Minnesota Forecast: Gloomy

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if one year from now, the cultural blogging community and the field at large begin asking “how did everyone let things get so bad in Minnesota?” In fact, the overarching discussion is already underway; case in point, the 7/3/2013 edition of MPR News broadcast a segment by Euan Kerr and Chris Roberts that examines just how gloomy things are look.

You can find a transcript of the broadcast at the MPR website or listen to the segment via the following audio player (sorry iOS users but MPR’s audio player doesn’t work on your devices).

umbrella protectionThe segment does a good job at harvesting opinions from a diverse group; conductor and author Bill Eddins; University of Minnesota labor specialist John Budd; UK based cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht; musician and blogger Emily Hogstad. There’s even a bit of input from me toward the end.

But what do you think about the embattled orchestra’s future?

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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6 thoughts on “Minnesota Forecast: Gloomy”

  1. I think the article is very accurate in how it protrays the current outlook. I’ve been following this disaster for a year now. Obviously I would have liked to see a deal made (I live in St. Paul and I love the orchestra), but I gave up on those hopes months ago. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that there is going to be a resolution.

    I have very strong feelings about which side is in the right and which is in the wrong, but as every correspondent in the article points out, neither side is even speaking the same language. How can anyone expect results when that is the case?

    The Minnesota Orchestra, as we know it, is done for. Osmo will leave. There’s going to be a really big (controvercial) hall in downtown Minneapolis that won’t get used for anything (why would anyone use it when they can use the Convention Center, a hotel, the Orpheum, a church, or anything else really?). Michael Henson’s professional live is over. Forever (it’s a good thing he’s still making $400,000 because he’s going to need all he can get when he’ll never have a job again). I doubt any of the board members will be affected, simply because the average Minnesotan has no idea who they are, but it’s probably going to be pretty embarrassing for them (and their company: Target, 3M, etc.) knowing that they failed miserably at their job of “safeguarding this NONPROFIT ARTS organization”. The dissolution of the orchestra also marks a terrible cultrual and musical blow to Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Minnesota as a whole. The musicians who can leave will. Freelancing is going to become a nightmare (freelance musicians are going to be fighting for jobs with former orchestra members). Minneapolis will be a less attractive and wonderful place to be, simply because we lost our orchestra. It’s tragic.

    Unless management or musicians drop a bomb shell in the coming weeks, this conflict is over. It ended months ago.

  2. Assuming the orchestra dissolves or Henson/Campbell/Davis stay in place (which means a massive chunk of the players will resign, with not enough qualified applicants or subs coming to audition to take their places, resulting in, best case, a low-quality orchestra, or worst case, an orchestra that doesn’t have enough players to function)… I’d like to think that even as the ex-musicians go about their new successful careers as freelancers or teachers or writers or chamber music coaches or web designers or radio personalities or whatever, that the musicians who choose to remain in the Twin Cities, or who are forced to remain here as they wait for various seats to open in other orchestras, gather to make music with one another for their devoted public, even if they can’t do so as frequently as they once did. Wouldn’t mind hearing the Minneapolis Symphony come to life again, even as an ensemble of highly-skilled players that only meet once every month or so. Yes, Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012 was an absolute tragedy, without comparison in the history of American orchestras. But I’ve spent a full year crying about it and feeling awful about it, and crying about things and feeling awful about things will only get you so far. Although grief comes in cycles, I hope the majority of the tears have passed. Now I want to attune myself and my readers to any new opportunities that will emerge from the ashes. There will be new opportunities. There always are. I’m so curious to find out what they’ll be (I have a feeling they’ll be unique and unexpected and maybe, just maybe, extremely wonderful – albeit extremely wonderful in a very different way than the Minnesota Orchestra is or was). There is a smart savvy passionate audience for “classical music” here, and we the audience have something that no other city in this country has: a relationship with our musicians that was forged in the hottest fire the field has ever seen. Keep an eye out and see what we end up doing. I have no clue what it will be exactly, but with a lot of luck and hard work, it could be fabulous, in its own way. And if a game-changing event occurs in the next few weeks that makes what I just said totally irrelevant, well, then I’ll just be happy.

    Henson once said in front of a group of donors that everything will be fine within a couple months after this over. Hahahahahahahaha. Yeah. Someday the bubble between Henson and reality will burst, and he will get very, very wet. The main problem is indeed the fact that musicians and their supporters and the board are on two totally different planets. Productive negotiations can’t occur when one party is on Mercury and the other Neptune.

    Anyway, I’m sooo looking forward to the day when I can help build things up instead of freaking out as things fall down. Hopefully we’re getting to that point. It will certainly be therapeutic and uplifting to gather with my fellow ex-patrons and picket. Maybe we can get some of the pent-up rage of the last year out in a peaceful, possibly productive way.

  3. What bothers me about this lockout and the recent press, is the lack of attention to the fact that the lock out could have been avoided by a “play and talk” approach, as was done successfully in Seattle. Even San Francisco, although they had a two week strike, continued their season through most of their negotiations. This could also have worked in St Paul, which recently announced in a board meeting that the year ended with over $300,000 in surplus. Furthermore, it seems rather obvious that a lock out was timed to coincide with the closing of the hall for remodeling.

  4. I liken this situation to going into a famous museum – the Met since I’m a New Yorker and a member – walking up to a Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet (take your pick) and hacking off a chunk while claiming no “permanent” harm was done. How can this be repaired? Despite a manufactured bankruptcy and a draconian contract musicians were forced to swallow, the Philly Orch. has remained largely intact (they’re playing with fewer strings, forcing the rest to work harder) because they’ve kept playing and only one principal has left.

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