Darker Days Ahead In St. Paul

Things are looking bleak at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) where mediated talks conducted under a press blackout have broken down. The SPCO musicians released a statement on 1/17/2013 castigating their employer for what they defined as an “unwillingness to compromise on key issues” and cancelling additional concerts through 3/23/2013.

150x150_ITA_Guy026aUnfortunately, neither side provided details surrounding the key issues of compensation and artistic control that caused the breakdown, however, an article by Euan Kerr published in the 1/18/2013 edition of Minnesota Public Radio indicates the source of trouble appears to be a zero-sum approach to bargaining; a topic we’ve examined within the parameters of other orchestral labor disputes.

In this instance, SPCO interim president, Dobson West, stated that the orchestra is unwilling to negotiate terms that fail to meet predefined budget cuts.

[West] said he has made it clear from the start that the orchestra needs to cut $1.4 million a year from the cost of the musicians contract.

“But within that parameter we are open to a wide variety of ways of achieving that result and I think the way that we have negotiated has demonstrated that we are open to finding different ways of achieving those savings,” West said.

Additionally, the article reports that musicians are also unhappy with “issues related to artistic control,” although no specific examples were provided.

Currently, there are no additional bargaining sessions scheduled and the musicians are continuing to schedule self produced events. The SPCO continues to maintain a Concert Cancellations page at their website with instructions for obtaining refunds and information on additional options.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

Related Posts

8 thoughts on “Darker Days Ahead In St. Paul”

  1. The whole situation is ridiculous. Mr. West is demanding $1.4 million in cuts, but in his extensive interview with Matt Peiken of MNuet, Mr. West was unable to say why $1.4 million is the magic number. He had no percentages or figures to justify why specifically $1.4 million is what needs to be cut out of the budget. He just pulled it right out if the air. This is quite perplexing. Shouldn’t the CEO completely understand everything he is doing with his businesses money?

    Additionally, it is pretty hard for the musicians to come up with “a wide variety of ways” to cut $1.4 million out if the contract when Mr. West has repeatedly said that administration cuts are absolutely out of the question (he apparently has already cut administration costs extensively), as well as raised ticket prices.

    Where else can the money come from other than the musicians? Essentially, Mr. West is lying when he says management is “open to finding different ways”, because based on their negotiation tactics it is clear that management is not open to different options or compromise.

    • Dobson West has no intention, never had any intention, and never will have an intention to “be open” to anything other than the Grand Plan, which is the destruction of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as we know and love it. There are plenty of ideas floating around, and an active audience advocacy group (of which I am a part); less than a year ago he said of the departing CEO that “she leaves us in a good place” (and that’s an interesting story in itself). Now all of a sudden we have this insurmountable financial crisis which can ONLY be solved by slashing musician salaries and rosters.

      Administrative costs have been cut only in marketing – in other words, the MO has been to slash ticket prices to unsustainable levels – $10 tickets, $5/month memberships for all the concerts you can handle. Funny how there is enough money to pay the entire administration but not the musicians these days.

      The more that is uncovered, the nastier it gets. It’s the Bain/Walmart approach to arts administration.

      I’m looking forward to the Legislative hearing on the economic effects of the lockouts this coming Wednesday.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. This seems to be the new negotiating style. Stake out what you know to be an unacceptable position, and then claim that your opponent lacks the flexibility to capitulate. Are business schools teaching this?
    I have to wonder, because I see it everywhere I look, most notably the US Congress.

Leave a Comment