#794 – Dick Bernard: Thoughts at the end of the 13th month of the Lock Out of the Minnesota Orchestra

The “filing cabinet” for Minnesota Orchestra matters is found at August 30, 2013, here.
This post also appears in the Blog Cabin Roundup of MinnPost for Nov. 1, 2013

A friend in Chicago area wrote today about the Minnesota Orchestra situation: “WHAT A TRAGIC TURN OF EVENTS for all concerned!!” Along with her note came an article about the Chicago Symphony, which is on a distinctly different trajectory than, apparently, our own Orchestra, now in the second year of lock out. She added: “Not to make you feel bad….but perhaps some clues here for symphonic success!?”
So goes the conversation, and yes, it continues, perhaps quietly, under the surface, but not far below the surface, and internationally.
We will probably never know exactly what drove powerful elements of the Orchestral Association Board to attempt to destroy the musicians union, and thus help destroy themselves. They will have a polished narrative, which they will hold to, slavishly, blaming everyone but themselves.
In my opinion, two continuing actions of the Orchestra Board led us to where we are now: 1) to the best of my knowledge, they refused to open to the Orchestra their financial records for independent review; 2) they hired a law firm known for expertise in union-busting lock outs (strikes in reverse, by management against labor).
Absent the two above actions, we may still have been going to the Orchestra while negotiations continued. From the beginning I had no sense whatever that the Orchestra expected to get everything it wanted. It expected more than what it got, however, particularly respect. Best as I can gather, management proposed the destruction of the union contract, and had no interest in bargaining.
There is a third in-action by the Board: excepting its courting of large donors, I’ve found almost zero evidence that the Board really did any marketing to even its audience to raise funds. The emphasis was on large donors. Yet this is a Board full of corporate types of people with access to all manner of marketing expertise.
I did achieve a small success in the past few days. Several documents I had requested from the Board in August, 2013, were finally received October 25, in response to my third request. One publication, the Orchestra’s “Vision for a Sound Future” strategic business plan published Nov. 2, 2011, emphasized data from its own point of view (Chicago Symphony is not mentioned, for instance.) Apparently we in the audience learned of this new Vision through the December, 2011, Annual Report, which was the Showcase publication we all receive when we come for a concert.
A copy of this report was included in the packet I received. After showing the programs for December, 2011, (none of which we had attended), there is a letter to us all on page 39 – near the end of the booklet – from Richard K. Davis and Michael Henson – and a message from the then-Treasurer Jon Campbell on page 49. What seem to be the relevant pages of this report are here: MN Orch Report Dec 2011001 (From long experience, I exercise great caution in accepting at face value any representations of data. Funny things can be done with numbers….)
It can be proven, I suppose, that the Orchestral Association did tell us through this program booklet, but we were told in such a way that almost no one would have reason to notice, especially given that it was distributed during the hubbub of December. I surely don’t remember it. Maybe it was also included in the January program booklet as well. I suppose there are people who read every page of those programs and got the news. Unless my attention is called to something, like the concert I’m attending, I’m certainly not one of those kinds of readers.
I think I’m typical. I remember nothing calling my attention to the letters from management to us.
While very important, the Orchestra was only one part of our busy lives.
Given the history of the past twelve months, it was enlightening to see the Key Targets for FY2014 (2013-14) as articulated in the Vision on p. 18
Achieve 80% paid capacity
Achieve $8.7M concert revenue
Achieve $0.9M in hall rentals & community performance fees
Achieve $0.4M in tour fees
Achieve $1.10 per person in concession spend.

Of course, now there is no orchestra, no music director, no audience, and (I would guess by now) a largely hostile arts community not very inclined to support the current management.
Back to the drawing board to update the Vision.
In this big-league town, we’re now not even little league with the Orchestra, and this is going to be a big loss for the Twin Cities and Minnesota in the short and long term. And this was to be a premier year for the Minnesota Orchestra in all ways.
Orchestra Hall was a busy place. In a front page article in the October 21, 2013, Minneapolis Star Tribune, former Governor Arne Carlson, a man who would likely know his facts and not throw them around carelessly, noted “The [Minnesota] Vikings bring 502,000 people downtown eight times in one season. The orchestra brings 305,000 people downtown over a whole year.” (At least it did.) The Minnesota Orchestra was by no means a small economic entity in Minneapolis.
But it seems to have violated a cardinal rule of Big Business: it didn’t make money, at least not directly. It was a community asset more than a business entity.
A couple of days ago came a most interesting commentary about the Minnesota Vikings, published in Pittsburgh Magazine. It was sent to me by a friend who has no apparent interest in the Orchestra dispute, but it speaks volumes about priorities as envisioned by big business, and, by implication, how something like the Minnesota Orchestra does not fit the downtown big business model as a source of funds.
Until there is an Orchestra League, where Orchestras can be bought and sold and moved at will, they will probably be hard for the big business community to grasp…in more ways than one.
The article is just an article, but worth your time and reflection.
Keep on, keeping on.
COMMENTS from Madeline S, October 31, 2013
1) Been thinking: The right-wing think tank that had a recent fund-raiser at Orchestra Hall got a State Rep. questioning if the Board was in compliance with their obligations under their lease–the Hall is owned by the City of Minneapolis–this was in a Startribune published article. Frankly, I think the Minnesota Orchestra issue may be settled by it becoming a “community asset” of some sort as suggested in a bill being introduced by Phyllis Kahn; and/or the Board’s replacement as indicated by the other legislator.
I have been thinking that perhaps at least at some point the Board may have decided that to get this, pardon the term, big elephant off their backs, they had to endure a lot of public anger and criticism in order to create the crisis that may make that change.
2) Dick, you sent me the link to this article.
Social justice requires work on issues like homelessness, poverty, racism, and lack of adequate funding for our public schools. Shouldn’t we find a way to oppose this kind of racketeering? The city of Minneapolis has a law which forbids the spending of more than a certain amount without voter approval. Apparently, the state gave a pass to the city to not abide by that ordinance/law. Perhaps this should be brought to the state’s Attorney General. Or perhaps there should be some kind of protest.
Minnesota is getting snowed. Millions for Wilf et al; not likely to help the local economy. The Bengals’ stadium has effectively bankrupted Hamilton County, which is now slashing public services and laying off police to make up for a $20 million budget deficit.
“The most comprehensive study done on the economic implications of sports stadiums found that they do little to bolster local economies. In some cases, local economies actually shrank. In a 30-year study of 37 metropolitan areas with pro sports franchises, sports economists found that the real per capita income of city residents decreased on average after the construction of a new stadium.”
Because of the stadium deal, Wilf could sell the franchise for a $375 million profit. This was recognized by Arne Carlson in a Strib article earlier.
Much more in this article:

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