Two Responses from the MOA

This is a note that came from an MOA employee. It was sent to two SOSMN separate supporters, one in November and one in December. It appears to be the bones of a form letter that the MOA employee adapts to the situation, and we feel these notes exemplify the disconnect between the MOA and the broader community. Red text is where the two letters are identical.

If you hear any responses from the MOA and would like us to read them, forward them to us at saveoursymphonymn at gmail.com.

***

November version

Dear XXX:

I’m writing in response to your most recent email to our Board members. Like you, I have a long history with this great institution. I started working at the Minnesota Orchestra over XX years ago—because I care deeply about the arts in our community. This organization’s success is built by a community of supporters made up of audiences, management and administrative staff, volunteers, board members, corporate supporters, individual donors and more. Together we lift the musicians so they can create wonderful music.

Our CEO and Board of Directors understand that their role with this non-profit institution is to protect it. Serving on and/or leading a non-profit board comes with strict financial and ethical responsibilities, all of which are governed by law.  They want nothing more for this organization than to make it sustainable for generations to come.  If we do not make the changes we’ve proposed, the endowment will be completely depleted in less than five years and we will be forced to make even more drastic changes.

From my perspective, this organization couldn’t be more respectful and transparent. I’m perplexed why anyone would question that the very stewards of this organization are turning their backs on our artistic mission or our musicians when in fact they are trying to ensure that this Orchestra remains a vital part of our community for years to come.  Our volunteer board members do so much for this organization. For most of them, the Minnesota Orchestra ranks as their top giving priority. They not only attend concerts; they donate their time and more than $1.5 million annually to the Orchestra. In fact, they and the organizations they represent have donated $60 million to the Orchestra in the last five years. They earn nothing in return for donating their time and expertise. If they didn’t believe in our artistic endeavours, it begs the question—why would they give so much of themselves to support our musicians?

You can be absolutely sure that our board is of the mind that music directors and musicians aren’t interchangeable or easily replaced. If you could hear their ongoing conversations with board colleagues, staff, and community members on any and all subjects related to the negotiations, you would have no doubt about this. But this context is rarely evident in press reports or recorded interviews. The “sound bites” quoted in print or in broadcast stories are often the ones that provoke heated reactions. So the misunderstandings multiply, and the public doesn’t realize that we all feel a sense of loss when concerts are cancelled, or when a musician leaves the Orchestra.

Please know that in the weeks leading up to our latest proposal to the musicians’ union and Osmo’s departure, the Orchestra’s Board of Directors did everything in their power to reach a sustainable contract agreement with our musicians. We worked directly with a mediator, consulted with the Governor and collaborated with 15 generous Minnesota foundations who stepped forward with additional funding. The new funds were structured to enable a contract resolution that represented our best efforts to save upcoming performances at Carnegie Hall, which our Music Director considered vital. We were extremely sorry to see Maestro Vänskä go: it was our hope that he would see the Minnesota Orchestra through this challenging period.

You mentioned treating musicians like a “pops band”. I want to assure you that the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) leadership team and Board of Directors is committed to preserving the future of this great orchestra and its classically trained musicians, whom we respect as superb and gifted artists.  We have presented non-classical performances in conjunction with its annual orchestral season for decades. Proportionately, this has remained the same over the years. From Cabaret Pops in the 80’s to recent Jazz offerings—the Minnesota Orchestra has offered a variety of musical genres.  In fact, the net impact of non-classical offerings help offset unusually high expenses associated with presenting classical concerts.  I encourage you to review the proposed contract on our web site. There is absolutely nothing that supports the idea that we intend to treat this Orchestra differently. To the contrary, the plan offers very specific direction around artistic initiatives.

You mentioned your concerns about our mission statement in your letter. One of the obstacles to making a counterproposal cited by musician leaders was: changing the organization’s mission statement. We’ve agreed to modify the mission statement to address musician concerns. I believe “art” is at the core of what we are all striving for. If you look at our strategic plan posted on our web site, it clearly outlines our priorities and intent—with artistic integrity being at the core of the plan. The opening letter from our board leadership and CEO clearly state this.

“Balancing great artistry with financial viability, our Vision for a Sound Future outlines three major tenets: to heighten our artistry and world-wide presence, to further develop our community connections through the expansion of Orchestra Hall and outreach initiatives, and to build a financially sustainable foundation. The plan calls for us to capitalize on the renovated Orchestra Hall to attract new audiences, strengthen artistry and reputation through regular touring, broadcasting and new media, and engage with our community through intensive exchange and collaboration.”

This is reinforced in our mission statement which emphasizes both our “performances and music” and our “financial sustainability”. The introduction of the words “financial sustainability” are not intended to compete with our primary goal of presenting great music. They are intended to protect it. It’s the fiduciary role of our volunteer board members to make sure the organization can function now and for years to come.  While it might be easier to ignore financial concerns and just focus on “art” the facts are that our goal is to continue to support a world-class Orchestra.  And that requires us to periodically negotiate contracts with our musician’s union. Contract negotiations require us to talk about finances and to pay our musicians a salary that our community can afford and is financially sustainable into the future.

I understand your frustration with the current situation; we are doing all we can to steady the ship in the face of deep disagreements over musician salaries, which are at the core of the dispute. We wish we had not experienced a “perfect storm” of conditions that reduced our endowment and produced a sizeable annual deficit, and we wish we could offer the musicians raises rather than pay cuts. To keep raiding the endowment to pay musicians’ salaries today means even deeper pay cuts in the future—and then the music would, indeed, stop.

Thank you for writing – we’re glad you care about the Minnesota Orchestra and hope you’ll return to Orchestra Hall when the music resumes.

Sincerely,

XXX

 

December version

Dear XXX,

Thank you for your recent phone message. Like you, I have a long history with this great institution. Per your request, I have coded your account to restrict future mailings.

I’ve served under many volunteer board chairs and presidents during my tenure with the Orchestra, and I can assure you that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henson are both men of great honesty, compassion, and integrity. I’ve been disheartened by the musicians’ efforts to publicly discredit them as well as the rest of our volunteer board.

Our CEO and Board of Directors understand that their role with this non-profit institution is to protect it. Serving on and/or leading a non-profit board comes with strict financial and ethical responsibilities, all of which are governed by law.  Mr. Campbell and Mr. Henson, along with all our outstanding volunteer community leaders, want nothing more for this organization than to make it sustainable for generations to come. If we do not make the changes we’ve proposed, the endowment will be completely depleted in less than five years and we will be forced to make even more drastic changes.

From my perspective, this organization couldn’t be more respectful and transparent. I’m perplexed why anyone would question that the very stewards of this organization are turning their backs on our artistic mission or our musicians when in fact they are trying to ensure that this Orchestra remains a vital part of our community for years to come.  Our volunteer board members do so much for this organization. For most of them, the Minnesota Orchestra ranks as their top giving priority. They not only attend concerts; they donate their time and more than $1.5 million annually to the Orchestra. In fact, they and the organizations they represent have donated $60 million to the Orchestra in the past five years. They earn nothing in return for donating their time and expertise. If they didn’t believe in our artistic endeavours, it begs the question—why would they give so much of themselves to support our musicians? 

You can be absolutely sure that our board members are of the mind that music directors and musicians aren’t interchangeable or easily replaced. If you could hear their ongoing conversations with colleagues, staff, and community members on any and all subjects related to the negotiations, you would have no doubt about this. But this context is rarely evident in press reports or recorded interviews. The “sound bites” quoted in print or in broadcast stories are often the ones that provoke heated reactions. So the misunderstandings multiply, and the public doesn’t realize that we all feel a sense of loss when concerts are cancelled, or when a musician leaves the Orchestra.

This challenge we face can only be solved if all of us who care about the Minnesota Orchestra step forward and offer assistance beyond words of criticism and/or advice. We all need to be active ticket buyers and supporters to make a real difference. I believe this organization’s success is built by a community of supporters made up of audiences, management and administrative staff, volunteers, board members, corporate supporters, individual donors and more. Together we all lift the musicians so they can create wonderful music.

I can understand your disappointment in the current situation. I started working at the Minnesota Orchestra over XX years ago—because I care deeply about the arts in our community. I’m observing first-hand the difficult times faced by not only our orchestra but orchestras across our country. 

I intend to stay involved and supportive of this wonderful orchestral community as an employee, subscriber and donor and I hope you will do so as well. You clearly love the Orchestra very much, and I am personally sorry for the stress this situation is causing you.

Sincerely,

XXX

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One Response to Two Responses from the MOA

  1. Pingback: An Odd Response from the Orchestra | Mask of the Flower Prince

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