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A new Vikings stadium and a silenced orchestra — where are our priorities?

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
In a newly refurbished Orchestra Hall there will be no sounds of Brahms, Copeland, or Sibelius but rather the stillness of silence.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the moment that we lose perspective of the future. It is entirely possible that in three or four years we will be reading about the sale of the Vikings football team for a profit of $100 or $200 million as a result of the new stadium financed virtually entirely by the taxpayer and the fans. And, yes, there will be stories of how Zygi Wilf outfoxed and outmaneuvered those representing the interests of the public.

However, on the other side of town in a newly refurbished Orchestra Hall there will be no sounds of Brahms, Copeland, or Sibelius but rather the stillness of silence.

We will publicly wonder how we could pass a Legacy Amendment (by way of disclosure, Governor Wendell Anderson and I served as co-chairs) designed to properly fund the outdoors and the arts, pour hundreds of millions into a facility that ultimately moved Wilf from millionaire into billionaire status, and then stand by while our own world class symphony orchestra disintegrated.

We will understandably ask — where were our priorities? How could we go so overboard for one and yet be so detached from the other? Since when do the arts not play a major role in defining our quality of life and is it not that some quality of life that attracts business job growth? And then, will we wonder about our leadership?

What is hard to comprehend is why the Legacy Amendment, the over generosity of the public in the stadium deal, and the lack of progress in the stalemate at Orchestra Hall do not pose an opportunity for the Governor, the Mayor, and legislative leaders to come together and figure out how some money can be moved in order to permit us to retain the Vikings (with an increased share of participation from Wilf) as well as a treasured world class symphony. We owe this to ourselves and to our future. Let’s get moving.

This post was written by Arne Carlson and originally published on the Governor Arne Carlson blog.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/01/2013 - 08:55 am.

    It’s actually very simple, Arne

    Get back to me when there’s Thursday Night, Sunday afternoon, Sunday Night and Monday Night Orchestra. Or when people roam the watering holes downtown wearing Vanska jerseys. Or when the world’s two best Orchestras play before the largest TV audiences of the year and bring in billions in ad money. Look, clearly the taxpayers got hoodwinked by the Wilfs. But that’s a completely different issue than why taxpayers should also pay for entertainment for the 1%.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/01/2013 - 05:15 pm.

      This isn’t about the 1%

      Many enjoy the Orchestra. Unfortunately, most can no more afford tickets to the Orchestra than can afford tickets to a Vikings game – even when they’re losing.

      I agree, however, that one can’t compare an operation that seats tens of thousands per performance, is followed by a substantial majority of the state, and which is available on screen most weeks, with one which seats what, hundreds per performance, and is only occasionally available on radio. There’s a reason the arts have always required patrons with deep pockets.

      Public subsidies for venues may have their place in some instances, but what we’re talking about here is the need for an operating subsidy. I doubt that would fly for any form of entertainment, if cast in those terms. For that matter, the average person is going to have a hell of a time agreeing to an operating subsidy when he or she learns the current contract terms. E.g., Average salary of $135,000, $35,000 in fringe, minimum 10 weeks vacation, up to 26 weeks paid sick leave, no work on holidays, no more than a 5 hour day, etc. (I’m not complaining here, just pointing out that it’s going to be hard for most to empathize. And, yes, I understand it pales in significance to an NFL contract. So does the audience.)

      As it is, we subsidize all arts non-profit arts venues through property and income tax exemptions, as well as charitable contribution deductions for donors.

      I wish them all well, but suspect that the Orchestra may need to prepare for a few Twins-like “rebuilding” years.

    • Submitted by Ed Kohler on 10/01/2013 - 11:21 pm.

      It is shocking to consider how popular the Vikings supposedly while simultaneously considering how little money fans were willing to contribute to help fund the stadium so taxpayers wouldn’t be stuck with the bill. In the end, Vikings fans offered nothing.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/01/2013 - 09:11 am.

    Your voice is always welcome, Governor, but in this case…

    …you (and the rest of us who are equally disheartened) are peeing into the wind.

    If only you had been in office when these matters came to the fore, the public interest would have been at the table.

    The “wind” I’m referring to here is the substantial MONEY at stake for venal proponents in the case of the stadium boondoggle.

    These factors are substantially absent in the Orchestra’s decomposition.

    Here’s a lineup of the groups influenced by the huge public subsidy of the stadium – as well as what that tax money, directly or indirectly, might produce for their selfish interest:

    …the Minnesota DFL, primarily responsible for passing the atrocious stadium legislation;
    …the unions, who threatened legislators, especially the DFL, in the name of temporary construction jobs;
    …the tribes, anxious to smack down on any proposal that infringed on what they have come to see as their entitlement to non-competition, also leaned heavily on the DFL;
    …the NFL, whose national scam could begin to unravel if they allowed even ONE city to stand up to their demand for public financing of NFL stadiums; and who are not above making false threats to move a team if they don’t get their way, as they did here in Minnesota;
    …the Wilfs, who apparently promised campaign contributions to supporters in the legislature, and presumably implied that opponents might find their money going to opponents next election cycle;
    …downtown businesses, who, along with the Wilfs, will be primary beneficiaries of the stadium;
    …developers, who see the area around the proposed stadium as ripe for profitable projects, including the building of The Thing itself;
    …corporate entities whose boxes used in sales and marketing efforts will presumably cost less through public funding;
    …season ticket holders, to a very substantial degree the better-off, favored, and politically influential class in the local community, who, like the corporations, want their seats subsidized by public monies;
    …state Legislators who could easily see the political risks inherent in standing up for the public’s interest as against the proponents listed above;

    In the case of the dismantlement of the Minnesota Orchestra by its Board, there is NOTHING to compare with this murderers’ row of opposition. There is no venal interest to be satisfied here.

    There is just the value system you refer to, which apparently weighs little in comparison.

  3. Submitted by Steven Prince on 10/01/2013 - 09:18 am.

    It’s about power not priorities

    The Orchestra lock-out and the Viking Stadium are two sides of the same coin: rich powerful individuals imposing their will by threatening to destroy a community resource if they do not get their way. The Vikings extorted a new stadium by threatening to move to Los Angeles, Mr. Davis and his posse locked the musicians out because they had the reigns of the orchestra and they could.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/01/2013 - 10:14 am.

    I am afraid I have to agree with Steve Titterud, Gov Carlson

    But props to you.

    You don’t stand around with your finger to the wind trying to decide what would be the right thing to say.

    Thank you for your continuing service to the state of Minnesota.

  5. Submitted by Adam Miller on 10/01/2013 - 11:37 am.

    I generally have great respect for Gov. Carlson

    But how about we lay off the cultural elitism a little bit? Your preferred form of entertainment is not inherently more valuable because rich people have labeled it “culture.”

    Where are our values is the right question, but it has nothing to do with football versus the orchestra. Where’s our civic pride, or even civic sense of humility, in paying $50 million for a new building only to gut the group, in which we rightly had so much pride, that is supposed to play in it?

  6. Submitted by Sarah Nagle on 10/01/2013 - 12:45 pm.

    With all due respect

    And I do mean respect, Gov. Carlson, why weren’t you on this months ago? It was painfully obvious that the banksters on the Board had all of the control, and not just with the orchestra. They had control of campaign financing, donations, city and state projects. This is why even the DFL was basically silent on this.

    So, what are we – me, Gov. Carlson, anyone else – going to do about this now?

  7. Submitted by jody rooney on 10/01/2013 - 01:40 pm.

    Mr. Miller it hasn’t been labeled culture by the

    wealthy. Symphony music has been around for centuries and is pretty much a northern hemisphere interest around the world. I would venture that Bach is better known than the name of any football player.

    The same of course can not be said for the barbaric sport of football whose origins are not that old and is not a sport that a lot of folks are all that interested in around the world. If I were to vote for one sport to disappear this would be it.

    Culture isn’t about elite or wealth, it is about endurance and broad acceptance.

  8. Submitted by Greg Gamradt on 10/01/2013 - 02:19 pm.

    Bankers and the Orchestra

    The central premise in the peer-reviewed theoretical paper from 2011 by Mitchell Anderson states that: “Highly placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.” It is not lost on me and others that the orchestral board chair and the past chair are bankers. They are slowly destroying one of the world’s great orchestras and could care less. The loss of Osmo Vanska is tragic. All this could have been prevented had the Minnesota legislature had labor stipulations tied to the $14,000,000 stipend for the refurbishing of Orchestra Hall. And now, of course, it seems apparent that the books were cooked.

    There are many culprits tied to the stadium financing debacle on behalf of the criminal Wilfs. The most disappointing being the bumbling cheerleader Mark Dayton. Maybe electronic pull tabs could supplement the Orchestra salaries.

  9. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 10/01/2013 - 09:03 pm.

    The Orchestra

    Yes, the number of Vikings fans — and fanatics who will paint their half-nude bodies purple to intimidate legislators — far exceeds those of us who value the orchestra, even those who, like me, find it too expensive for regular attendance. (Anyone who thinks the orchestra is for some wealthy “elite” never has looked to see who’s in the cheap seats and how they’re dressed.)

    But if you ask people outside this nation, especially in Europe, what they know about Minnesota, I doubt very many will know a single thing about a professional football team. (“Football,” after all, is soccer in the rest of the world.”) The orchestra, on the other hand, has toured widely, including Europe — where the cultural level is much higher than in this country — to rave reviews.

    But it’s all over now. The combination of conductor and musicians that brought our orchestra near or into the fraternity of the world’s greatest has dissolved thanks to money-counting bankers who, in my opinion, know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  10. Submitted by Peter Doughty on 10/02/2013 - 07:53 am.

    No connoisseur

    I’m no connoisseur of classical music—my taste runs in other directions—but I’ve greatly appreciated the several concerts I’ve attended at Orchestra Hall. Thus, I view the lockout and dismemberment of the Orchestra—the reason for refurbishing the Hall, right?—as a civic disgrace. And the political process in legislating a new Igloo for the Vikings? Ditto. And the one involved in the St. Croix Megabridge? Ditto.
    Waste, waste, waste.
    Thankfully, there are so many admirable small-scale, grassroots economic and cultural efforts underway here to keep my spirits from sagging.

  11. Submitted by Steven Prince on 10/02/2013 - 02:39 pm.


    2011 Attendance
    VIkings: 502,529
    Minnesota Orchestra: 305,000 (including 70,000 at free events)

  12. Submitted by Julia Douglass on 10/03/2013 - 10:44 pm.

    lack of political leadership

    Actually the bankers didn’t slowly destroy one of the world’s great orchestras. They did it pretty quickly. Poof. Where’d the orchestra go? It was here a minute ago. I wish you had been in office Gov. Carlson during this fiasco because I bet things would have turned out differently. There was resounding silence this whole year from Dayton, Franken, Klobuchar and Rybak. They were either ineffectual or they just didn’t care. But regardless the only internationally renown cultural entity Minnesota had was destroyed on their watch. Yes Minnesota is making the international news and not in a good way.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/04/2013 - 03:27 pm.

    The orchestra

    The reason this argument hasn’t prevailed, or at least one of the reasons, was that it wasn’t made in a timely fashion. The economic argument for the Vikings Stadium never made a bit of sense. The Vikes are just a bright, shiny thing we wanted and were will to write a check for. The economic argument for the Orchestra, is a bit better. Unlike the Vikings, the orchestra won’t be shipping profits to low tax states like New Jersey. I think it’s probably the case, more orchestra players live and plan to live here than football players, strengthening our community. And for it’s size and weight, I think Orchestra patrons spend just as much money at the local bars and restaurants as Vikings fans. Probably more. What’s always been lacking in the Orchestra is audacity. They just didn’t have quite the nerve the Vikings owners did, to insist that the public pick up a portion of their business expenses.

  14. Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 10/05/2013 - 03:08 pm.

    Reversed priorities in Europe and US

    As a Vikings Fan and a Minnesota Orchestra devotee since moving to Minnesota in 1969, I am amazed by the apparent differences in how football (albeit soccer in the Europe) and classical music are funded. So many European orchestras, opera companies and ballet companies are essentially owned by the performers, and their operations including performance venues are funded and or subsidized by government. Many of the European football teams are privately owned enterprises and their stadia are variously owned but when the stadium is not owned by the team, the team pays to use the stadium. In Europe, governments appear to value music and the arts, and believe me if you’ve ever been in the London underground when football fans, all 85 thousand of them, appear to be swarming in one direction or another to or from Wembley, you can assume that this is generally not the same crowd as that attends the London Symphony Orchestra concerts or the Royal Opera. They are the majority, not the “elite 1%” of classical music lovers. Yet, the UK chose to remodel the Royal Opera House at a cost of $500,000,000 using lottery proceeds. There was some grumbling from the 85,000 football fans about where their money was going, yet the government appeared to have valued the Opera as well as football. Isn’t it time, faced with the self induced suicide mission of the Minnesota Orchestra board (paradoxically directed by an Englishman) and his two banker affiliates (I’m not sure who is actually pulling the strings) that government step in?

    A modest beginning is for government (State/County/City) to buy Orchestra Hall for $100,000,000 from the board and have the proceeds invested in investment grade corporate securities. Even our genius banker friends couldn’t screw this up. Income would be $7,000,000 tax free which could then go towards subsidizing operations and paying a leasing fee to use Orchestra Hall.

    A modest sales tax increase could help pay for tax exempt Orchestra Hall revenue bonds to finance the operation. Failing that,ideally Orchestra Musicians should form a cooperative and continue to mount their own concerts in other venues (easy for me to say as I have food on my table). After awhile, they will end up in Orchestra Hall after all, and the board and management will now be there to foster symphonic music in the Twin Cities, rather than to run the orchestra as a “Junior League” project, and when they mess up, balance their financial and promotional blunders on the backs of the musicians.

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