The Detroit Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra ran up a $3.8 million deficit in the 2008-09 fiscal year and faced a $6.5 million deficit the following year. City government was in no position to provide a bailout; within a few years, Detroit became the largest municipality in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy. During contract negotiations with the musicians, the symphony sought to impose a 30 percent pay cut. The performers refused to accept the cutbacks and went on strike for six months.

Phillip Wm. Fisher became chairman of the board the year after the strike ended. He immediately set about changing the way people within the organization treated one another.

”Culture trumps strategy and strategy trumps tactics,” he said. “We had to redefine who we were as an organization and where we were going. But we were only going to get there if everyone was rowing in the same direction.”

Board members began going backstage after performances to thank the musicians — a small gesture, but it had never been done before. Fisher doubled the number of players on orchestra committees and sought their advice.

The organization’s mission was also fine-tuned. Musicians, staff and board members decided they wanted their symphony to be “the most accessible orchestra on the planet,” Fisher said, and sought to develop programs aimed at achieving that goal.

In 2014, the DSO became —and remains — the only major symphony in the U.S. to live-stream every classical performance for free. The webcasts have been streamed by more than one million people from all 50 states and dozens of countries. The orchestra also has found funding to begin producing an offshoot of that venture, a series of educational webcasts made available for free to Michigan’s public schools.

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