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Ojai music fest head urges Eugene mayor to help Bach Fest leave UO

 

Thomas W. Morris, artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival in California, has urged Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis to help the beleaguered Oregon Bach Festival secede from the University of Oregon and become an independent non-profit organization.

In a letter emailed today (Sept. 22), Morris wrote that the sudden and unexplained firing of OBF artistic director Matthew Halls on Aug. 24 harms not only the Oregon Bach Festival but hurts the image of Eugene itself.

"What we now have is a venerable and beloved institution the object of ridicule and derision in the national and international press, a situation that reflects badly not only on the Festival but on the city of Eugene," he wrote.

Morris suggested that OBF may not survive the scandal in the music world here and abroad. "This has been an extremely important international music festival that is clearly in danger for its very existence due entirely to self-inflicted wounds," he said.

He called on Mayor Vinis to "convene a group of community leaders to assess the situation and form a plan to save the Oregon Bach Festival."

Morris became involved in the situation when, shortly after Eugene Weekly broke the story of Halls' firing, the UO put out a release suggesting that OBF and Halls were "parting ways" as part of a strategic move toward a  festival model that uses no permanent artistic director. The UO announcement said that the 70-year-old Ojai festival operated that way.

Not so, says Morris, who has been artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival since 2004. The Ojai fest does hire different music directors each year, but has a single artistic director to give it a coherent vision.

We've asked Mayor Vinis and the UO for comment.

The complete text of the letter follows:

 

Dear Mayor Vinis:

This is an open letter to you from a music lover and long-time arts administrator (running the Boston Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra for seventeen years each and as artistic director of the Ojai Music Festival for fifteen years) who is deeply concerned about the recent meltdown of the venerable Oregon Bach Festival.  I am sure you and Eugene music lovers must be upset as well. This has been an extremely important international music festival that is clearly in danger for its very existence due entirely to self-inflicted wounds.

The challenge of any founder-led organization trying to get beyond its founder is daunting under the best of circumstances. Recent events complicate this task:

·      Confidence of its supporters and artists is deteriorating;

·      Confidence in the University of Oregon’s stewardship of the Festival is compromised;

·      Understanding of and support for the Festival’s future is clouded by obfuscation, lack of transparency and inane pronouncements; and

·      The abrupt firing of artistic director Matthew Halls, while uncertain as to its rationale, has been appallingly handled publicly.

What we now have is a venerable and beloved institution the object of ridicule and derision in the national and international press, a situation that reflects badly not only on the Festival but on the city of Eugene.

At the root cause of the situation is the simple fact that no one owns this institution: there is no “Oregon Bach Festival, Inc.” with full fiduciary responsibility for the organization. As it exists, the Festival is a presentation by the huge University of Oregon that also employees festival personnel. Recent events demonstrate clearly this is not the best fiduciary structure for the future of the Festival.

What is to be done? I can imagine a very exciting and energizing scenario in which:

·      You, the Mayor, convene a group of community leaders to assess the situation and form a plan to save the Oregon Bach Festival, demonstrating this venerable institution is indeed essential to the community;

·      A group of community leaders and supporters of the Oregon Bach Festival make plans to form a new 501c(3) organization to take over the Festival, pledging to join its new board;

·      All the current players and parties acknowledge publicly that the current situation and how it happened are untenable, committing to putting the past behind and facing the future in a fresh start;

·      The University of Oregon commits in words and deeds to facilitate this metamorphosis to this new organization by pledging bridge support over a reasonable transition period, providing future venues, and providing for the orderly transfer of any Festival assets to the new entity;

·      The new organization hires both artistic and executive and directors who will galvanize support and confidence of the community;

·      The Festival family of artists rallies around the new organization to assist in this essential transition; and

·      All of the above is done with energy, efficiency, and urgency, creating a new public narrative of positive energy, positive action, and positive results.

Artistic organizations succeed if, in addition to possessing a compelling vision and strong effective leaders, they have a strong and effective fiduciary board that feels deep commitment to the institution’s mission and responsible for its future on behalf of the community that in essence owns it. The Oregon Bach Festival deserves no less, but without a new approach, I fear for its future. What it now needs is someone to lead the charge – urgently!

Yours sincerely,

Thomas W. Morris