Tuned In Brewed In: Brewing for Art’s Sake

Boom Island’s LoMoMO and the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout

By Brian Kaufenberg
Photos by Joe Alton

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Locked Out

On October 1, 2012, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) locked out the Orchestra’s musicians after the two parties failed to come to terms on the musicians’ new contracts. The Minnesota Orchestra has faced continued financial shortfalls stemming from a decrease in their endowment’s market value during the recession, decreased individual contributions, and increased expenses.

With deficits mounting to $22 million in the last three years, the MOA proposed cutting musician expenses and negotiations between the administration and the musicians resulted in a stalemate after numerous rejected proposals from both parties. On October 1, 2013 the lockout entered its second year.

This October not only marked the one-year anniversary of the Minnesota Orchestra locking out the musicians, but also the resignation of the renown Music Director and Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra Osmo Vänskä. Vänskä is often credited with having brought the Orchestra into the upper echelon of national and international orchestras, earning two Grammy Award nominations during his ten-year tenure.

Vänskä publicly stated that if the lockout resulted in the cancellation of the Orchestra’s concerts at Carnegie Hall, he would resign. As the lockout passed the one-year mark without a resolution, the Carnegie Hall dates were cancelled and Vänskä held to his word, issuing his formal resignation the next day.

“We were devastated by Osmo’s resignation,” says Wendy Williams of the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. “It was terrible to have our dreams and plans prematurely cut short.”

While a number of musicians have accepted temporary and full-time positions in other orchestras, those remaining in the Twin Cities formed the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MoMO) and are continuing to play free outreach concerts thanks in part to donations.

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Drastic Times, Drastic Measures

The Great Recession hit the Minnesota Orchestra hard—in 2009, the market value of the Orchestra’s endowment fell 30% and contributed revenue fell by 17%. These shortfalls were magnified by the budget passed in 2007, which relied heavily on contributions to pay for increases to musician contracts and higher fixed operating costs for the Orchestra.

From 2008 to 2013, the administration cut about $1.5 million in administration expenses and overhead costs to help reduce the Orchestra’s deficits. However, the contributions needed to bridge the gap between operating revenue and expenses have not recovered from the 17% drop during the recession.

A financial report commissioned by the MOA and conducted by New York-based AKA | Strategy in June 2013 concluded that with a $22 million deficit in the past three years and a $6 million annual deficit projected for this next year, the MOA has to make significant cuts to musician expenses—“the one untouched area of the operating budget” that makes up “almost half of the Orchestra’s operating expenses.”

The report is a numbers only approach to assessing the Orchestra’s current financial state and the soundness of their strategic business plan moving forward—an approach not supported by musicians who wanted to “expand the scope to examine artistic decision-making and the quality/effectiveness of the Board.”

According to the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, musicians’ incomes already lag behind the nation’s other top orchestras and further cuts will cripple the Orchestra’s ability to draw new talent and retain the existing musicians and possibly destroy the reputation they have built in recent years.

Orchestras around the nation face the challenge of increasing paid attendance and securing contributions—both of which are vital to an Orchestra’s financial stability— but the challenge can be met.  The group Orchestrate Excellence released a comparative study of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra, in which they highlight the success of Cleveland Orchestra’s aggressive and efficient marketing campaigns to draw in students.

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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