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Politicians are becoming more vocal in their thoughts on the Minnesota Orchestra situation. Gov. Mark Dayton said at a press conference Monday that the two sides (union musicians and board/management) need to start considering the impact their dispute is having on Minnesotans. Stop thinking only about yourselves, the governor essentially said.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (at left with the Orchestra in 2006), in an interview about the fate of music director Osmo Vanska, said that the two sides have to look to each other for answers, and not count on others to solve the dispute.
"Both sides have to stop looking for others to bail them out," Rybak said. "There have been many people who have stepped in over time, but all have reached the conclusion that this will only be solved by the two sides at a bargaining table. Lock yourself in a room and shut up about it until you come back with a solution. The community is disgusted and desperate."
The mayor, who helped to organize a concert celebrating the Orchestra's Grammy nomination last February, said, "We have to to have dramatic change from both sides. We are in a serious crisis."
Rybak said he has always been willing to do whatever it takes privately but that the public nature of the dispute has been corrosive.
"I'm a former reporter but the constant communication through the media has built such hostility that this cannot be solved by someone from the outside," he said.
Minnesota Orchestra management today released details of a proposal to end its lockout of musicians. It is a deal that had been offered previously through the office of Sen. George Mitchell and the release was intended to put the details in front of the public.
Mitchell has been working with board and musicians to achieve ground rules for a mediated negotiation. The board's proposal was an attempt to lift the lockout for two months, allow musicians to work at full pay while they negotiated and if no deal were reached, impose a 22-month contract. Musicians rejected that proposal. Mitchell then offered an idea that the board rejected. It would have allowed for four months of negotations, with a six percent pay cut in the final two months if there is no deal.
The board has been frustrated that in both cases, terms that were offered through Mitchell were leaked to media. CEO Michael Henson said Thursday that "We did not leak them," implying that musicians had done so. Therefore, Henson said, the board was technically stepping outside the Mitchell process and making its proposal public.
Henson said that if musicians agree to the deal, Mitchell would still be engaged to mediate negotations.
Among the terms: musicians would return at their former salaries on Sept. 30 and would "play and talk" for two months.
If no agreement were reached, a 24-month contract would go into effect that would pay the musicians an annual average salary of $102,200. That would represent a 24 percent cut from the average annual salary of $135,000 in the musicians' previous contract, which expired Sept. 30, 2012.
In a contract offer made last September, the board had proposed an average salary of $89,000.
With benefits, the average total compensation will be $135,000, according to a release issued Thursday afternoon.
The new offer also changes overscale pay, reducing it by a 25 percent across the board, versus a range of 22 percent to 40 percent in the previous proposal. Benefit and vacation packages remain the same in the two proposals.
Under the terms of this revised two-year proposal, the Minnesota Orchestra would accrue a deficit of $2.2 million over the course of the contract. “Our aim was to eliminate our deficit entirely,” said Board Chair Jon Campbell, “but the board has put forward this compromise in the hopes of getting musicians back on the stage and audiences back in Orchestra Hall in time to launch a new season.”
The orchestra requested that the Musicians Bargaining Committee present the new terms to the musicians for a vote by Sept. 9.
Musicians issued a statement Thursday afternoon that criticized the board for "abandoning the mediator they recommended." The statement called for political leaders -- including Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapois Mayor R.T. Rybak -- to step into the fray.
More details of the new proposal are at the orchestra's website.
Here is a complete transcript of the keynote address by Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival, to a public forum organized by the group Orchestra Excellence in Minneapolis on Aug. 20. Graydon Royce of Star Tribune reported on the forum here.
Speech by Alan Fletcher:
Everyone in the world of music cares very deeply about what is happening, and will happen, here in Minneapolis. Our profession is knitted together in profound ways, and no one can be indifferent to the problems faced by musicians, by management, by philanthropists, and by this whole community, that has such historic importance in supporting music.
There’s an important particular connection between Minneapolis and my place in Aspen: the first summer of music in Aspen was 1949, when Dmitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony came to the mountains for a landmark residency. They came back the following year, and helped establish a tradition of music that has been unbroken for 65 summers. Now we depend on our school and our faculty rather than on a visiting orchestra, but we wouldn’t have gotten where we are without your city’s great orchestra.
The United States is a beacon to the world for its unique forms of philanthropy, and Minneapolis has long been a beacon to America for its own commitment to the arts: to world-class theater, to the cutting edge in the visual arts, and, always, to an unparalleled variety of great music making. Choral music, chamber music, new music, and symphonic music have long enjoyed the Twin Cities as a place of world-wide significance.
Thus there is a special pain for us all in these past many months of conflict and struggle. If bad things can happen here, they can happen anywhere. As a citizen of the world of music and a teacher of future musicians, I have found it impossible to be silent.
But I would not presume to come here as a visitor and tell you what you can, or perhaps must do. I can only offer observations that I hope might be part of a conversation in which you affirm for each other what is to be done.
Because the only solution that will stick will be one you have found for and with each other.
A fundamental question is: What do you, the citizens of Minnesota, want?
What will you support?
Do you believe the orchestra is important? Are you confident the orchestra can survive?
All other decisions will flow from your answers to these questions.
If it is no longer important that you have a world-class orchestra, then so be it. Other cities in other times have made this decision, or allowed this to happen.
But if it is part of the DNA of this great community that it should be the home of an equally great orchestra, then there is work to do.
I will go so far as to be definite about one thing: the current lock-out of musicians should end, and end unconditionally.
I have recently read the point of view that the lock-out can only end as part of a larger bargain, because the Association must have the leverage of this tactic. Even the word “leverage” in this context signals that the plan has failed. That plan should now be abandoned.
Because one of the things that must happen is that all sides speak to each other. I know that an important point of view is that the musicians refused to make a counter-offer and thus, in effect, refused to talk. But the lock-out, if it is seen as a resulting fact, is not symmetrical. Only the musicians are living without salaries, without a means of supporting their families, without access to the hall that is their home.
To sit around a table arguing, negotiating, searching for viable solutions is to be, potentially, partners in creating a future. To be locked out is not.
But then, the musicians must also come to the table in earnest, and deal with who is at the table. Another side to much poisonous rhetoric we’ve experienced is the view that the management, or board leadership, or both, must go, before the discussions can begin for real. A rhetoric of exclusion is a rhetoric of failure. The hall is not only the musicians’ home: it is equally the home of the management and of the board. Real estate can be owned, but the spirit of music cannot be owned, and to make music requires the collaboration of many, not a few; all sides, not just one side.
In my time as a chief executive in Aspen, mistrust and fear led to a conviction that someone had to go. (For many, that person was to be me.) It doesn’t matter now how it happened, but it happened that I stayed. There was still confusion and unhappiness about how to move forward. A turning point was when a leading musician said in a faculty meeting that, as it was clear I would be staying, it was necessary to find a way for us to talk together. And, from that moment, we began to talk together. We did lose donors, both because some disliked the specific steps we were taking towards financial stability, and because many donors just hate conflict. But we are now ahead of where we were, and a great many of those who stepped aside have stepped back in. We agreed – among musicians, our board, our administration, and our community – to operate with a deficit for a brief time, while challenging ourselves to emerge from it. We agreed to cuts in our compensation but no cuts in our expectations of ourselves. We did not reduce our artistic aspirations.
Istvan Szabo has a great film about a labor dispute in the musical world – maybe this doesn’t sound like a wonderful idea for a film, but take my word for it: his movie MEETING VENUS is wonderful. As a recurring theme – a leitmotif – in this story, everyone – a great diva, the conductor, the impresario, members of the stagehands’ union, orchestra players – at some point says to someone else, “You don’t love music!”
In our music world, that really is the ultimate disparagement. And, as is so clear in the movie’s parable, it isn’t true. Anyone involved with an orchestra must love music, or they wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be involved.
So what about a central element of the dispute here: that the business plan of the orchestra will not allow things to continue as they have been?
It is a plain fact that an organization can’t exist indefinitely on a horizon-less deficit. Financial planning requires a viable connection among annual costs, annual fundraising, management of an endowment, and true forecasting. It’s not enough towish that salaries that once seemed to make sense can continue rising, or even staying the same, forever, if sources of income aren’t adequate.
From my outside viewpoint, there has been much unreality in the discussions about the orchestra’s finances.
For instance, a key argument is over the past use of transfers from the endowment to cover deficits. This practice is completely usual (my own organization had recourse to it in two years of the recession). Furthermore, it isn’t and cannot be secret, as all these numbers are reported in a public way. I understand if many people didn’t know how this works, but the way it works is reasonable and normal. One has a good reason to close a fiscal year showing no deficit, perhaps in order to qualify for essential grants. But this can’t go on forever, so in another year it is necessary to show the extent to which expenses outstrip income. This has been viewed as an underhanded negotiating tactic, but it’s not a mystery at all, and any reader of IRS forms can understand it.
Capital fundraising is also clearly different from both annual fundraising and endowment fundraising. This difference is not a contrivance or mystification. Philanthropy is not a faucet that is turned on and off to varying degrees. (In my organization, during a difficult time, one faction suggested that I had neglected to raise enough money, as if it were simply a matter of willing it to be so.) Raising money is instead a complex web of relationships, all based on belief and confidence.
A major point of contention is the lobby project, which has come to assume the aspect of a boondoggle or at least a colossal misstep. But what if it will later be understood as a benefit to the very community that is crucial to the future support of the orchestra? Not everyone responsible for music-making is on the stage. Indeed, one of the pillars of the organization is to be found precisely in that lobby, before and at the intermissions of every concert: the audience.
If a plan is to emerge that solves the persistent deficits, it will be based on increased fundraising, and the community itself – the audience – is going to be responsible for it.
The idea that philanthropists have an obligation to give, and to give to any particular thing, is mistaken. An organization must make the case that it has a worthy, indeed a crucial mission, and make the case that it can deliver on that mission in a superior way. This is the belief and confidence I mentioned. The Minnesota Orchestra, for generations, has accomplished this. Will it, can it, continue to do so?
Speaking of philanthropy, we must recognize that the solutions have to happen within our existing system. Perhaps the United States should abandon its philanthropic traditions, abandon the charitable deduction that has so dramatically contributed to our national well-being, and adopt a government-centered model of funding. I don’t think so, myself, but it’s part of our current political debate.
But it’s not a discussion relevant to this crisis, because we have to work with the rules we now have, and they are rules governing the functioning of non-profits.
A successful bank is a crucial part of the social fabric, and so is a successful orchestra. They are not the same thing, and, while some business aspects of any organization are similar, some aspects of for-profit and not-for-profit business are different. Perhaps a better term is social-profit. The fundamental aim is not to make money, it is to make music.
Once again: if the aim of the Minnesota Orchestra is to make music worthy of any stage in the world, then every step now taken, every statement made from here on out, should conduce to a process of talking together.
I know from intense personal experience how hard that will be. I had to sit at a table, over and over again, with people who had wanted me to be fired. But the people I was talking to felt the same way! In my executive capacity, I had ended the Aspen careers of some of their colleagues. There’s no soft way of putting that. We had profound disagreements.
I believe things began to be viable again in Aspen when we all realized how deeply we mutually cared about great music in Aspen – that was something we shared, and we started by acknowledging that it was possible to see different ways forward, or criticize different things from the past, without negating each other’s sincerity.
I cannot tell you that every action that brought you to this pass was right, or rightly-motivated, but I can predict that you won’t make it over this difficult pass if you go it alone.
I have real hope for the Minnesota Orchestra because I believe that the generous people and the devoted audience who have sustained it for generations still want it to be great. I believe that the administration entrusted with it wants the orchestra to succeed. I know that its musicians have given their whole lives to be prepared to make great music on its stage. How this impasse can be left behind, an impasse which many have created, not only some, despite their essential love of the orchestra, is something I cannot predict. I can tell you from personal experience that seemingly impossible problems can be solved, and I can hope, with you, that great music will again flourish in this great city.
Gov. Mark Dayton. Star Tribune file photo by Glenn Stubbe.
Gov. Mark Dayton made his first public comments on the Minnesota Orchestra lockout on Thursday. Dayton answered questions at the Star Tribune booth at the State Fair and said he's been involved behind the scenes, most significantly in helping to select Sen. George Mitchell as a potential mediator, as has been reported.
"I've met several times with both board members and representatives of musicians and asked them how can I be most effective, and both sides felt that it was behind the scenes out of sight, rather than a publicly prominent role." Dayton said.
The governor went on to say he believes the two sides are in their "last window of opportunity." The fall season would normally start soon, and music director Osmo Vanska has said he will resign if the orchestra is unable to get back in time to prepare for Carnegie Hall concerts in early November.
"I'm hoping, and this is just my own assumption, that they both want to get it solved and they have until basically Labor Day to do so," Dayton said. "When you have this kind of dispute, both sides have to want to resolve it. No mediator can force a resolution."
Orchestra management bought up domain names in 2012
Also Thursday, a new website was launched, called "Save Our Symphony Minnesota." Organizers said their intention is to end the 11-month lockout of musicians. The group announced its site on the same day that a post on the blog "Song of the Lark" reported that the Minnesota Orchestral Association had purchased 13 domain names that included the words "save, Minnesota" and "orchestra." The blog, written by Emily Hogstad, charged that the purchases were "deliberate, predatory name buying meant to outwit irritated patrons and donors."
Gwen Pappas, the orchestra's spokeswoman, said the association reserved the domain names in the spring of 2012, about six weeks after negotiations had started and it appeared they would be contentious.
"We purchased domains that we thought we might use to share messages or to protect the Orchestra name, based on counsel from others who had been in similar situations," Pappas wrote in an e-mail on Thursday. "On the same time line, Orchestra musicians were launching their own website. What this indicates from both sides is that we knew a tough negotiation was underway and we were seeking ways to share our messages."
John Budd, a labor expert at the Carlson School of Management, said this is the first time he's heard of this type of issue coming up.
"I imagine the rationale was more to protect the brand than stifle dissent since a creative dissenter should be able to come up with a 14th domain name, not to mention Facebook and Twitter," Budd said. "That this is an issue seems to reflect the bitterness of the dispute."
There was no news Thursday on what next step Mitchell, the potential mediator in the contract dispute, has planned to get both sides to negotiate.
(Staff Writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this story)