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"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 Insider.

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 2000.

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 vehicles."

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 similar ingratitude.

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