Legislator questions ongoing oversight of Orchestra Hall

With no concerts on the books, Rep. Alice Hausman wonders if the hall is in compliance with the city of Minneapolis.

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 Minnesota Orchestra management could be at risk of losing control of Orchestra Hall, according to a prominent legislator.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Friday that the orchestra may be in violation of the law concerning use of the recently renovated hall.

Hausman, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee, sponsored the 2010 bill approving $16 million in bonding authority for the renovation. She is concerned that what taxpayers paid for — a performance hall for a resident symphony — is no longer what they’re getting, due to the ongoing labor dispute and lockout of musicians.

The hall, closed for more than a year during its $50 million renovation, was finished in August, but concerts have not resumed there, and none are currently scheduled.

“At this point, we don’t have answers, just questions,” Hausman said. “This is a real test, because to my knowledge nothing like this has ever happened in either Minneapolis or St. Paul.”

Under the agreement to receive state bonding for the concert hall, Minneapolis must certify to the state each year that the venue is used as a performing-arts center.

Because the state may grant bonding money only to political subdivisions like cities and counties, not private entities, it is accepted practice for cities to take over large nonprofit arts facilities and lease them back for almost nothing. Minneapolis has also done this for the Guthrie Theater, as St. Paul has for Ordway.

Legally, Hausman said, “the city remains responsible for overseeing the public programming, even if the nonpublic entity, the orchestra, walks away. So the question becomes, how do we determine when a nonpublic operator has walked away?”

Orchestra president Michael Henson said on Friday that the orchestra “has carefully adhered to our obligations under the lease/use agreement with the City of Minneapolis and we fully expect to be able to continue to be in full compliance. We remain grateful to the state of Minnesota for their support of the Orchestra Hall renovation.”

Hausman was spurred to make an inquiry after noticing that Orchestra Hall had been booked Oct. 7 for a lecture by former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels hosted by the Center for the American Experiment, a conservative think tank. “He was talking about right to work,” Hausman said. “And I thought of the irony of him standing on that stage where musicians who are being asked to work for less are supposed to be playing, and how it was on that very same stage that Osmo Vänskä convinced us to approve the bonding bill. This is a hall for music, and it’s booking lectures.”

Orchestra managers run the hall under an agreement with the city. Each December, they must report to the city on whether they are able to do so, as well as fulfill the arts-programming requirements, said city spokesman Matt Laible.

City staff have reminded orchestra management that a report is due in December and have offered to meet before then, Laible said.

“It is too early to say what, if any, steps the city may take after we receive the report,” he said. If outstanding issues are not resolved by then, the city will “look at options for moving forward.”

If the city were to claim oversight of programming, Hausman wondered if the locked-out musicians could play at the hall, even without a contract resolution.

Musicians’ spokesman Blois Olson said that while musicians were aware of the city’s lease arrangement, “it has never been their strategy to pursue taking the hall over. If it opens up, we will certainly take advantage of it.” 

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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