Today’s letter is in response to Marilyn Carlson Nelson’s Commentary in today’s Star Tribune. Ms. Carson is a Minnesota Orchestra life director.
Dear Marilyn Carlson Nelson,
Thanks for your thoughtful letter and generous, visionary support over the years for the Minnesota Orchestra. Yes the Minnesota Orchestra is facing a time of severe crisis. Yes the musicians have to be part of the solution. Continuing the lock out does not encourage their participation. If the orchestra accepts the plan as put forth by the MOA, it will mean the end of the Minnesota Orchestra as we know it, and potentially the demise of the orchestra even in any diminished shape or form. There are three faulty assumptions in the MOA math.
FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 1: The MOA has done all that can be done to raise money. They’ve actually discouraged contributions and missed golden opportunities to capitalize on recent successes of the orchestra. When Mr. Henson bragged of operating in the black in the depth of the recession, he implied there was no urgent need for additional contributions. When the MOA locked out the orchestra and changed the business plan, it further discouraged contributions – people can’t contribute to a season without concerts, and didn’t know what sort of future orchestra their dollars were being asked to support. The MOA initiated no presence on last year’s very successful Give to the Max Day. They have neglected and disrespected newer and smaller donors in continually relying on past big individual and corporate donors. They don’t look to successful models elsewhere, and instead rely on dated projections from their unproven “Strategic Plan.” More could and should be done.
FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 2: The Citizens of Minnesota can’t and won’t come up with enough money and other forms of support to sustain the Orchestra. Minnesotans have shown for over 100 years they have the will and means to support the orchestra. The MOA has simply not asked or allowed the public to be part of the solution. The current MOA “Strategic Plan,” including eleven months of lockout, does not paint a compelling picture of an orchestral mission worth the support of music lovers here or elsewhere. The MOA “Strategic Plan” relies on outdated numbers from the depths of the recession, uses national trends of attendance of giving and attending, far below levels of traditional Minnesotan support for the arts, and abolishes artistic input in artistic decisions. Give the people a chance to be part of the solution.
FALSE ASSUMPTION No. 3: The musicians can afford one year of lost salary and benefits, followed by two years of a 24% reduction in salary. They can’t and won’t. 25% of the orchestra have voted with their feet already. The fact that so many have survived rigorous audition procedures to find jobs elsewhere is a testament to the former level of the orchestra. Players’ families have already suffered lost homes, health, nest eggs, and more over this. There is simply no reason for great players to join or stay with the Minnesota Orchestra under the MOA proposal and the toxic work place environment they created: “There was this kind of ‘the bully’s going to meet you at lunchtime’ feeling for at least a year and a half,” according to former Acting First Associate Concertmaster, Peter McGuire, now one of the concertmasters of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. “The flogging will continue until morale improves” simply does not work.
Nobody invests in a “sustainable.” We invest in the arts to sustain us! If the MOA and musicians could come together and make some good-faith risks and sacrifices for an interim solution that could at least guarantee a season that includes Conductor, Carnegie Hall, and the completion of their historic Sibelius recording cycle, they will give supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra here and around the world something worth supporting and the chance to step up and prove the MOA’s pessimistic view of them right or wrong. If the audience comes through, they’ve saved an orchestra; if they don’t, then the MOA will still have the means and finally have an argument to support the “sustainable” reduced orchestra remains projected in their “Strategic Plan.”
Best wishes for the future of our great orchestra!
Apple Valley, MN