Nose? Spite? Face?

There was an intriguing article by Doug Grow in the 2/22/2013 edition of that examines the numerous political connections between the cast of characters involved in the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) lockouts. The premise of the article wonders about the lack of direct involvement from Twin Cities political leaders in resolving the disputes.

warIt’s refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet dive into the deep end on these issues. Historically, political power players have had wildly varying degrees of involvement and effectiveness in bringing about as positive of a resolution as possible but one thing you should avoid is assume they have zero influence.

Grow’s article speculates the lack of involvement from local elected officials resembles something of a see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil ballet in that the issues are running hot enough that expending any real clout could be the final straw in an already tenuous quid pro quo system.

Making matters more difficult for pols to take strong sands is the reality that the boards of these two orchestras are made up of the region’s biggest movers and shakers. Politicians don’t go out of their way to upset such people as Jon Campbell, who is the chairman of the Minnesota Orchestra’s board of directors and executive vice president of Wells Fargo, and Richard Davis, CEO of US Bancorp, who was past chair of the orchestra board.

One clear exception to this, which Grow mentions, is the Grammy celebration concert hosted by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and long time orchestra supporter (an according to Grow, aunt to the current MN governor) Judy Dayton. Another is the growing interest from the Minnesota House Legacy Committee, which we examined here on 2/14/2013.

As for the latter, MOA President and CEO Michael Henson’s testimony made it clear that the organization wasn’t terribly concerned about what the committee thought or might do but the former incident apparently struck a collective MOA nerve.

Grow published what he describes as a “smug note” from Henson to the MOA board shortly after the Grammy celebration concert was announced.

“Today Mayor R.T. Rybak and Judy Dayton issued an invitation to Osmo [conducter Osmo Vänskä] and the musicians to perform a concert at the Convention Center, February 1, conducted by Osmo Vänskä. … While we expected to use the Grammy nomination to maximize their arguments about the importance of art, we did not expect this.”

In the same note, Henson scoffed at Minneapolis.

“As you are all aware,” he wrote to the board members, “the City of Minneapolis does not provide any funding to the Minnesota Orchestra.”

Grow continues by pointing out a number of practical flaws in Henson’s assertion regarding city support but the larger issue the MOA should be considering here is how far do they want to push the “we’re right, and they’re wrong” style of talking points.

In the end, all of this is yet another strong indication that the MOA labor dispute has degraded to a point where the only way to win, is to make someone else lose. In short, everyone loses in that sort of scenario.

Ultimately, it is rare for anyone to recall specific winners and losers a decade down the road. All they see is the horribly disfigured and dysfunctional arts organization that willfully embraced cutting off their nose to spite their face.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Nose? Spite? Face?”

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out motivations based on the behavior of management…the steps taken along the way and their steadfast heel-digging on a devastating stance. Old-fashioned union-busting seems to fit, as far as the personal involvement of US Bank president Richard Davis and Wells Fargo VP Jon Campbell.

  2. Judy Dayton is indeed the governor’s aunt.

    “As you are all aware, the City of Minneapolis does not provide any funding to the Minnesota Orchestra.”

    There are so many bizarre things about that statement, but here are two of the weirdest… 1) The city of Minneapolis lost $500,000+ in revenue from the MOA’s 2012-2013 cancellations at the convention center. (Remember that the contract was written in such a way that the MOA would not have to pay rent in the event of a labor stoppage, and somehow I doubt the convention center was told that the MOA had started preparing for the possibility of one in the summer of 2010, right before they signed the convention center contract.) That’s a pretty major chunk of the convention center’s revenue for the year. It could well be thought of as a contribution from the city of Minneapolis. 2) Even if Minneapolis doesn’t matter…***Judy Dayton sure as crap should.*** Look here (she goes by the name Julia Dayton). Yeah. To so pointedly scorn a woman who has given over $10 million to your orchestra…I just don’t see what good that would serve, unless your ultimate to radically alter and/or destroy the organization. Mrs. Dayton has appeared very prominently at the two lockout concerts held by musicians. Perhaps Mr. Henson is angry at her insinuating her sympathy for the musicians’ cause? There is also the fact that it’s no secret that Jon Campbell and Richard Davis wanted a Republican governor in power, and you could argue that Mrs. Dayton’s support of her nephew was a big reason Democrats took the governorship. Who knows what motivates them? Especially since they don’t talk much in public about their motivations…

    Rumor has it that Michael Henson was extremely shocked and shaken the day the announcement was made. Perhaps this odd note was the result of his not thinking straight? If so, perhaps it is yet another indication that he is in over his head, and can’t handle the responsibilities of running a major American orchestra…

  3. MINNPOST isn’t really “mainstream” – I’d put MPR before MINNPOST in those terms. Doug Grow used to write for the StarTribune; a lot of “old-timers” now work for MINNPOST. That’s probably why this article dived “into the deep end”.

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