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Continued: Minnesota Orchestra lockout hits six months

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 30, 2013 - 12:22 AM

“The hall opening is a wonderful moment,” Henson said, “but we need to be a sustainable orchestra for a long term.”

Zavadil said musicians have been without salary and benefits for six months and want a deal as soon as possible. However, the national American Federation of Musicians has extended the period of benefits for locked-out musicians, and Zavadil said many are getting work with other orchestras.

Numbers game

The dispute hinges on a fundamental disagreement over the orchestra’s financial capacity. Annual audits by the firm CliftonLarsonAllen show deficits of $6 million in fiscal 2012 and $2.9 million in 2011. The board contends that it cannot continue to make extraordinary endowment draws — as it did to balance budgets in 2008-10 — to cover losses.

Musicians point to a $110 million fundraising campaign as an available pot of money. Of the $99 million raised so far, $24 million went to endowment and $23 million has been spent on touring, commissions, guest artists, recordings and musician salaries.

That leaves $52 million for the hall. This project — which has become a whipping boy for union partisans — was proposed at $125 million in December, 2006. Similar ventures had been undertaken in Nashville, Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland and Miami, going back to 2000.

By May, 2007, the orchestra scaled back to $90 million; it was cut to $40 million in 2009, the year in which the orchestra laid off staff and negotiated concessions from musicians.

Donors, given the choice between contributing to the project or to an endowment that was being depleted to cover current expenses, chose bricks and mortar. With the help of $14 million in state bonding money, the deal was increased to its current level. Included is an expansion of the lobby and backstage areas, addition of rehearsal rooms, replacement of seats and tweaking of acoustics.

While most musicians have supported the endeavor all along, the union and its allies have made the hall an emblem of misguided priorities.

Little solace at Legislature

The musicians have been able to raise support among union allies at the Minnesota Legislature. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, chair of the House Legacy Committee, wants to redirect state funds that otherwise would go to the orchestra.

“We would put that in a fund for any organization that would be a host for concerts performed by the musicians,” Kahn said. “It’s an attempt to tell the musicians that someone is on their side.”

The orchestra gets its state money through the State Arts Board, and executive director Sue Gens said the agency discourages calling out specific organizations, or making line-item changes in appropriations — which this would be.

“I think the orchestra musicians and the board need to resolve this,” Gens said.

On March 7, about 100 DFLers asked Legislative Auditor James Nobles to investigate the orchestra’s books. Nobles agreed to do so, but said last week he would limit his audit to the orchestra’s use of public money. Nobles pointedly said his office would not make judgments about strategic plans or financial projections “that are in large part the basis for the management-labor dispute.”

Larry Redmond, a lobbyist for Minnesota Citizens for the Arts and an advocate for artists at the Legislature for more than 30 years, is puzzled by the foray into the Capitol.

“While I understand the labor dispute, I do not understand what the end game is in bringing this issue into the Minnesota Legislature,” Redmond said.

Public pressure

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  • Maya Gels, 8, and Edda Bodel Fielder, 6, hugged at a benefit concert by Minnesota Orchestra players in Wayzata this week.

  • Michael Henson, orchestra president and CEO, suspects the union may be delaying talks to use Orchestra Hall’s reopening as leverage.

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