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The broken circle: What we’ve learned from the Minnesota Orchestra debacle

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
With the return of Osmo Vänskä, I’ve already heard some people claim that the orchestra has come full circle. Not quite.

Well, it finally happened. Those of you not living in a cave will have heard that Osmo Vänskä has returned as the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. I’ve already heard some people claim that the orchestra has come full circle. Not quite.

Bill Eddins

There are still some major issues surrounding the M.O. that cannot be avoided. Musicians have left, and to replace them is a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive process. There is still a deficit that needs to be addressed. There are very bruised feelings in the community over how this has all gone down. Importantly, it now seems that the musician’s contract and the music director’s contract will expire within spitting distance of each other. That could lead to more issues in the future. Oh, and the M.O. needs a really good executive director. STAT.

But enough of those problems. Even though it is still a broken circle, it is full enough that perhaps we should take stock of what we have learned by this debacle. Here’s my list, not comprehensive, and in no particular order. I welcome additions.

  • The neoconservative approach to running a nonprofit organization is as disastrous as the neoconservative approach to running a country’s economy.
  • A successful nonprofit with a long and storied history belongs to the entire community, and cannot be hijacked by any group with an agenda without incurring significant damage to said non-profit.
  • Do not underestimate the power of social media and the Internet in today’s world.
  • There are actually some conductors who will stand up for what is right, as opposed to worrying about their public image.
  • Musicians should be way more engaged in how their orchestras function. Of course, this means that musicians actually have to demand AND take responsibility as well.
  • Communities should be way more engaged in how their orchestras function. Of course, this means that the “common folk” need to be made privy to the problems that orchestras face in this modern world, and there needs to be a mechanism within the nonprofit structure that allows this to happen in a positive manner.
  • The days of the orchestral dictator — whether that’s a conductor or a manager — are either over or seriously on the wane.
  • Long-range plans that take into account both the fiscal AND artistic health of orchestras are absolutely critical, and they cannot be implemented without the approval of all and sundry.
  • Orchestras (and other nonprofits) actually do play a vital role in the health of the community in which they perform.
  • There is such a thing as bad publicity.
  • Spending money to upgrade your facilities can frequently be a good thing. Spending money to upgrade your facilities at the expense of your artistic mission is never, ever a good thing.
  • Nonprofits operate most effectively when there is a level of trust between all the constituencies. Once that trust is breached it is very, very hard for a nonprofit to function.
  • Nonprofits are nonprofits. Nonprofits do not function well as for-profit organizations, and any endeavor to make them do so will eventually fail for one reason or another.
  • It doesn’t matter how good your orchestra is if no one is coming to the concerts.
  • It doesn’t matter how bad your orchestra is if no one is coming to the concerts.
  • Independent audits of a nonprofit are essential. It’s much harder to agree on a direction for an organization if you can’t agree on the basic facts.
  • Orchestras are usually only as good as the quality of musicians in the community who are called upon to sub with them.
  • There is a difference between a collection of musicians and an orchestra.
  • There is a difference between governance and managing.
  • If you don’t understand anything about music, then please don’t wax philosophical about how to manage an orchestra.
  • Conversely, if you don’t understand anything about management, then please don’t wax philosophical about how to manage an orchestra.
  • The easiest way to fulfill the prophecy that “the orchestra is going down the toilet” is to flush it yourself.
  • Music is beautiful. Making beautiful music is really, really, really, really hard. Anyone who says otherwise either has absolutely no clue about what it takes, or is being intentionally obtuse.
  • Orchestras are not cheap. Good orchestras are damn expensive.
  • The whole “starving artist” things is complete crap. No, musicians are generally not in the orchestra business to get rich. That does not mean that they have to be treated, or paid, like servants. Providing musical beauty to a community is just as important as any other job.
  • An orchestra can never be a “corporation.” Yes, that’s a problem in some ways, but that’s the way it is.
  • Most people don’t know the difference between a lockout and a strike.
  • Orchestras still have a major image problem in today’s America. Much of that is our own fault.
  • Coverage of orchestras by major media outlets tends to be subpar.
  • Coverage of an orchestra by major media outlets that have an executive on the board of said orchestra which is mired in a lockout tends to be abysmal.
  • Comparing orchestras to sports teams is a losing argument.
  • An artistic organization without a strong artistic mission is a waste of time, money and energy on everyone’s part.

That’s enough from me. I look forward to hearing everyone else’s ideas.

Bill Eddins is the music director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and is a former assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he currently resides in Minneapolis. Eddins wrote this piece for the Sticks and Drones blog; it is republished here with his permission.


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Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/08/2014 - 07:57 am.

    Laundry lists

    There is lots of stuff here that makes me just want to shake my head in despair, but I will restrain myself for the moment, and just point out the obvious. What we learned, is pretty much what we all suspected beforehand, that as currently constituted, this community can get along just fine without it’s orchestra. What supporters of the orchestra cannot afford to forget is that never during this long and costly fight, the public was overwhelmingly indifferent. There were no demonstrations in front of Orchestra Hall. There were no high profile interventions from Minnesota’s business or cultural establishment. The most serious response from our public officials I can recall was a letter signed by a dozen or so legislators who seemed moderately worried by the whole thing.

    This orchestra is facing a serious long term crisis, the effects of which have been put off but hardly solved by what appears to be a short term deal motivated more by exhaustion than by a will to address long term issues. Nevertheless, a deal had been done, breathing space has been secured, and now it’s time for members of the orchestra community to stop nursing their wounds, stop playing out their personal grievances, maybe even slow the purge, and to start putting together a plan which will do what the orchestra so desperately needs to be done, redefine, reorganize and restructure the Minnesota Orchestra in ways that can ensure it’s continuation in this 21st century media environment. During the lockout, lots of folks assured us this was within reach, that other orchestras had solved those problems successfully. I am looking forward to learn from those success and the employment of those strategies, and other innovative strategies from the orchestra itself. The Minnesota Orchestra cannot depend on others to survive, it must act aggressively, and quickly to ensure it’s own success.

    • Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/08/2014 - 09:47 am.

      Living under a rock

      You’d have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the public outrage over this debacle, as well as serious concerns expressed by music professionals and patrons across the continent, including Mr. Eddins. Also, there were demonstrations (remember Symphony Ball 2013?), and the letter from legislators calling for the resignation of board leaders sounded more than “moderately” worried when it stated that they:

      “manipulated financial results in a deliberate deception of the public, first to gain public funding for Orchestra Hall and then to justify locking out the musicians for well over a year.”

      Please see the Save Our Symphony Minnesota website for more information and history, which seems to be so quickly forgotten.

      I agree that there should have been even more response from public officials, though, and some have speculated this was due to the powerful people (bankers) who were in charge of the lockout and completely unresponsive to patrons’ concerns. This points to the need for a change in the governance structure of the orchestra, including an elected board from a general membership. Change in governance is the first aggressive and quick action that is needed.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/08/2014 - 06:56 pm.


      Hiram/Pamela, your comment about this community getting along “just fine without it’s [sic] orchestra” is a classic example of bait. As someone who’s posted literally hundreds of times on the Minnesota Orchestra labor conflict, you know all too well how passionately the community cares about it.
      Honestly: “nursing their wounds”…? The musicians got immediately back to work. (Of course, they had never STOPPED working, even stepping up and booking first-rate soloists to perform with them, doing outreach concerts, etc., doing double-duty as musicians and staff.)

      “Personal grievances” did not factor in. That was an exceptionally unkind thing to say. I have no idea what you meant by “slow the purge.”

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/08/2014 - 10:34 am.

    Residing under rocks

    “You’d have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the public outrage over this debacle, as well as serious concerns expressed by music professionals and patrons across the continent, including Mr. Eddins.”

    The public is barely aware that Minnesota has an orchestra, let alone that it was locked out. For sins I doubtlessly committed in a prior life, I talk to far more people about far more stuff, than the average sort of a person, and problems related to the orchestra just didn’t come up.

    I do understand that the orchestra does have it’s constituency. But as presently constituted it’s far too small to matter and it’s shrinking. The basic reason the lockout dragged on as long as it does is that neither side felt a pressure it needed to respond to, to push negotiations forward. As it turns out, a city without an orchestra was a very stable status quo.

    The deal has been done, some time has been bought. Now is the time to start looking at strategies that have some prospect of success for putting the orchestra on a sound enough footing to survive. During the lockout, we all heard the wonder stories about other orchestras around the country where financial miracles were being performed. Cynic that I am, I never thought we were getting the complete story about those successes. But I am also firmly of the opinion that there is much to be learned from what other orchestras are doing, and we need to start learning it, and implementing what we learn.

  3. Submitted by Richard Swanson on 05/08/2014 - 11:45 am.

    Thanks Bill Eddins

    I really appreciate Bill Eddins thoughts on the horrible chain of events surrounding the Minnesota Orchestra situation. It is helpful to be reminded of the many events and factors that led to this the musician lockout (not strike) and beyond. First class cities are largely defined by their commitment to culture and the arts (does Paris or London have a football team?). Thank to MNPost for providing culture, arts, and quality of life news coverage.

    • Submitted by Matthew Levitt on 05/13/2014 - 12:34 am.

      Are you kidding?

      London and Paris each have multiple football teams. The game just looks a little different.

  4. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 05/08/2014 - 02:39 pm.

    Non vs For profit

    Most is not true… Nonprofits should be run as For Profits, but with an understanding that artistic creativity is the goal, not profit. What is true is that Orchestras are expensive, great orchestras are very expensive, and ticket prices will not allow for a broad community experience. If tickets cannot carry the day, philanthropy needs to step in with a commitment to cover the difference. If not, we all lose what could be and need to accept a scaled back version of what is affordable.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/09/2014 - 07:36 am.

    The Current Class of Management at MOA

    Seems to have a little problem.

    They wanted to depend on their endowment and upgraded facilities to keep the orchestra on a firm financial footing. Like so much of the banking industry (whose members were calling the shots on the MOA board), they believed that the conditions prior to the crash of ’08 would never change.

    When the crash of ’08 happened (because the biggest bankers all suddenly realized that everyone was lying to them as much as they were lying to everyone else), they were blindsided, and shocked to see the value of their endowment drop considerably,…

    but they were so attached to the idea of the bright, shiny new facility upgrades that they lied about the state of the endowment and the orchestra’s general financial condition in order to protect their funding of those upgrades (which were needed but were very stubbornly pursued at an extremely unwise and inopportune time).

    Worse than all of that, these executive types are VERY proud (and generally, in the depths of their souls, insecure) people. They simply could not bring themselves to admit that they had missed obvious signs and lost so much of the endowment through their short-sightedness and the fiscal mismanagement that were its result.

    Furthermore, being so accustomed to assuaging their own insecurities by successfully ordering their underlings around, they could not bring themselves to actually ask their wealthy friends to raise their support of the orchestra,…

    (even as financial statistics showed that, immediately after the crash, their wealthy friends saw their own incomes increase exponentially).

    To do so, I suspect would have put them in the risky and embarrassing position of admitting they had mismanaged the endowment AND forced them to face the possibility of being turned down. They simply couldn’t bring themselves to risk such a blow to their egos.

    So they did what business leaders have been doing forever. They blamed their workers and tried to take the results of their inability to take responsibility for and correct the effects of their own mistakes and disabilities out of their worker’s hides.

    The trouble with the whole situation is not so much that the MN Orchestra was being “run like a business” but that so much of American Business has been run in the same manner for the past 30+ years. Wall Street demands it,…

    and it’s left nothing but death and destruction in its wake.

    Unlike average workers, the Orchestra had many, well-educated, well-spoken, and very determined people working to prevent what would inevitably have been its death.

    Sadly, the millions of workers who have fallen victim to the same epidemic of mismanagement in American business (a plague of moronically deadly and destructive Friedmanian economics), have had NO ONE to do the same for them,…

    which is most of the reason why regular folks have such a hard time affording orchestra tickets, these days.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/09/2014 - 07:20 am.

    Many and grievous faults

    it’s the easiest thing in the world to trash orchestra management and to second guess their decisions. On the other hand, however awful those people might be, however we might choose to disdain them, prior to the lockout, for the first time in the history, the Minnesota Orchestra had moved in the top tier of the world’s orchestras. However much they did wrong, they must have been doing something right.

    I have read my Orwell. I am perfectly willing to indulge in the, what is it, the two minute hate? If such an event is scheduled, I would be glad to bring cookies. But once that little indulgence is done, the critical questions concerning the orchestras future are still there, and still unanswered. The Minnesota Orchestra’s financial position is deteriorating. The deal that was reached slows but doesn’t stop that process. It is really time to start addressing those issue. And I don’t think the pleasing platitudes are that helpful. As much as anyone, I would like to see the trust level between the first piccolo and the second violin increased, and I firmly support the right of tuba players to attend as many committee meetings as they have the stomach or the lips for. But what also want to see from those processes steps which meaningfully address the severe issues which continue to threaten the Minnesota Orchestra’s survival.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/09/2014 - 08:21 am.


      You’re right. The financial health of the Orchestra is questionable, at best. However, by lying about the financial health of the Orchestra before fundraising for a Shiny New Lobby, management managed to add insult to injury. That is, I can’t fault them (as an MOA management, anyway) for the 2008 crash. But when it was clear that the fund wasn’t going to do well, which would have been clear pretty much immediately, the first thing they should have done was figure out how to recover the fund, NOT fundraise for a Shiny New Lobby. Of course, their rationale (if you want to call it that) for doing so is that their rich friends supposedly would only give money to something they could get their names imprinted into. Uh…so, an empty building with plaques is valuable to people with money? I highly doubt it. So, not only did they hide the fact that the fund was failing, they assumed that the “common people” wouldn’t care and the rich people wanted only to stick their names on a building. It didn’t matter that they had pretty much already planned that the building would be empty of what made it worth putting names on.

      As for your comments amounting to “if the public cared, where were the protest marchers?” Well, clearly the public cared. Not all forms of disapproval or support must have protest signs and chants. The public cared and wrote letters and pulled as many strings as possible, and importantly, closed their pocketbooks, and the Board found out that all their snootery couldn’t keep the commoners from throwing their weight around. In fact, I suspect that the campaign for the Shiny New Lobby actually failed–though I’ve not read about it, yet–due to people refusing to pay what they pledged in light of the Board’s utter lack of competence and forthrightness. I might even guess that the Orchestra is in even more dire financial straits because of the failure. But, I also suspect that the Board will continue to cover that up until convenient for their ideological means.

      The Orchestra has been badly and, perhaps, irreversibly damaged. Osmo and the musicians can’t fix it overnight. And the management needs some pretty big changes for there to even be hope. I, for one, want to see some transparency and signs of responsibility on the part of the management before I dole out any cash outside of tickets. If that means the Orchestra will fail, then it will fail regardless because management isn’t doing the right things to prevent or reverse failure. Even if the current management could take credit for the Orchestra being one of the top in the world, it could certainly take credit for destroying it.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/09/2014 - 08:52 am.

    “You’re right. The financial health of the Orchestra is questionable, at best. However, by lying about the financial health of the Orchestra before fundraising for a Shiny New Lobby, management managed to add insult to injury.”

    So you point is that the Minnesota Orchestra is untrustworthy? How does that make the case it needs to make, that I should contribute to them and/or encourage my legislators to increase the level of public support to them

    This is something I simply do not understand. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are both trying to undermine confidence in the orchestra at the very same time they are asking people to entrust them with their support. If the orchestra is badly managed, why should I throw good money after bad?

  8. Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/09/2014 - 10:15 am.


    No, Hiram/Pamela…the Minnesota Orchestra top management is untrustworthy. The musicians, staff and Osmo are doing their best, in spite of all. No one HAS to “undermine confidence” because the facts simply speak for themselves. All your commentary serves to muddy the waters, not clarify.

    Should you write a check? If only you could write one for each of your commenting aliases – it’d probably solve any fiancial crisis.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/09/2014 - 12:46 pm.


    “Should you write a check? If only you could write one for each of your commenting aliases – it’d probably solve any fiancial crisis.

    The Minnesota Orchestra runs at a loss. I think just about all the orchestras in the world run at a loss. In Europe, the major orchestras are funded the the governments. If the Minnesota Orchestra is to survive, it needs contributions from the public in the form of contributions, and I would strongly argue, from public funding. For starters, in terms of private contributors, it’s very difficult, I would think, to raise money from those folks, while also vilifying them in the media. I mean it can be done, but it isn’t easy. Moving on to public funding, the suggestions seems to be that the MOA should go to the legislature and ask for money, while also going into great detail about how the last batch of dollars was thrown away on building improvements. I just don’t think that legislators who every day turn down funding requests from a lot of really worthy causes, would find that line of argument very appealing. Bear in mind, that orchestras are seen as an activity of cultural elites, and that the MOA is asking legislators for money to pay salaries that are in excess, of the average wages of those legislators constituents. To put it bluntly, why should a guy making 30,000 a year be taxed to pay a musician who make 50,000 a year? Or more?

    By the way, I do not post under multiple aliases here or anywhere else. I am always me.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/09/2014 - 06:25 pm.

      (laughing) “I am always me”…Good one.

      I imagine you may well genuinely believe that you are always “you.” (Notice the disappearance of an earlier commenter, though? How odd…)
      Hiram, et al, how many comments are you going to run this thread up to, somewhere between 30-40%?

  10. Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/09/2014 - 01:02 pm.

    Let’s change the verb tense

    I agree with Hiram (gasp!) that we should stop saying management “is” untrustworthy, since management is transitioning and new board leaders have stepped up. I am hopeful they will do the right things to rebuild the orchestra, and so far they seem to be moving in the right direction. My calls for a change in the governance structure are not out of spite for current leaders, but rather so that there are proper checks and balances, a larger body of patrons has a voice, and the sorts of things that happened in the past will be much less likely to happen in the future.

    However, I believe it is still important to analyze the mismanagement that occurred in the past, as a way to measure what is possible to achieve with good (or even mediocre) management in the future. Many orchestra patrons simply cannot take at face value statements to the effect that there is some kind of large-scale economic crisis or structural problem (i.e., classical music is dying, and we can’t “trust” other orchestras’ successes — really?). You can keep repeating this over and over, Hiram, but I’m not buying it.

    Further, Hiram, instead of just sounding alarms about “severe financial issues,” why don’t you propose some specific things that could be done to ensure artistic excellence and financial sustainability? I’ll hold my breath, since you comment so frequently.

  11. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/09/2014 - 02:10 pm.

    The job

    The function of an orchestra isn’t to give patrons a voice, it isn’t to provide a model of corporate governance, it isn’t to be transparent, translucent, or opaque. The function of an orchestra is to perform music, and to do that it needs money to pay soloists, conductors, musicians, and bartenders.

    Now I do understand that there is a view out there that other orchestras have found the magic formula to financial success. Personally, I am skeptical, but my skepticism is irrelevant, and I have no problem in putting it aside. Let’s hire a management team that is willing to do those things, and if they work, no one will be happier than me. The fact is skeptic though I may be, I have no doubt that the orchestra can be run in the future better than it has been in the past.

    For specific proposals, I know what works, and what works is increased levels of government and corporate funding. And when you go to those folks, they aren’t really going to want to hear that the MOA has a nice set of checks and balances in place, similar to the one that has paralyzed our federal government. What they are going to want to hear that their money is effectively and efficiently spent on an orchestra that reflects credit on it’s sponsors.

  12. Submitted by Mark Carter on 05/09/2014 - 05:32 pm.

    Governance and business plan

    Bill you have speared most of the whales. However you do not have a viable business plan. Profit is not a dirty word even for non profits. Whilst it is true that in this era of crony capitalism there has been an unbalanced distribution of wealth and a decline in disposable income of the middle class, Margaret Thatcher’s warning that “Socialism is fine until you have spent everyone else’s money is still prescient. When she came to power it was spent, and she revitalized the middle class. So as usual the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of socialism and crony capitalism.

    Now against this backdrop we have trouble aplenty throughout the arts scene. Since orchestras and opera companies are so expensive they are the “canaries in the coal mine.”

    Pretty much universally the signs are the same: – Increased expenses. An increase in donor funds, especially from wealthy donors over earned ticket revenue. This problem is especially severe at the Met. We may well see a lockout there before next season.

    Coupled with murky ways in which board members get to serve on the MOA board and its decision making, this financial trend is spells major trouble ahead for the Minnesota Orchestra.

    Of all the issues governance should be the easiest to resolve with a little give and take. Because of the difficult decisions ahead this is an urgent matter.

    There is also this backdrop that Hiram Foster points out. Most Minnesotans could not care less if the orchestra survives or not, but the core supporters are passionate about it, and have done an outstanding job bringing this crisis to the point where there is the possibility of long term change and survival.

    So lets look at the revenue side. I don’t see a possibility of increasing the price of tickets without empty seats.

    Seeking major donors would buy time. And of the orchestras enjoying some measure of financial stability currently recruiting major donors has been their winning card. I don’t see this as viable in the long term.

    Recruiting many small donors, is inefficient. With current evidence pointing to declining disposable incomes for the middle class, this is source is more likely a pipe dream than not. Currently these donors are tapped out buying the tickets.

    This all needs to be set against the backdrop of a large number of arts groups requiring support and in this I include MPR, more about this later.

    The other source is taxes. In this community I see no appetite, or prospect of this currently.

    Now this situation is very analogous to the situation faced by Sir Henry Wood when he founded the Proms in 1895. Donors were walking away from support of the music, but donating to large civic spaces, (bricks and mortar). We should not dismiss that as we still benefit from those edifices today. Sir Henry faced lamentable standards of musicianship in the orchestras. His solution was to have the orchestra play lots of long concerts and make the tickets cheap. He succeeded. However that was only part of the reason for success.

    He started this venture at a time Emil Berliner’s flat discs were starting to sell exponentially. Recoding firms were falling over themselves to get artists and orchestras in front of their recording horns and a whole new revenue stream was created.

    Improvements and advances drove income. I would say but for these developments there would be few orchestras and opera companies left.

    In the early twenties came electrical recording and regular radio broadcasts, increasing revenue stream further.

    In 1948 came FM radio and the LP. This further increased revenue, and led to the repertory needing to be recorded again.

    1959 the stereo LP ad stereo broadcasting.

    From 1948 on there was an explosion if research and development of ways to improve delivery of music to the home. This increased the accelerating trend whereby music reproduction became the way the vast majority of music overs got to know and enjoy the musical literature.

    1984 saw the introduction of digital audio into the home with the CD. Same events ensued.

    Now since with the introduction of the Blu Ray disc in 2006 and the development of rapidly improving technology for streaming orchestras in not only high quality audio and also audio and video, history has not repeated itself. Instead the recording industry has been thrown into chaos and disarray, splintered, chopped and diced. A reliable revenue source of over a century has been cut off at the knees.

    How did this happen. For one, traditionally classical music has been a big driver of new technology. For some reason the classical side has got caught flat footed and allowed the new technology to become highly pop geared.

    In addition the new technologies in terms of implementation are a huge break with the past and require more user understanding and expertise.

    There is only one big bright spot in this and it is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. They are artistic and technology leaders relentlessly trying to harness and DEVELOP cutting edge technology to bring the wonders of digital distribution to the home, by streaming and now their new record company. Their company is unique, and not traditional at all. They understand that when a buyer gives them hard cash they want not only the finest technology and production standards, but the ability to play and watch what they paid for across multiple digital platforms. At the same time, making their offerings available on LP for those that won’t make the leap to the modern age. Now I note a lot of music critics around the world just don’t get it. I believe the BPO do get and will return this vital income and historic revenue stream to the bottom line. One reason they will ultimately win, is that this is second nature to the 35 and under crowd and most of the under 45 crowd. Time will soon take care of my grey haired set and the younger set as they grey will be facile with these developments.
    Just yesterday they Emailed my with an app for Android, and now you should be able to Chromecast to your home AV.

    Now the last point is that there is far too much free program about.
    We have to get back for people paying for what they listen and watch.

    In this regard, our wonderful MPR need to rethink their mission painful though that may be. Having everything supported by voluntary contributions is increasingly going to be part of the problem. Though this philosophy is laudable there are downsides. It sucks a lot of donor funds that could support the musical organizations directly. Now it is impossible to have a subscription service for radio. However that will be gone in a generation or less.
    At this time there is nothing wrong about having digital stream and downloads, as pay as you go, or on a subscription basis. The stream would have to be better and at least some AV stream available. Digital streams can now easily best the best analog FM and can be heard and viewed worldwide. The big upside of this is that it would support not only MPR but the Minnesota Orchestra, the SPCO and others.

    This leads back to governance and having skin in the game. The policies of the American Federation of Musicians on digital music distribution are appalling. It is backward thinking and totally irrelevant and out of touch with the state of play now. This is a big reason why the musicians must be part of governance at this juncture.

    Without innovative thinking and sound business moves playing in the Minnesota Orchestra will not be the musician’s day job much longer.

    I don’t minimize the task ahead, and for a start one or some big donors will be required to get that moving. This would require and expenditure, pretty much identical to the new lobby.

    As an example of the gains their last concert at Northrop, was just made for AV. It won’t happen. It is not wild thinking at all that that concert viewed and or downloaded for a modest fee, could have paid 25 to 30% of the year’s operating budget.

  13. Submitted by Elizabeth Erickson on 05/09/2014 - 07:29 pm.

    What I’ve learned

    I know there are many people on the MOA board who love music and care about the orchestra. But to have someone as the executive board chair of a world class orchestra, who doesn’t like classical music and is known to never go to concerts, is just insane. I hope going forward more care is taken by the board to appoint individuals with a working knowledge of orchestras who are proud of their product. I do think Gordon Sprenger is doing a good job. But the fact that the toxic environment was going on well before the lockout and so few people on the board understood this, signals that there is still much work to be done.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/10/2014 - 06:08 am.


    I do see the Berlin Philharmonic is starting it’s own record label. There are some promising things that can be tried in the area of digital and online production, but I don’t see now how that translates into revenue in profits. The Berlin Philharmonic is soon to release a new set of Schumann Symphony recordings. I am sure it will be nice, but there are lots of Schumann sets out there to compete with.

    One of my many unanswered questions is why Henson was hired in the first place? He came from the Bournemouth Symphony and Bournemouth has an extensive record catalog on the Naxos label. Maybe someone thought bringing Henson in would mean the Minnesota Orchestra would do a lot of recording. With respect to Naxos, however, while association with label generates a lot of interest and prestige, it doesn’t generate a lot of money. And what’s interesting about Naxos is that it puts out a lot previously unknown music. What the Minnesota Orchestra has been doing is making recordings of the most standard of the standard repertoire, cycles of Beethoven and Sibelius Symphonies, recordings that are sold, to the extent that they are, at prices that put them out of reach of many CD buyers, especially given the fact that competitive sets can be bought elsewhere much more cheaply.

  15. Submitted by David Markle on 05/10/2014 - 09:01 am.

    All good points, maestro.

    Bravo, amen, and you’re a fine conductor, too.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/10/2014 - 09:37 am.

    Confidence and sustainability

    To the extent that MOA has lost confidence of patrons or potential contributors that happened as a result of the lockout, i.e. disastrous management decisions. The financial information that the previous management team released to the public was also vague and misleading. In addition repeated claims such as the one that the orchestra loses money on concerts turned out to be simply false. The loss of confidence isn’t due to stuff people are saying, it’s due the concrete actions taken by management. Confidence will not be restored or preserved by silence on the subject, but rather good management and a successful orchestra. The damage can be repaired, but it’s too late to avoid it.

    I’ve always said that one of the biggest problems we have in the US is a wildly overcompensated and mediocre executive class. One of the things we should have learned over the last decade is that an organization can succeed and even excel on occasion despite bad management. The banking industry is actually a perfect example of this, despite horrible mismanagement they make billions. Hiram’s suggestion that management must have been doing something right in order for the Orchestra’s prestige to improve so much is based on false assumptions.

    Apparently we had bankers from an industry devoid of negotiation and no experience with employees who not “at-will” designing a business model that might have worked for a meat packing plant but was obviously wrong for an orchestra. Mr. Edden’s comment about Neo-Con ideology addresses that point.

    Yes there are financial concerns for the orchestra but how serious are the financial problems? We have a management team that minimized financial problems at one point to secure financing for the remodel and then may well have exaggerated financial problems later in order to extract concessions from the musicians.

    The publicly released financial information from the MOA is confusing, for instance for some reason they claim it costs ten times more for the orchestra to have a concert at Orchestra Hall than it would cost anyone else, and that’s supposed to be excluding the musician salaries and traveling expenses. That’s a $2 million annual expense right there. Is that a “real” expense or funky accounting?

    Once there’s a clear picture of the actual financial condition of the orchestra a plan can be made. It should be doable. For instance with a $60 million endowment it should be possible to draw down $2 million a year indefinitely. With some public support and some revenue increases it should be possible to stabilize the budget. The musician’s have already made concessions.

    Classical music does have some inherent problems, there are problems associated with growing the audience but maybe a good artistic director and some creative marketing can help.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/10/2014 - 06:24 pm.

      Yes, that part about the endowment was always confusing

      Management talked as if the endowment would soon be down to its last penny, but organizations can and do draw down their principal for special purposes, such as a marketing blitz (they need someone who loves classical music and knows how to sell it to new audiences) or investments in technologies that allow audiences who are not physically present in Orchestra Hall to enjoy live concerts.

      I thought marketing was the weak point of the MOA’s business plan. They always advertise the pop concerts, although I must say that if they’re trying to attract younger audiences, Bill Cosby and Doc Severinsen are not the biggest draws.

      Management’s idea of marketing classical music seemed to be to badger the existing subscribers into subscribing for next year. The musicians, with their outreach to the schools and El Sistema, seemed to be more focused on building toward the future, but I’m sure that a slightly wild and crazy marketing expert could come up with great ideas.

      I used to volunteer for a classical music station in Portland that had trouble getting underwriters, because no one was interested in what they assumed to be the geriatric set. The station hired a marketing expert to survey the paid members. He discovered that the average age of the listeners was actually 37 and that, among other things, audience members were more likely to buy books, travel overseas, eat out, and try alternative health treatments than the typical local resident.

      With that information in hand, the man who recruited underwriters soon had a healthy portfolio of bookstores, travel agencies, restaurants, chiropractors, and massage therapists who were willing to underwrite programming.

      The stereotype is that classical audiences are overwhelmingly elderly, but is that even true? When was the last time anyone conducted an in-depth survey of the Minnesota Orchestra audience?

  17. Submitted by Ray Dennis on 05/10/2014 - 09:40 am.

    Measure of Indifference

    I can not remember my circle of acquaintances ever bringing up the plight of the MO in a conversation; not before the labor issues, not during the labor issues, not after the labor issues. I’ll guess that less than 1% of Minnesotans ever discussed the labor issues with their peers.

    • Submitted by Amy Adams on 05/10/2014 - 12:40 pm.

      ….or possibly your circle of friends is simply

      ….utterly disinterested in local matters, or music matters, or labor issues.
      If your point is that “people don’t care because I don’t care”….then, thanks for writing, I guess.
      If your point is that the number of people who care should change…then again, thanks for writing.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/10/2014 - 10:14 am.

    Circle of friends?

    And the point of measuring indifference? I guess of it’s not important to you… There are a lot of things people AREN’T talking about.

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/11/2014 - 07:27 am.

    Annie Hall

    At the start of the movie “Annie Hall”, Woody Allen tells two basic jokes, one of which is relevant here. A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doctor, my father thinks he is a chicken”. The doctor replies, “Bring him in and we will fix him right up.”. The guy responds, “I can’t. We need the eggs.”.
    The relationship of orchestra management to the orchestra is like that. The managers see the orchestra in certain conventional ways. They are cautious and conservative. They like to have a drink at intermission in a nice place which is why we have a shiny new lobby. They see their stewardship of the orchestra as a trust, and as a result, that they are bound by fiduciary obligations. This has a number of implications, but among them is that the notion that they should draw down the endowment as a risky bet on the future of the orchestra is pretty much a non starter. A different management might see things differently, although it should also be noted that what a different management might do, might not be popular with labor which also benefits in many ways from cautious and conservative management. The problem is that there isn’t a different management out there, there is no alternative source of eggs. And the further and even more serious problem is that this management, which many find so unsatisfactory, is disappearing with no replacement at all on the horizon.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2014 - 08:39 am.

    Annie Hall?

    “The managers see the orchestra in certain conventional ways. They are cautious and conservative. ” You forgot one other characteristic… management is usually anti-union.

    Just a couple responses; first, there’s nothing cautious or conventional about locking out labor, it’s a serious and extreme maneuver. This attempt to describe “managers” is obviously flawed right out of the gate. Nor is it responsible in a fiduciary sense or otherwise to prevent orchestra performances for over a year. And it’s no more responsible to draw on the endowment in order to create the appearance of financial stability than it is to draw on the endowment to actually establish financial stability. Using the endowment to build a fancy lobby is not more “responsible” than using the endowment to keep the orchestra playing music.

    No one is talking about “spending” down the endowment, just drawing on it. And the math is not difficult, look: Even at 5% a year a $60 million endowment will yield $3 million in returns. At that rate you could draw $2-$3 million a year indefinitely without reducing the endowment. Even if you drew $4 million a year and it would take decades to spend the endowment down. So this notion that MOA was ever in any immediate crises that required a lock-out right now today was always gibberish. The fact that the board supported the lock out for so long may tell us that they were either not paying attention, not that bright, or ideologically opposed to unionized musicians.

    As Mr. Eddins points out, this was neo-con leadership and neo-cons almost always manufacture crises or convert manageable situations into crises. Again, look the bankers, here’s an industry where people actually pay them to take their money and the government guarantees solvency yet they managed to drive themselves into bankruptcy and drag the whole world into a economic depression. I’m not saying that the orchestra had or has no financial challenges, but the Lock-out converted those challenges into a death spiral.

    Finally, MOA isn’t going to be left without ANY management, and it’s not difficult to imagine better management emerging.

    I also have to say that of all the bone head maneuvers the board and management pulled off, cancelling the Symphony Ball because they weren’t in a celebratory “mood” was one of the worst. They were all “celebratory” when 100 musicians were locked out and living on unemployment checks but a few managers have to step down and suddenly they’re in a bad mood? This was beyond tone deaf. Again, not hard to imagine better management.

  21. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/12/2014 - 09:51 am.


    There isn’t anything cautious about locking out labor, but there is something cautious about being unwilling to maintain a level of spending without a viable plan in place to sustain that level of spending. That was the concern of management when they locked out the workers, and it remains a concern today.

    “You forgot one other characteristic… management is usually anti-union.

    Sure. That was a concern with the old management team, and it will also be the case with any management team in place. It’s a fact of life at the orchestra.

    “As Mr. Eddins points out, this was neo-con leadership and neo-cons almost always manufacture crises or convert manageable situations into crises.”

    I thought this was one of the more out of touch things Mr. Eddins said. He was ripping something out of political context and forcing it into a business context for rhetorical effect. Neo cons are folks who wanted to go to war in Iraq. If you noticed one thing that characterized them was a lack of concern about cost, both short an long term. Costs and other business considerations to the exclusion of a lot of other things were what this management team focused on, for better or worse. If you notice, none of the neo cons who led us down the path to war in Iraq were business guys. My guess is that it would be the cultural equivalent of the neo cons who would be most susceptible to the notion that we should give out a contract, that we can’t currently justify in hopes that something would turn up down the line that would solve the problem.

    I also thought cancelling the Symphony Ball was a dumb idea. It’s time for labor and management to put past differences aside and present a united front to the community. No one who might consider writing a big check is interested in anyone’s hurt feelings. There are plenty of good places to send money that aren’t comprised of whiners.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2014 - 10:32 am.

      Not really out of touch

      “Neo cons are folks who wanted to go to war in Iraq.” and “If you notice, none of the neo cons who led us down the path to war in Iraq were business guys.” Dude, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Bush, were all business executives. Cheney, Rice, and Bush were big oil executives, and Rumsfeld was a CEO of big pharma company.

      Neo cons have domestic as well as foreign policy aspirations, going to war with their labor force is also a very neo-con thing to do.

      “It’s time for labor and management to put past differences aside and present a united front to the community. No one who might consider writing a big check is interested in anyone’s hurt feelings. There are plenty of good places to send money that aren’t comprised of whiners.”


      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/12/2014 - 12:14 pm.

        Cheney was a congressman from Wyoming, and had been chief of staff to Gerald Bush. Condi Rice was an academic. Donald Rumsfeld had also been a Congressman and Defense Secretary. George Bush himself was a former governor of California. Although when out of politics they found jobs in the private sector, none of them were primarily business people. They were politicians business hired in a speculation that they would one day come to power.

        I don’t think the board liked having to deal with a union. My guess is that they felt certain things the union was asking for were inconsistent with interests of the orchestra. It’s also perhaps the case, the union felt that way about certain things the board was asking for. But I don’t think the point of management’s actions were motivated by anti union animus nor do I think it was the goal of management to run the union out of business.

  22. Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/12/2014 - 10:26 am.

    Movie quotes

    Woody Allen also said he was considering committing suicide, but he was seeing an analyst who would have charged him for the missed sessions. This is the kind of perverse logic that supporters of the old board leadership have tried to apply in covering up the debacle and defending those responsible. I only wish I could laugh.

    Was management “cautious and conservative” when they sold securities at a $14 million loss at the trough of the stock market, or when they hid deficits for years while raising funds for the building, or when they gave the CEO over $200K in bonuses during a deficit year (leading up to the lockout)? Were they really following their fiduciary responsibilities when spent over a $1 million in legal fees, nearly lost their lease on the hall, and alienated so many patrons? I don’t think so, and I don’t think anyone who understands best practices for managing a non-profit does either. Destroying the very product of the organization is indeed a risky bet on the future, and there were many opportunities to ask patrons for additional support so that the entire disaster could have been averted.

    The fundamental problem was, and still is, the closed self-selecting and unaccountable board membership. A change in the governance structure is needed. Until then, those who want to downgrade the orchestra will continue to undermine the efforts of thousands of supportive patrons, and post illogical, convoluted rationales and disparaging, self-fulfilling prophecies of financial doom in comments sections.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/12/2014 - 12:44 pm.

      Suffice to say

      I don’t think Hiram provided an accurate description of previous management at MOA, or even management in general. Hiram may be expressing an ideal of some kind, but examples of reality abound.

      The point here isn’t simply to hurl insults at previous management, but to make sure the lessons are learned. When I see people attempting to gloss over huge errors in judgement I get nervous that the lessons of the past will be lost amongst the mediocrity of the present.

      And frankly it’s hard to assess the nature of managements management when management isn’t giving you a clear picture of the financial situation. I’m looking the financial report:

      Several things jump out at me. 1) Almost $4 million in concert expenses and that’s excluding marketing, salaries and benefits, and travel costs. That’s almost $100,000 per concert assuming around 40 concerts in 2012. As near as I can figure the cost of producing 40 concerts in house should be around $400,000 (at a cost of $10,000 per concert according to the MOA rental fees ( ) 2) Almost $7.5 million in “other” salaries and benefits? We know there are 95 musicians more or less, but who are these people that are drawing almost 50% of the musicians salaries and benefits? 3) Almost a million dollars spent on “negotiations” during the lockout compared to $140,000 before the lockout? Why did it cost so much more to “negotiate” during the lockout?

      There looks to be a lot of wiggle room here.

      • Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/13/2014 - 08:10 am.


        The point here isn’t simply to hurl insults at previous management, but to make sure the lessons are learned.”

        I agree completely. And thanks for posting the financial report.

        What jumps out at me is that the 15% reduction (assuming it applies to all salaries) cuts the deficit in half. Small increases the next two years are little more than inflation. Hopefully more can be trimmed from the other expenses you mention. (I wonder if the full-page newspaper ads were part of negotiating costs?)

        Another thing that jumps out is the large number of VERY generous donations to the Building for the Future Fund. I realize this was a special fund raising drive, and many people prefer to donate to “bricks and mortar” projects than cover operating expenses, but I never understood why this wasn’t seen as an opportunity to increase regular/annual fund raising levels in the future.

        Creative programming and re-extending the season to the full length of the musicians’ contract can also increase revenues, but clearly, developing new audiences and donors will be critical to long term success.

  23. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/13/2014 - 06:06 am.

    Future management

    “The fundamental problem was, and still is, the closed self-selecting and unaccountable board membership. A change in the governance structure is needed.

    The board is comprised of volunteers and donors. You don’t get to demand things from volunteers and donors. They self selected themselves by volunteering and donating. If the orchestra doesn’t like what they volunteer and no longer cares for the color in which their money comes, they are free, I suppose to tell those volunteers to take what they give elsewhere. The problem is, those volunteers and donors are already departing from the scene and aren’t being replaced. What is to be gained from accelerating the process?

    The orchestra has to raise money to survive. To do that, it has to go to wealthy people who have lots of demands on their charitable impulses. It has the burden of explaining why they should give money to a performing arts organization, many of whose employees make high five and even six figure incomes in preference say, to an organization that say feeds starving children. What else is the orchestra going to say to those donors. We need your money because we booted out the last set of donors because they weren’t accountable enough, transparent enough, and we didn’t much care for the nature of the services they volunteered? Does anyone really think that kind of pitch will be found to be appealing? In a world of worthwhile charities, many of them to put it bluntly, more worthwhile than the Minnesota Orchestra, why wouldn’t those wealthy prospective donors take their money elsewhere? Even if the Minnesota Orchestra develops a governance model which becomes the wonder of the western world?

  24. Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/13/2014 - 08:19 am.

    Twisting words again

    No one is saying that volunteers and donors can’t (shouldn’t) be on the board, only that there needs to be a broader membership who elects a board. Surely many of those donors and volunteers who also want to serve on the board, would get elected to it. Having an elected board would allow for more diversity of ideas and perspectives (which any organization should be striving for, as management research has shown), and would also likely bring back many patrons who have felt frustrated by not having a voice. Again, I’m not knocking any current volunteers and donors (I’m one of them), but suggesting what I think would be best for the long term sustainability of the organization. It’s simply democracy and shared governance.

  25. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/13/2014 - 10:31 am.

    One Final Cheer

    One last cheer for all concerned:

    Ibid., Ibid., Op. cit. !!

  26. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/13/2014 - 11:26 am.

    No one is saying that volunteers and donors can’t (shouldn’t) be on the board, only that there needs to be a broader membership who elects a board.

    The people who matter on the board will always be the ones who provide what the board needs. People will not stay on the board and they will not contribute if they don’t like the direction the board is going.

    People contribute to a charity not because they think it’s board is run well, they contribute to a charity because they believe the charity will effectively use the money to attain the goals the donor wants to achieve. With respect to the orchestra, my guess is that what donors want is assurance that their dollars will be used to sustain the orchestra in the long term, that they are not wasting the money. I expect their interest in the internal process of decision making is of very little interest to them. They couldn’t care less with decisions are made diversely or with lots of input. What matters is that the decisions are made correctly.

  27. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/13/2014 - 12:42 pm.

    The board?

    Hiram, I thought people gave money to the orchestra because they wanted to support the orchestra, now you’re telling us they give money so they can be on the board? Why do they want to be on the board if they don’t like classical music or orchestras? And if they want to support classical music and orchestras why would they shift their support to someone else? You seem to be assuming that a more successful orchestra that’s actually performing music rather than locked out and in a death spiral will drive donors away for some reason?

    People may not contribute because a board is run well, but they will certainly think twice before donating to a charity that is run poorly. Logically if the board governance is improved along with the quality and success of the orchestra donors will be reassured and less hesitant to contribute? Isn’t one of the function of the board to solicit contributions as well as make them?

    We’ll see. If the board members start abandoning the orchestra rather than trying to be less dysfunctional maybe more public support will be in order. Hard to tell until we see some actual numbers. I would assumed man of the board members are and have realized that something went way wrong here, and as intelligent people I would think they’d trying to learn lessons rather than bail out.

    I think Hiram is creating an artificial double bind. We’re being told that if we criticize the board their feelings will be hurt and they’ll take their marbles to a different game. On the other hand if we don’t recognize the mistake that were made, and make adjustments moving forward, history will likely repeat itself.

    I tend to assume board members are adults who actually care about the orchestra (that’s what they’ve been telling for two years now). Everyone wants to come together and move past the resentments and disappointments of the last two years, and we’re all adults here. This is doable. Responsible people try to learn from past mistakes, just because we’re not showering board members with adoration shouldn’t mean they’ll bail out.

  28. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/13/2014 - 04:57 pm.

    I thought people gave money

    I thought people gave money to the orchestra because they wanted to support the orchestra, now you’re telling us they give money so they can be on the board.

    Some do, but a larger factor is that large donors will want to have direct or at leas indirect influence on orchestra policy. A donor knows that the orchestra is operating at a loss. He’s ok with that because that’s the nature of the business. What he will want assurances of is that the money he contributes will not aggravate the situation, that it won’t be thrown away by an inept management. From what I have gathered,Minnesota Orchestra’s management is very inept indeed. That being the case, and it also being the case that there are numerous charities which aren’t run badly, why should the donor favor the orchestra in preference to all the others?

    People serve on charity boards for a lot of reasons. Family tradition, social reasons, a desire to do something for the community. Some like the power trip. Few of them serve on boards in order that their life be made miserable.

    “And if they want to support classical music and orchestras why would they shift their support to someone else? ”

    Because they want to do other things too. And the problem the orchestra is facing is that in terms of charitable giving, they aren’t in fashion any more. Rich people today think in terms of giving money to other things, medical research, education is very popular, things that are idealistic and have positive impacts on community. Things like orchestras are an indulgence of personal taste. And the rich people who are emerging on the scene now are from the rock and roll generation, not only in choice of music but in attitude. It isn’t necessarily their dream to attend a symphony ball in a tuxedo..

    “I think Hiram is creating an artificial double bind.”

    Double bind although it may be, it’s hardly artificial. The board has a two fold task here; it has to keep both it’s old members, it also has to attract new members. Becoming a board member is already a difficult sell, now let’s top it off with public criticism of the old board, who with all their limits have done the best they can, and on the whole haven’t done badly. Why should our newly rich guy buy into a headache?

  29. Submitted by Mark Carter on 05/13/2014 - 07:14 pm.

    More misery

    Hiram is largely correct in what he says. I think the ability to raise money for orchestras going forward, is going to be more and more difficult, for all the reasons Hiram points out.

    We have news today, that the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians are using the strike weapon in negotiations as of today. They are threatening to strike as soon as their contact expires at the end of July. There have been fears of real trouble in this organization for weeks now.

    On the other hand the Royal Opera House has now reported more revenue form out of house ticket sales for the first time. I don’t know if this includes Blu Ray disc sales.

    All of these organizations must become less and less dependent on donated funds fast. If not for many musicians, playing in the orchestra will not be the day job for any, or many, for much longer. The Columbus Ohio orchestra is now experimenting with a blend of professional and amateur players.

    I see lots of change on the horizon. How change is managed will determine winners and loosers. Bold innovation will be an essential ingredient.

    The way to avoid yesterday’s problems is to fundamentally change the model. More of the same will lead to disaster soon.

  30. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/15/2014 - 06:56 am.

    The future

    To use a cliche, if the orchestra is to thrive, It’s going to have to reimagine itself. And that won’t be an easy or comfortable process for anyone involved.

  31. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/15/2014 - 09:49 am.

    Board members…

    Frankly, I’ve decided that Hiram isn’t the expert on board membership he pretends to be.

    “Double bind although it may be, it’s hardly artificial. The board has a two fold task here; it has to keep both it’s old members, it also has to attract new members. Becoming a board member is already a difficult sell, now let’s top it off with public criticism of the old board, who with all their limits have done the best they can, and on the whole haven’t done badly. Why should our newly rich guy buy into a headache?”

    Look, Classical music isn’t the most popular form of entertainment on the block, that’s nothing new. Orchestra’s are facing financial challenges, that’s nothing new. Neither of these facts is a secret. Wealthy donors change their priorities all the time. One lesson from the last 13 months is that people who bring nothing but money to the table can do more harm than good, they almost destroyed our orchestra. People aren’t going to donate if they don’t believe in having an orchestra, and if they care about the orchestra they’ll support it.

    Here’s what I don’t know: Is there some requirement that anyone who donates a certain amount of money HAS to be on the board? If so, this is probably why we ended up with such a dysfunctional board for a variety of reasons. I would mean that you populate a board with the wealthy rather than the competent. Why would someone who’s donated a million dollars be a better board member than someone who just buys season tickets and goes to a bunch of concerts? Isn’t that just class bias masquerading as business acumen? Look if new wealthy donors don’t want the hassle of being on the board, why put them on the board? Why not restrict board membership to manageable level of say 15 instead of 80 members and populate it by lottery or some other formula that balances membership?

  32. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/15/2014 - 10:50 am.

    “Is there some requirement that anyone who donates a certain amount of money HAS to be on the board?”

    No, there isn’t. But it’s also true that people can be very influential on orchestra affairs without being on the board. Boards do a variety of things, but the most basic thing they do is raise money. If you get invited to serve on the board of a charity like the Minnesota Orchestra or any other, it’s because someone on the board wants something from you, and just about always it’s money, either directly, they want contributions from you, or indirectly, they think you have the expertise or access that enables you to get money from someone else.

    “Why would someone who’s donated a million dollars be a better board member than someone who just buys season tickets and goes to a bunch of concerts?”

    One reason is that board membership might encourage that person to continue donations. Another reason is that wealthy people know other wealthy people who also can be persuaded to make donations to the orchestra.

    ” I would mean that you populate a board with the wealthy rather than the competent.”

    Competence in board members is usually defined in terms of an ability to raise money.

    “Isn’t that just class bias masquerading as business acumen? ”

    My guess is that there are people who serve on the Minnesota Orchestra for reasons of class or heritage. The orchestra is a long established charity, and I am sure was much more at the center of Minneapolis society than it is today. But those ideas are fading away, along with the people who hold them. By the way, those folks would have been the most likely not to take a close look at the numbers, who would have chosen the past of least resistance, the path that didn’t lead to angry discussions at country clubs. And who would have been most likely to write the check that made the orchestra’s troubles go away. The disappearance of those so easily disparaged, upper class types is a big part of the troubles the orchestra is having today.

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