Minnesota Orchestra's issue isn't just one of revenue

  • Article by: JO ELLEN SAYLOR
  • Updated: May 10, 2013 - 6:39 PM

The musicians are half the cost, and that can’t continue.

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Locked out musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, led by conductor Osmo Vanska, center, played a concert at the Minneapolis Convention Center in February.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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In response to the recent thoughtful commentary by Lee Henderson (“The orchestra: A $5 million, five-year plan,” May 8). I’d like to offer the board’s perspective:

The Minnesota Orchestra Board, made up of 80 classical-music-­loving volunteer leaders in our community, has analyzed every component of our orchestra over the last three years as we prepared our strategic plan. We’ve reviewed how the orchestra operates, how it is funded, how it spends money and how we maintain great artistry. The path we have chosen for the future focuses on raising additional funds as well as cutting costs.

As part of the plan, we’re committed to generating an additional $3.8 million each year through major gifts; a 20 percent increase in donations by our board of directors; increased rental, food and beverage income from a refurbished Orchestra Hall, and more concerts. These initiatives, which are aggressive income aspirations, will add $2.1 million to our bottom line each year.

To put our fundraising in context, the orchestra currently raises more money than any other performing arts organization in Minnesota; we are at the top giving level for Minnesota corporations that donate to the arts. Our board of directors and the corporations they represent contributed $60 million over the past five years. As we ask for stepped-up support from donors, the message we’ve heard is clear: Donors want to support great art and a sustainable organization that can keep its expenses in line. They believe, as we do, that these two imperatives are not mutually exclusive.

We’ve cut expenses in every corner of the organization except the musicians, due to a legally binding contract that gave them a nearly 20 percent pay raise over the past five years. We’ve cut full-time staff by 20 percent; have reduced and frozen the pay for remaining staff; have trimmed contributions to their pensions by 40 percent, and have asked them to pay 25 percent more for their medical insurance than the musicians do.

Despite this, we posted a $6 million deficit in 2012. Deficits will continue to grow unless we are able to address cost savings in our musicians’ contract, since their direct compensation makes up nearly 50 percent of the orchestra’s total expenses.

More than a year ago, we asked our musicians to negotiate a settlement our community can afford. We are still waiting to embark on the back-and-forth process that is part of every negotiation and that will, by necessity, involve give and take from both sides. However, compromise cannot begin until the musicians agree to meet at the table.

Our board cares deeply about the orchestra and its artistic future, but supporting the orchestra doesn’t mean we have license to spend down its endowment by 2018 — the inevitable result if we continue to fund musician salaries at their current level. Serving as stewards of the Minnesota Orchestra means making responsible decisions that safeguard both our artistry and our means of paying for it, now and in the future.

 

Jo Ellen Saylor is a member of the Minnesota ­Orchestra Board.

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