Minnesota Orchestra to cut budget, staff and salaries

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2009 - 8:06 PM

The state's largest arts organization announced it will trim annual expenses by 7 percent. Osmo Vänskä will take a 10 percent salary cut.

The Minnesota Orchestra on Friday capped a month of budget-cutting announcements by major Twin Cities arts organizations. Similar tools -- layoffs, salary freezes and reductions -- were used to trim the budget of the state's largest arts institution by 7 percent.

Orchestra staffers were told Friday that a projected budget of $32 million for fiscal 2009-10 would be cut to $29.7 million. That includes an existing $1 million cut, an additional $300,000 to come in this budget year and $1 million in fiscal 2009-10, which begins Aug. 31. The cuts include:

•Salary reductions of 10 percent and 7 percent respectively for music director Osmo Vänskä and President and CEO Michael Henson. Vänskä compensation was listed at $786,274 in 2007 tax returns.

•Reductions of 5 percent for senior staff members and 2.5 percent for managers.

•Wage freezes for all other full- and part-time nonunion employees.

•Elimination of four full-time jobs from the development and artistic departments, and a cut in hours for six additional positions.

•Elimination of $260,000 in part-time staffing.

The wage cuts and freezes become effective in April and run through Aug. 31, 2010.

Unaffected by the cuts is the musicians' five-year contract, signed in fall 2007. The deal covers 95 musicians, although the organization is allowed to freeze vacancies temporarily, and Henson said 4.5 positions have been frozen this season. He would not say whether he has approached the union for concessions. Musician salaries comprise 51 percent of the organization's budget.

"All I can say is that we have a contract through 2012," he said in an interview Friday afternoon.

The president also would not comment on whether the organization's proposal to refurbish Orchestra Hall would be affected. When first announced two years ago, that project had a price tag of $90 million and a 2009 start date.

"We have to be fiscally responsible and mindful of the climate we're in and at the same time recognize that any changes in the building will have a long-term effect," Henson said.

There are no plans "at the moment" to change the subscription season, Henson said. However, the popular Sommerfest program was cut back this year from four weeks to three, and the Macy's Day of Music was canceled following Macy's decision to pull out of its sponsorship.

"We were mindful that we would be in a challenging year when we announced the subscription season in December -- but not as challenging as it turned out to be," he said.

Ticket sales for this season are down about 8 percent compared with the previous year.

As have other Twin Cities arts groups, the Orchestra has been hit significantly by investment declines, which affect its ability to draw income. Total investments are down 30 percent from last September's $170 million.

To reduce part-time staffing, the box office will be closed on Mondays. Patrons can still purchase tickets online.

Orchestra cuts elsewhere

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra recently trimmed its staff by 17 percent and cut senior managers' pay by 10 percent in anticipation of a significant drop in revenue.

The Cleveland Orchestra announced Tuesday that its top two officers (led by music director Franz Welser-Möst) would take cuts of 20 and 15 percent and that other senior management would take cuts of 10 percent. Cleveland also sketched plans to reduce the number of concerts and indicated it will seek concessions from musicians and other union employees. Philadelphia, another "Big Five" orchestra, laid off 12 of 92 employees and eliminated six vacant positions. Wage cuts of 10 percent were imposed on those making more than $50,000 with the orchestra's six vice presidents taking larger hits. Those moves would cut Philadelphia's budget by $900,000.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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