November 3, 2016; Orlando Sentinel
Last month, the nonprofit news department at NPQ published a newswire discussing Orlando’s Mad Cow Theater as its actors called it to accountability through social media shaming. Reportedly, the theater had never been exactly stable financially, but when performers began to broadcast the ways they thought MCT had stiffed them, the chickens really came home to roost. Then, to make matters worse, as the situation developed, it became clear that it was just the non-union actors who had not been paid. Stakeholders were up in arms.
The Arts & Culture Affairs Advisory Council of Orange County has since declared that if the actors are not paid a total of $16,600 by December 1st, the theater will not get an expected $75,000 in funding that the council advises. They must also explain how they will address their long-term debt. Council Chair Hal Kantor, noting that the organization is not known for its financial responsibility, described the problem with the actors as “strike two in a three-strike scenario.”
Still, even while all of this is happening, it appears there’s a groundswell of support to help Mad Cow get to the other side of this situation. The city is trying to forgive a $300,000 debt the theater owes it. Rollins College’s Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership will be providing organizational consulting and the theatre even has a donor offering some money for cash reserves.
The executive leadership has shifted in a way that, for those of us familiar with org dynamics, suggests an all-too-familiar backstory. The executive director, who was also a voting member on the board in both the secretary and the treasurer positions, has been asked by the arts council to step aside (and away from executive responsibilities) to take on the artistic side of the organization, and a former employee has been asked back to serve as the CEO over operations and money concerns. The council has also asked the board to solicit comments from other groups and individuals familiar with the developing situation so as to make clear the true extent of the problems and poor optics Mad Cow has in the arts community and to potentially make amends. As Kantor says, “We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
One of the important things about these types of moments in an organization’s life is that they must be clear pivot points or you will run right out of that social capital you now enjoy. The kindnesses being extended here are not signs of weakness and can only be repaid with organizational “right living.” The goal is to prevent a recurrence of this fatal combination—insufficient oversight and an executive playing too many roles. We imagine the consultants will make all that quite clear.—Ruth McCambridge