The Buzz, 3-14: APAP
FIRES SIX VALUABLE STAFFERS
"Thank you for contacting Arts Presenters. This Individual is no
longer with the organization."
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
Arts Presenters, the
trade organization commonly known as APAP to the dance and other
theaters in the United States it serves, fired six key outstanding
employees or more than a quarter of its staff last Friday, a former
employee with close ties to the organization has told the Dance
APAP, which holds a
marquee members' conference every year in which presenters from
all over the U.S. watch performance showcases to help program their
theaters, has now lost approximately 20 staffers from a staff of
22 since new management was installed in July 2000. The former employee
who spoke to the Dance Insider, on condition that his or her name
not be used, and who left the organization of his or her own volition,
was able to list all the employees who have departed since July
E-mails sent this morning
to the six employees the former employee said were fired Friday,
at their APAP e-mail addresses, were returned with the message:
"Thank you for contacting Arts Presenters. This individual is no
longer with the association." All of the e-mail addresses were found
this morning on the Arts Presenters web
site, which still lists the individuals as members of
its staff. But the former employee who spoke to the Dance Insider
said he/she could "confirm" that the six individuals had been fired.
APAP official Patrick
Madden, asked to confirm whether the employees had been fired, why
they had been fired, whose decision it was to fire them, and whether
APAP's board of directors sanctioned the decision, responded with
an e-mail with the subject line "Arts Presenters Looks to the Future."
"I would caution against
any presumptions or characterization of information that has been
provided to you," wrote Madden, hired last week as APAP's vice president
of external affairs. "I'm sure you understand that personnel actions
at any organization are confidential for all the parties involved."
He continued later on, "With that aside, rest assured that the changes
that have occurred at Arts Presenters will benefit the members.
All of the changes that have occurred at Arts Presenters are the
result of an 18-month strategic planning process that involved our
board, members and staff."
But a former staff member
disputed this statement. "True," the former employee said, "staff
members were required to be at a 3-day strategic planning meeting
held at a high-priced conference center in Virginia, and true they
were involved in the process that was used in creating a new 'vision'
for the organization. It is not true that the staff's opinions were
included in the final product."
Regarding that product,
Madden explained: "Our restructuring involves almost every aspect
of Arts Presenters, including re-evaluation of all of the services
Arts Presenters provides. The restructuring process began back in
2001. We first obtained a field assessment from the Urban Institute.
From that we distributed a position paper...'Toward Cultural Interdependence.'
.... All of the research and evaluation was provided to our members
at the (annual members') conference or through other communications
A former employee familiar
with the position paper and the process by which it was formulated
told the DI, "....It is a POSITION PAPER, not a research study.
They make no reference to any of their methodologies, or to any
of the metrics they employed to reach their conclusions. In fact,
I would venture to say that the way in which APAP conducted the
'research' involved in this 'study' was statistically flawed. While
there were many 'forums' conducted across the country, participation
was on a voluntary basis, and reservations were taken by APAP for
attendance. Both of these facts would send shivers down the spine
of any decent marketing researcher. The pool of participants was
polluted from the beginning, and participants were able to attend
more than one 'forum.' In fact, at the only 'forum' I attended,
no one showed up, so they disregarded that 'forum' instead of reporting
that there was no interest.... I do not believe that the faulty
data, and highly suspect nature of their conclusions were ever reported
to the membership."
Following the study,
Madden said, APAP's board "approved" a "strategic plan last fall
and specifically tasked the president with developing an operations
plan that allows for more segmented services that will individualize
our efforts for members. The board specifically asked that the organization
move away from a reliance on project-based personnel." Madden's
defense of Friday's personnel changes is essentially that they result
from a re-classifying and re-defining of positions in line with
a reassessment of needs. However, according to the DI's source,
none of the employees involved were accorded the opportunity fill
the new positions. "Why weren't the then current APAP employees
just moved into the new positions?," asked the former employee who
left APAP earlier of his or her own volition. "If responsibilities
were removed from jobs, then would it not make sense that the person
who was qualified for the job with more responsibilities would be
more than qualified for the job with less? They make a blanket statement
trying to cover multiple circumstances."
I've reported this news
in this column to give me the license to make an editorial comment,
and here it comes.
APAP has long been the
strongest and most vital organization in a field that cannot afford
to have any part of its infrastructure weakened. The annual members
conference, including not just the showcases essential to dance
companies (and dancers) finding employment, but also seminars and
workshops on crucial issues, is in reality not just a trade conference
but the most visible and important annual meeting for the dance
community. APAP has succeeded in playing this role chiefly because
of the frontline employees. The employees fired Friday, whose dedication
and unquestionable skills and knowledge are well-known to the field,
will not have any trouble being snapped up by other organizations.
Don't cry for them, Argentina! More troubling is what APAP will
do without them. Its staff has now turned over nearly 100 percent
in less than three years, which never bodes well for organizational
stability. And the dance world cannot afford an instable APAP.
As important, in the
milieu of the arts, which should above all milieus be sensitive
to the human condition, to fire six human beings who selflessly
devoted themselves not just to the organization but the field, with
only bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo as justification, is, especially in
these tough economic times, just plain heartless. Arts organizations,
particularly leadership arts organizations like APAP, should be
setting an example of compassionate regard for employees. While
they're "looking to the future," perhaps APAP leaders should also
look into the mirror and ask if they would like to be treated with