Firing a grave mistake
The board of directors of Foothill Theatre Company has made an enormous misstep. I hope the result isn’t to make a serious problem into a disaster. I applaud the board for having the bravery to take the steps necessary to put FTC’s fiscal house in order and stay the course. However, the firing of artistic director Philip Sneed as a response to admittedly manageable fiscal issues has sent shock waves throughout the artistic community – artists, contributors and audiences alike. Board members have behaved as though FTC is theirs, as opposed to it being an asset that belongs to the entire community.
Terry McAteer, and others quoted, state that the company is a solid and stable entity, which begs the question – why, then, did they fire the person responsible for creating that entity? McAteer acknowledges that a plan is in place to bring the debt under control and is confident of it succeeding.
Nowhere does he or anyone even infer that Sneed would be a roadblock to this effort. In fact, Sneed had signed on to most or all of these plans before being sacked! Further, the articles and quotes in The Union are lacking in that there is no mention of the tenured artistic staff at FTC and how those staff members feel about the loss of their artistic director and leader.
McAteer states that a new artistic vision is needed. So we are led to assume that this would be to correct the “problems” of annual audience growth from 17,000 to 70,000, annual budget growth from $280,000 to $1 million, winning and retaining a contract to produce the Lake Tahoe Summer Shakespeare Festival, and taking FTC from a good local theater company to a regionally respected company producing premiering, and writing high caliber works – “problems” that are attributable to Phil Sneed and the staff he has gathered around him. And he accomplished all this on a salary currently at a miserly $32,000 a year. Yes, this is surely a man who deserved to be fired!
I take the FTC board seriously to task for what it has done here, and even more importantly, how the board went about it. Board members (especially the treasurer) have ultimate responsibility for the fiscal management of FTC and should have made themselves aware of these issues all along.
The treasurer, in particular, as the keeper of the checkbook, is the primary agent for fiscal oversight and timely reporting to the board. This could lead one to believe that Sneed is correct in his characterization of being used as a scapegoat – possibly for some degree of fiscal mismanagement by the board or individuals on the board.
As a musician working in the nonprofit world, I fully understand the need to work within budgets and to operate in a business-like fashion, and I am well aware that nonprofits are subject to vagaries of the economy (and even the weather) that regular businesses are not.
We are not just businesses but also artistic assets and havens for the whole community.
I am appalled at the toll this has taken on Phil Sneed, a very talented, hard-working and dedicated man I am proud to call my good friend and valued colleague.
It is not too late for this fledgling board to reconsider what they have done, reverse this travesty, and demonstrate real and considered leadership. If not, Philip Sneed and his family will move on to further successes and Nevada County will be the poorer for it.
Ken Hardin is a local musician – pianist and conductor – who has lived in Nevada County for 21 years. He has worked in the public schools (Pleasant Valley School) and as a church organist and choir director (Grass Valley Methodist and Peace Lutheran). Hardin currently serves as choral conductor for Music in the Mountains, artistic director of Twin Cities Concert Association, teacher on the faculty at Sierra College’s Nevada County campus, and he performs as a free-lance musician. He has been engaged by Foothill Theatre Company many times over the years as music director for musical theater productions.
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