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At its core, the issue in the MN Orchestra lockout is values, not budgets

One of the chief reasons I am proud to be a Minnesotan is the value we have historically placed on culture and the arts.

Conductor emeritus Stanislav Skrowaczewski led the locked-out Minnesota Orchestra musicians in an October concert at the Convention Center.
Photo by John Whiting

One of the chief reasons I am proud to be a Minnesotan is the value we have historically placed on culture and the arts. It is from this core value that we have been successful in developing and maintaining one of the world’s most renowned orchestras: the Minnesota Orchestra.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn
Rep. Phyllis Kahn

Unfortunately, I am afraid that this Minnesota value is one that will soon be compromised by a desire of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Board of Directors to transform it into a corporate structure, rather than a state tradition. Instead of engaging in thoughtful conversations with all stakeholders about how to efficiently trim their budget, the board would rather leave the heavy lifting to its musicians — cutting their pay considerably. (Musicians say management’s proposal would cut their pay anywhere from 30 to 50 percent; the board says it’s 20-40 percent).

While the board may argue that without these pay cuts the orchestra will founder, placing the financial burden on the musicians — who represent the backbone of the organization — will surely erode its artistic integrity.

As previously stated, I am proud of the value we place on the arts. As a state representative I have taken this pride and turned it into action, routinely supporting the funding of programs and projects that will only enrich our arts culture here in Minnesota.

Perhaps this is what I find most disappointing about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. Recognizing the importance the orchestra plays in enhancing our standard of living, I was supportive of the $16 million in bonding dollars recently granted to the Minnesota Orchestra to renovate Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza. Additionally, I have been supportive of the funding it has received from the Arts Board – including Legacy dollars – that have been awarded over the past four years to help with operating costs.

Support wasn’t for this

I did not support distributing public dollars to the Minnesota Orchestra so they could cut their musicians pay by 30 to 50 percent. Nor did I vote in favor of these funds so they could lock out musicians who, in recognizing this financial slight, have made efforts to engage in arbitration or have offered to continue working under the old contract until both sides can reach an amicable agreement. And I certainly did not vote to send these funds to the orchestra to have them resist any  attempts to make their budget more transparent.

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While these funds cannot be rescinded, I hope my colleagues at the Minnesota  Legislature will think critically before voting on any legislation that would further direct public dollars into the Minnesota Orchestra (or the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra). There is no use in renovating a space that houses a silent orchestra or funneling state dollars into operating costs for an organization that has locked out those who make it function.

I would urge Minnesotans to read between the lines when it comes to the orchestra’s lockout. At its core, this is not an issue of budgets and bottom lines. This is about what we as Minnesotans value most. 

DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn represents Minneapolis District 59B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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