Coming up on six months of lockouts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it’s very difficult to think of what else to say or write on this tragic situation, since lots of people way smarter than I have already done so. But since the cliff is fast approaching (or maybe already past), I thought I’d post a few thoughts mostly directed to the MOA (Minnesota Orchestral Association) Board and the soon-to-be former patrons of classical music in the Twin Cities.
I’ve got several friends in the Minnesota Orchestra; some I’ve been in contact with, a few who have been subbing with the Milwaukee Symphony off and on for the last few months (a substantial portion of the MN Orch is now working with ensembles all over the country). As time has progressed I’ve noticed quite a few similar and sometimes unexpected perspectives from the musicians I’ve spoken with, and maybe some are worth sharing.
First is the very real human cost of this debacle: lost income, families with no health insurance (cut off when the lockout started), houses for sale, permanent relocation, possible career changes, serious soul searching. Another common refrain was how the MOA Board is allowing this to happen- a slow-motion catastrophe that could permanently affect their very own community. After months of disbelief, the most common question from musicians seems to be “How can these people continue to drink this crazy Kool-Aid from a couple of guys who clearly have no idea what they’ve set in motion? Why won’t at least a few board members stand up and do the right thing?” Another source of confusion seems to involve the MN Orchestra patrons themselves. Obviously they are passionate and well-meaning, with sites like Orchestrate Excellence , some social media efforts, and lots of volunteer work, but who thus far seem to lack an effective or potent strategy to get their message across to a broad coalition, possibly including members of the MOA Board that might eventually get tired of sitting on the sidelines while the institution disintegrates. With all due respect, where are the thousands of people who attended those self-promoted concerts (shunned by most of the MOA Board), and might there be better ways to get the points across more effectively to the Board and broader community? At least the recent actions of the MN legislature might get their attention, but those wheels turn slowly.
It was interesting to hear one person reflect on one aspect of why they left the MN Orchestra many years ago, despite it’s considerable artistic cachet and (at that time) unmistakable upward trajectory. To paraphrase- “If there’s a serious problem, everyone puts their head in the sand. People in Minnesota hate conflict, and this is Exhibit A. Even the audience seems to think that it’s better to sit back and let it all play out rather than get off their asses and directly confront this idiotic Board; it’s just part of the culture up there. This time things may really come crashing down; they probably have already”. Presumably they were referring to the fact that if indeed the entire season is eventually cancelled (a very real possibility), that would have repercussions that are far beyond the scope of what this Board and arts community seem to comprehend- in most other cities it has taken years to recover, and when the smoke cleared it would be a very different institution indeed. But at least here they’ll have a really nice lobby.
For the record, no musician I’ve spoken with was willing to work with President/CEO Michael Henson in any capacity. Responses ranged from resigned disappointment to outright hostility; all agreed his departure would be a requirement for any path forward, once a decision is taken to have actual negotiations rather than silly posturing and repeating the same nonsense everyone’s heard since last April.
I lack the details of the local politics and personality clashes that are such a huge part of this now, perhaps the most important factor. But what I find most amazing is that this is Minneapolis, a city with a supposedly literate, highly-educated, culturally aware populace, and an economy that (while not ideal) is certainly able to sustain (and has sustained) major cultural institutions for decades. Not exactly Detroit. The Minnesota Orchestra has evolved mightily over the last 15 years or so (artistically anyway), and was a symbol of excellence for the city and beyond. Could anyone have possibly imagined that the MOA Board and arts community would toss it away? It is absolutely incredible, and begs the question of what might also circle the drain if things get tough, the Guthrie? Walker Center? I cannot think of another instance in which such a shining point of civic pride was abandoned for what now appear to be ideological and mean-spirited motivations, not to mention outright stupidity and incompetence.
Not to slight the SPCO; that esteemed group is certainly part of the whole picture here. The general buzz has been that somehow they’re closer to a solution that might save some of the season and/or the institution itself. I’m not holding my breath.
In the end, maybe this is just how it is and the glory days of music in the Twin Cities are over. But the record will very clearly show it was a conscious choice made by the relevant Boards and the community itself, not the musicians.