What To Make Of The Minnesota Poll Results

The response to last week’s Minnesota Orchestra poll was terrific and it is currently one of Adaptistration’s most popular. Designed to measure respondent’s thoughts on the Minnesota Orchestra Association’s (MOA) near future expectations, stakeholder actions, and music director involvement, the results produced some intriguing data.

Near Future Expectations

Perhaps unsurprisingly, few respondents expected the work stoppage to resolve before the end of summer. So if you’re considering purchasing tickets for any summer events, your best bet is to plan on buying at the door.


Onto the pricklier topic of what will happen if the work stoppage continues into September, there’s no clear majority among respondents on whether or not they think the MOA will attempt to hire replacement musicians. At the same time, the overwhelming majority felt that doing so would be the wrong move.


If nothing else, the vehement blowback from musicians and patrons toward the Louisville Orchestra when they attempted to hire replacement musicians during their recent work stoppage should give the MOA something to consider if that option is being discussed behind closed doors.

At the same time, respondents had a much greater range of thoughts on whether or not the musicians should simply quit and form their own orchestra. Roughly one third of respondents felt they should to one degree or another, a solid third weren’t certain, while the last third thought it was not the right course of action.


Blame Game

Given the level of hostility, it is perhaps unsurprising that readers had strong feelings about whether the MOA’s executive leadership team should stay or go. By and large, respondents felt that the employer was most culpable for the loss of the 2012/13 subscription season.

Nearly two thirds felt the MOA Executive Board and/or President & CEO bore the lion’s share of responsibility while only a handful of respondents felt the musicians were to blame and a slightly higher share thought everyone was equally culpable. Less than one percent felt music director Osmo Vänskä shared any responsibility.


Consequently, the majority of respondents felt the MOA executive committee, negotiating committee, and President & CEO should resign. It’s worth noting, however, that the latter stakeholder garnered the strongest sentiment with a solid 82 percent indicating that he should definitely resign.


All About Osmo

It appears that respondents are prepared for the end of music director Osmo Vänskä’s tenure by September, 2013 although smaller percentages are simply unsure.


What’s intriguing here, however, is the degree of uncertainty on whether or not the MOA will take a proactive approach and dismiss Vänskä before his self imposed resignation deadline arrives. According to respondents, there was a slight tendency to favor the direction of the MOA striking first.


Perhaps the most fascinating result is even though a statistically insignificant number of respondents listed the music director as one of the stakeholders most culpable for the work stoppage; a little more than a third still feel he could be doing more to bring about resolution. Roughly the same ratio feels that there’s not much more he could do.



If nothing else, it seems clear that respondents feel that the best path toward resolution has less to do with changing the game and more to do with changing the people playing.

If the MOA labor dispute were a Western, we would be at the part where someone utters “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” thereby triggering a last-man standing showdown or one of the main characters packing up and riding off into the sunset.

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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3 thoughts on “What To Make Of The Minnesota Poll Results”

    • Yes, it is unfortunate. I think the biggest sticking point is the enormous endowment that would be potentially lost if the Musicians tried to re-organize on their own. However, I am one of those people that think that a new governance structure and organization has a lot of merit. While the people at the top of the MOA who are doing the dirty work obviously need to go for things to get resolved, unfortunately the rest of them are also of the same ilk. There would be no guarantee that IF Henson, Davis, Campbell left the MOA that the people on the Board remaining would have any different ideas about how the orchestra should be run—they are all still on the same page politically/ ideologically and at least some of them don’t go to orchestra concerts either. It would be entirely possible for the organization to just substitute a couple of bad apples with another set of bad apples… I mean, thd current MOA Board UNANIMOUSLY supports Henson/Campbell/ and Davis. Does anyone really think that if by now the public, the legislators, and the musicians haven’t been able to peel off anyone from the MOA who supports a different direction, that they would be able to do this without those people at the helm?

      • Some of the donor profiles on the Minnesota Orchestra website describe people who clearly listen to classical music and value it more than anything else – they talk about the musicians, about how far the organization has come artistically under Osmo.
        Other donors say things like their “greatest wish for the orchestra would be financial sustainability.”
        I think that difference speaks volumes about the way the board is split…the people who value music (as opposed to legacies and memorials) are not necessarily even on the board. If they are, they’re not on the hand-picked executive committee. And if somehow one or two got on that committee by mistake…they’re doing a marvelous job of keeping quiet.

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