What The MOA Can Learn From The Shutdown Debacle

Although the shutdown impacted hundreds of thousands of individuals in some of the worst ways possible, there’s one element that might be useful for helping bring about some positive movement in the entrenched Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) dispute. In particular, determining exactly how much money the MOA has on hand to continue operating during the lockout until they can no longer avoid the inevitable: liquidation.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-042On the morning of 10/16/2013, barely 12 hours before a Congressional deal began to materialize, National Public Radio (NPR) had a series of interviews with various academic and third party authorities in an attempt to get a better picture of exactly when the Federal Government would run out of money and begin defaulting on debt payments.

Granted, there was no universally recognized date but the part that is perhaps the most useful is all of the learned opinions had a wealth of quantifiable data from which to run calculations. In the end, NPR provided enough information to determine a two week window of opportunity where the economic system would begin to break down.

The important bit to extract from all of this is just how much transparency and reliable data actually exists for something as complex and highly politicized as the United States government.

But if any similar authorities in this field, myself included, were asked to reasonably deduce how long the MOA has before it runs out of money you would be very hard pressed to have enough data to reach a ballpark conclusion set aside something like a dependable two week window.

If you’re disturbed by the notion that the multitrillion dollar budget Federal government has better transparency than a multimillion dollar budget nonprofit performing arts organization, that’s a very good bad thing.

And good luck to anyone attempting to wrangle basic data out of the MOA. Requests for information will likely be interpreted as a way to influence negotiations and for all intent and purposes, it would; but only inasmuch as knowing the Federal government’s default threshold forced key elements to begin jettisoning politics and making deals.

The real question at this point is whether or not the field, as a whole, has the will to begin making this data available on its own in a reliable fashion. If not, we can only expect hording strategies to serve as a cornerstone for protracted labor dispute tactics for decades to come, which is a polite way of saying we have no one to blame but ourselves.

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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