Minnesota Orchestra: Star Tribune shouldn't echo leadership's dirge

  • Article by: BRUCE RIDGE
  • Updated: September 12, 2013 - 5:08 PM

Minnesotans deserve the facts about this community treasure’s real potential and importance.

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Michael Henson CEO for the Minnesota Orchestra posed for a portrait at Orchestra Hall in in Minneapolis in March.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Campbell’s assertion is simply and indisputably wrong. Yet, it was printed unchallenged.

Minnesotans must be tired of this antagonistic conflict over one of their community’s most admired assets. And now, the Star Tribune Editorial Board has joined in (“Verdict on orchestra: Costs are too high”), repeating management’s inaccurate rhetoric that leaves musicians and fans everywhere scratching our heads.

The assumptions appear to be that the orchestra is unsustainable and fundraising unachievable. But to believe that, numerous facts must be ignored. The editors state: “The sad truth is that times have changed for classical music. Its business model is under stress worldwide…”

Let’s explore the truth with facts:

In 2012, philanthropic giving to the arts in America reached an all-time high of $14.4 billion. In the past three years, the number of businesses giving to the arts increased by 18 percent.

Among businesses that give to the arts,  17 percent plan to increase their giving next year.  Philanthropic giving to the arts is recovering from the recession at twice the rate of other philanthropic giving.  The arts in America are a healthy business, leading to more than 4 million jobs and providing more than $135 billion in economic activity.

Numerous orchestras have seen increased attendance and record fundraising. The true story to be told is how well orchestras have weathered the recession, demonstrating once again the viability of our nation’s artistic organizations. Managements and musicians in numerous orchestras have settled agreements with modest increases in the past 12 months.

Why aren’t Minnesotans being provided with these facts that demonstrate sustainability? Don’t you deserve to know these facts when forming your opinions?

The management of the Minnesota Orchestra hasn’t done that badly in this fund raising climate, either. They raised more than $110 million for, and have spent $52 million on, renovation of the lobby in Orchestra Hall. How does that make sense — to invest in the building that serves as the home of an orchestra while slashing the investment in the orchestra itself?

Any business must evaluate its finances, but the management has chosen a “to cure you we must kill you” approach. The suspension of disbelief that has surrounded this dispute must end.

The recently released financial analysis, commissioned by the management, is dated June 10. Why was a report dated June 10 not released until the first week of September? It is part of a PR campaign to distort reality. Management has more funding to buy full-page ads than the musicians, but that doesn’t make the distortions true.

For the same reason, the $4.5 million in concessions made by the musicians in 2009 are downplayed in the report; it doesn’t fit into the bill of goods they are selling. Besides, if musician salaries are the problem, the management just saved a whole year of costs by depriving the community of music through the lockout. Isn’t it time for enough to be enough?

In Minnesota, arts are a $1 billion business, and the Orchestra is the most prominent artistic ambassador for the state. Campbell and CEO Michael Henson have been entrusted with a community asset, and they have silenced it. They have spent a lot of time and money to convince you of what is not possible in your city.

Campbell’s statement that “We’re the only city supporting two professional orchestras…” must come as a surprise to Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix, Houston, Boston, Washington, and others. If Campbell can make such obviously false statements with the assumption that he will go unchallenged, maybe we should re-examine all of his statements?

The good news is that a solution is at hand this very day. One of America’s most respected citizens, Sen. George Mitchell, has graciously provided a solution that has been accepted by the musicians. It would simply be folly for the board to continue to ignore the wisdom of this great man, especially when he was their choice for mediator in the first place.

Let the musicians return to the stage.

Let’s return to the inspirational message the orchestra provides, and let’s end this fatiguing negativity that faces Minnesotans every morning as you read your newspapers.

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