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The museum this month has undergone a bruising round of layoffs and restructuring in the face of rising admission prices and falling revenues. Two weeks ago Walker management laid off Film and Video Program Manager Kathie Smith, with Assistant Curator Dean Otto, who handled primarily programming responsibilities, assuming Smith's administrative duties. Otto and Film and Video Curator Sheryl Mousley are now the department’s remaining fulltime staff.
With a $1 million gift from the Edina-based Bentson Foundation, Walker extensively remodeled its cinema in June 2012, yet the museum’s film programming has declined. Longrunning film series including “Women in the Director’s Chair,” the “Global Lens” world cinema survey, and the gay-themed “Queer Takes” are gone from the calendar, and the cinema sits dark most days. Screenings have fallen by about 20 percent in the last five years, from an average of 170 to 140 a year, said Ryan French, the Walker’s director of marketing and public relations. Visual and performing arts programs also have been curtailed. Walker's most successful recent film event was last summer's festival of Internet kitten videos.
“The Walker has been reducing its overall programming and budget to overcome a gap between income and expenses. We’re reducing program levels and the staff that support those programs,” French said. He said the free summer Music and Movies in the Park program and the popular, ticket-selling British Arrows television advertising showcase will remain. “Having a reduction in programming from 170 to 140 but having a great space to do it in is a good thing.”
At issue is the labor dispute at the orchestra that has locked out musicians since Oct. 1 and caused cancellation of all concerts through the end of the year.
Ross renewed the musicians' call for an independent financial analysis to clear up with he called "fuzzy numbers" in the orchestra's annual reports and public statements.
Kelley said the board has been "as transparent as can be" when reporting on its annual budgets, including in its lobbying of the Minnesota Legislature in 2010 for $14 million in bonding authority for its renovation project at Orchestra Hall.
Kelley refuted the musicians' claim that they were largely unaware of the orchestra's dire money crunch in the last few years. "We told you exactly what we were doing, and you guys know every bit about that," Kelley said, referrring to a meeting between management and musicians in May, 2010.
At that meeting, then Board Chair Richard Davis told the musicians that a reported balanced budget in 2009 was achieved only "by utilizing a large endowment draw."
"We are willing to do this in the short term to protect you and and the organization," said Davis, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune. "But we cannot continue this policy long term because it will threaten the endowment. We need you to fully understand the scope of the financial challenges because we will need your help in addressing these in contract negotiations."
Ross, a member of the musicians' negotiating committee, said "they did talk to us" about finances, but he characterized the meeting as "a clumsy attempt to negotiate early."
Referrring to last week's unanimous vote of no confidence by musicians in orchestra CEO Michael Henson, Ross said that Henson and other senior managers "have created the most toxic work environment you can imagine."
Kelley said that after a recent committee meeting to discuss it, "Mr. Henson has the unanimous full support of the board."
A recent Star Tribune commentary critical of various aspects of the local theater scene has stirred a spirited response on Facebook and local websites.
One outcome is a pancake breakfast this Saturday at which theater artists hope to continue talking about some of the issues raised by director Bryan Bevell in this newspaper on Aug. 12. The breakfast idea, proposed by theater artist Samantha Johns on Facebook, has attracted 65 participants so far, including directors, actors, dancers and more. It's taking place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the Ivey Building, 2714 E. 27th St., in Minneapolis. Classic, vegan and gluten-free cakes will be provided, but bring your own plate, mug, silverware and ideas.
Bevell bemoaned a scene that he described as "self-satisfied and uninspired, with little driving passion or evident purpose." Too much local theater, he said, avoids unpleasant subject matter. And there is too little honest and direct dialog about good and bad theater.
Some commenters have agreed, while others have said Bevell overlooked any number of edgier theater artists and groups in the Twin Cities. The back-and-forth chat about the commentary has been summarized by Jay Gabler at the website Twin Cities Daily Planet. There also has been discussion at the local theater sites Callboard and Minnesota Playlist.
Dan Savage, syndicated sex-advice columnist and author of four books, makes a live appearance June 22 at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, just in time for Gay Pride.
Savage, whose "Savage Love" column appears in alternative weeklies around the country (and in City Pages in the Twin Citieis) has been outspoken in defense of gay marriage, gay adoption and against school bullying.
His most recent book, “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living,” was released in 2011 and became a New York Times Bestseller. Savage created the web-based "It Gets Better" campaign in 2010 as an outlet for video testimonials giving hope to gays facing bullying or other persecution or discrimination. He is editor of The Stranger in Seattle.
Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 9. They are $43.50. Visit www.HennepinTheatreTrust.org or call 1.800.982.2787. Photo of Savage by Christopher Staton, provided by Hennepin Theatre Trust.
After a melee at the Los Angeles premiere of the rave concert documentary “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience" the AMC and Regal theater chains have cancelled plans to screen the film. Nevertheless, it will show in the Twin Citiesfor one night only on Thursday as planned.
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