(But) a contract ended. We lost over $2 million (in fiscal 2014). Don’t forget, when you have earned ticket revenues of only $5 million and have salaries and benefits just for the musicians of $10 million to $11 million, you’re losing money from the very beginning. …

Woooow, interesting. It’s almost like cutting the number of concerts might have…affected ticket revenue! #mindblown

This presumably happened with the Minnesota Orchestra in recent years:

Courtesy of Save Our Symphony Minnesota's "The MOA Debacle" presentation

Courtesy of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s “The MOA Debacle” presentation

And I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar trend occurred in Atlanta, too.

Another fun factoid: the ASO is under-performing other organizations’ ticket sales. In 2013 the Detroit Symphony sold $6.2 million in tickets. Heck, the Cleveland Orchestra recently pulled in $7.6 million. Here Doug Hertz says they’re at $5 million. If the Atlanta Symphony came close to duplicating those figures… Well, that’s a big chunk of their deficit right there. And that, as Doug Hertz likes to say, is a fact.

“Every day, we lose money.”

Yeah, not to mention credibility.

So. Please keep talking, Mr. Hertz. Keep elucidating your vision for the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center. You’re shedding more light than you know.

And as an aside, I think we’re going to enjoy our time together.



Filed under Labor Disputes

12 responses to “Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People

  1. Dave Assemany

    You two were made for each other.

  2. Dr Stanley "Nefario" Romanstein PhD

    Runnicles admitted he’s crazy.

  3. Lisa Renee Ragsdale

    I think you have found your “niche.” You clearly excel at blogging about idiots who do not belong in the management of Arts organizations. Keep it up. You should be getting paid for this! REALLY!

    • I’m working on a business plan. Slowly. :)

      • Lisa Renee Ragsdale

        I’ve been informed (by people in the Biz community) that my left brain is quite good considering I am a composer / musician. If I can be of any help / or find someone more wise than myself to help you, I would be happy to help. Technically I am a self-employed composer as I am self-published (in order to get 100% of royalties). Plus I survived 8 1/2 years without employment (don’t ask!).

  4. That’s a feisty bit of writing there–and fun to read! I enjoy your take-downs of arts management.

  5. Ein Heldenleben

    Brava! Loved reading this. The irony in Hertz’s comment about journalism in what is basically a full page ad of an interview becomes a little less gleeful and a little more sinister when you consider that the parent company of the newspaper interviewing him has long been controlled or heavily influenced by one of the WAC’s board members. (For what it’s worth, those of us who live in Atlanta and want real journalism gave up on the AJC years ago when it downsized out its best and brightest with buyouts and reinvented itself as a clickbait rag for the conservative northern suburbs.)

    I agree with your suggestion that Hertz’s continuing to talk will do more long-run harm for the WAC than good. His tone was nothing but defensive and revealed the unabashed contempt the board has for the people in this debate who are passionate about the orchestra’s legacy. The concerned public has already been alerted to many things, mostly through the diligent efforts of bloggers like you – corporate executive bonuses, complete lack of transparency in where donations are used, possible non-profit malfeasance, and a very sick work culture at the WAC. And as the WAC’s board seems perfectly happy to ignore, symphony orchestras tend to appeal to smart people who love music and respect musicians. Continuing to insult them in these 1% agitprop pieces masquerading as interviews will only drive away donors faster.

    • Yep. We had the issue in Minnesota that the publisher of the Star Tribune was on the Minnesota Orchestra board. In lots of patrons’ opinions, it showed. That was on top of big business board men I’m sure the Strib didn’t want to upset. The Strib got some information out…but they didn’t really have the time or energy or will to dissect it. It definitely teaches you to be aware at all times of the background of the media you’re consuming.

  6. Frank Hamilton

    It seems clear that business people offer a business model for everything based on their position as deficit hawks. This would include the arts and science. It seems the two would be reduced to their monetary value. Business people have wrecked the music industry outside of classical music by degrading the music and extolling the business instead. The WAC has commodified the noble goal of being a great musician by implying that if it doesn’t make money, it has no value. Deficit hawks are inflicted with the money-is-everything disease that permeates US culture extending to economic policies in Washington. We’re looking at a larger picture here.

    • PattyinAtlanta

      Thank you for saying that. I have felt for some time that the struggle over the orchestra here in Atlanta is but part of a larger picture. During the course of my lifetime, there has been movement away from the concepts of philanthropy and civic duty toward profit-at-any-cost and duty to one’s investors. This shift in values has eroded our culture, our government, and our national soul.

  7. Locked Out by Katherine Nash

    They locked her out, just shut the doors.
    She had nowhere else to go
    Like an abandoned dog, in dark, dense fog
    Or crying in deepest snow.

    But it wasn’t just one or two put out
    No it wasn’t what you’d expect
    It was the ASO, their families with bills
    Whose lives were totally wrecked.

    Locked Out, Locked Out, The Music is Gone
    Locked Out, Locked Out, But We Can Sing On
    Locked Out, Locked Out, Don’t Stop the Baton
    Locked Out, Locked Out, But We Will March On.

    No warning, no help, even sick and locked out
    The cold, long winter draws near.
    No deeper understanding, No sure, clear planning
    No money, but all filled with fear.

    They locked out the music of stormy seas
    And music from Symphony of a Thousand
    Gone was music of Mozart, Brahms and Debussy
    No music from the deep resounded

    The musicians work elsewhere and wander the streets.
    Playing for gigs here and there.
    Hoping that someday true justice will come
    Asking for only what is fair.

    The symphony members play all of the time.
    They study and practice all day.
    Making the classical concerts sublime
    And receiving, in return, little pay.

    Locked Out, Locked Out, The Music is Gone
    It’s urgent that something be done right away!
    These people are so sick of waiting
    Delays create panic, some quit every day
    They can’t wait on such slow debating.

    A city that’s lost its heart will die.
    A city without music is failing
    A future without music is like losing one’s soul
    A city with suits who are bailing.

    Locked Out, Locked Out, The Music is Gone
    Locked Out, Locked Out, But We Can Sing On
    Locked Out, Locked Out, Don’t Stop the Baton
    Locked Out, Locked Out, But We Will March On.

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