And Now For Something Completely Different

Just when you think the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) labor dispute couldn’t possibly throw another curve ball, you get hit upside the head. But this time around, it’s not such an unpleasant bonk on the noggin in that Minnesota Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is planning to propose a bill that could convert the MOA to a publicly owned corporation model.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-031dIt’s worth noting that Rep. Kahn chairs Minnesota’s House Legacy Committee, which is responsible for appropriating state funds to support the arts. So from a political standpoint, she is someone with a certain degree of influence in this arena. Kahn asserts that she has support to author the bill in the MN Senate via Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

If the notion of a publicly owned corporation sounds a lot like the way the Green Bay Packers ownership model is structured, that’s apparently what Rep. Kahn is going for; she used the comparison in a press statement announcing the proposed legislature.

“My bill establishes broad-based community ownership of the Minnesota Orchestra as a means for preventing the kind of ongoing disputes between musicians and management that we’re seeing right now,” said Kahn, who dubs the approach as the ‘Green Bay Packer model,’ referencing the publicly owned and third oldest NFL franchise. “It creates a path that ultimately allows our state to retain this cultural and economic asset over the long haul.”

Among all the talk of new models and 21st century governance, this is a genuinely intriguing idea. Granted, it isn’t exactly new and there are loads of little red devils in the details waiting to bite your ankles but compared to most of the other dead-end conversations going on, there is something here worth exploring.

Rep. Kahn appears to be approaching her own proposal with an eyes wide open approach knowing full well that it may have more value as a leverage point to get an agreement in place and concerts going again rather than producing a new governance model.

“It’s my hope that this bill refreshes the dialogue between everyone that has a stake in this matter on how we can move forward,” added Kahn.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see this gain snowballing support in the MN legislature and reach a point where everyone begins looking seriously at transitional logistics. It’s difficult to escape that conclusion and if they do, I hope Rep. Kahn gives me a call.

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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10 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different

  1. My first thought is this:

    “We’re very sorry. Tonight’s Minnesota Orchestra performance has been cancelled due to intransigent legislators.”

    Could this make the organization less flexible than they are now? (Granted, less-flexible-but-playing-music is a condition I think most would accept.)

    • I doubt it would strengthen any entrenched positions; instead, it is more likely to be used as a convenient excuse (and PR sound bite) for continued inflexibility. At the same time, if there’s some real traction with the idea it could be an effective piece of leverage because it potentially removes one of the core items in the fight; i.e. control.

  2. Interesting development.
    Drew, will you be posting an analysis of the organization’s 990’s that show bonuses totalling over $200K to the CEO, prior to the lockout? Why were two years worth of bonuses put into one tax return? Did the timing have to do with Henson laying off staff, or manipulating finances to get sate bonding dollars? Why did they delay in filing these taxes ? Does this kind of financial shifting of expenses from one yr to another cast. Doubt on the $6M deficit Henson claimed to justify the lockout?
    Thanks for any light you can shine on this.

    • The questionable value of the incentive compensation is certainly a worthwhile topic of conversation and there is ample fodder for discussion in this instance. But as of now, I prefer to defer my public examination in favor of making it available for other purposes if and when the need arises.

  3. Please explain : if I understand representative Kahn’s proposal, the Minnesota Orchestra would be a stockholder-owned corporation. The problem is, this would require it to be a for-profit corporation. Unfortunately, the current conventional business model of all orchestras is that they are money- losing entities, thus, they are organized as not for profit corporations.

    The minnesota orchestra, organized as a for-profit corporation would last approximately 1 week as it bled red ink from the get – go.

    Question: how would the new orchestra business model generate enough revenue to survive as a for-profit corporation?

  4. It has been several months now (at least three? – can’t bring myself to search for the post) since I left a comment on your blog (or it could have been Sticks & Drones – I remember Bill was involved in the brief discussion) that suggested almost exactly the model Rep. Kahn is proposing — including the Green Bay Packers as inspiration for the model. At the time, you were less than enthusiastic about even discussing, let alone developing, the suggestion. As I recall, your main put down of the idea was the horror of hundreds of “stockholders” (call them whatever you will) all demanding a voice in orchestra governance. At that point I just gave up & walked away since it was turning argumentative & obviously I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now that Rep. Kahn, someone in authority, has made a proposal based on the same idea or a variation of it, you seem more than willing to give it some room to grow as a credible idea. I’m VERY glad you now see possibilities in it that I, as a naive non-professional, was unable to get across at the time.

    NB: I do NOT claim this was an original idea. I’m sure many people have independently come up with the same exact thought, as Rep. Kahn obviously has. My point here is that, in my admittedly limited experience, many people in arts management and consultation seem to have a problem knowing how to deal with ideas in the embryonic stage – which is a peculiar malady, particularly in professions whose sole reason for existing is to support the arts.

    • Hi Stephen, I believe that idea was one of Bill’s posts but Rep. Khan hasn’t put forth anything with as many details as you’ve suggested regarding the nature of governance so perhaps that might be the source of some of your confusion. And given the degree of complexity in these issues, I would recommend against jumping to conclusions.

      Moreover, it would be entirely inaccurate to assume that I agree with or see possibilities in the structure I believe you’re referencing.

  5. Thanks for the reply, Drew. You seem to have access to my words which, as I said, I don’t have right now. Perhaps Bill, who I’m certain you’re in contact with fairly regularly, could helpfully find the original post & exchange I referred to and provide a link.

    Until I can re-read myself what I wrote some months ago, I don’t understand what you mean by the “many details.” Was I too specific with examples suggesting possible directions such that you entirely missed the gist of the main idea & due to a lapse in imagination were unable to provide your own builds based on your considerable expertise?? Nor do I recall that there was any overwhelming degree of complexity in my suggestion. It was a simple well-meaning suggestion that could go in several directions such as is meant to happen in open problem-solving meetings – and I was quite surprised and disappointed at the time by the nature of the shut down of conversation. I recovered quickly, but now I’m simply amused at your more serious reactions to the reappearance of a similar idea, however you are trying to parse it. And I’m not jumping to any conclusions. Just trying to make a point that would be clarified by everyone being able to read the original exchange and judge for themselves. My memory could be faulty (I’m not perfect but don’t believe I’m “confused” here – I just can’t locate a several months’-old entry in someone else’s blog archive), but clarification could come if you or Bill could provide a link to that exchange.

    At any rate, you’re not addressing my NB which was meant to express a chronic problem in management & consultation – IMO (based on 50+ years of interested observation & a bit of experience on both sides of the Machiavellian “governance” fence in federal government & NFPs). To wit: position trumps substance. I sincerely do not want to believe that’s you, but it IS the way a lot of people out there operate & has caused a great deal of mischief.

    As far as your cryptic “it would be entirely inaccurate to assume that I agree with or see possibilities in the structure I believe you’re referencing” … Drew, there can be no doubt that you’re highly intelligent and capable. But even Barenboim plays a clinker now & then, and this particular sentence is gobbledy-gook.

    Why don’t we just have a look at the “structure” (if that’s what it was) with a link? That’s what footnotes and citations used to be for. Just imagine that I’m a colleague asking your help in finding a citation that I’ve lost.

    • I’m not certain of the discussion thread verbatim either but assuming my memory serves, there was a good bit of examination regarding a one share = one vote arrangement while simultaneously allowing mass participation within the governance committee level.

      Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to have the time to review discussion threads for each reader but I encourage everyone to do so on their own as desired.

      I’m entirely confused as to your point on position and substance and I apologize if I was overly diplomatic in my previous message so thank you in advance for allowing me to be more direct. My point is that I don’t welcome anyone assigning positions or crediting others with a stance or idea that are not theirs.

      In this instance, your assertion that I see possibilities in whatever it is that you are proposing is both presumptuous and misplaced. To be clear, I neither support nor refute whatever it is you are proposing.

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