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Governor breaks silence on Minnesota Orchestra standoff

The state governor, Mark Dayton, doesn’t say much beyond disclosing his role in engaging Senator George Mitchell as mediator for what he calls ‘a last window of opportunity’. The domain names scandal, however, does appear to be gathering momentum and public outrage, forcing the orchestra’s management onto the back foot. Report here.

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Comments

  1. Bob Thomax says:

    “Domain Name Scandal”? Sorry, but as far as I’m concerned this is just management being smart and anticipating what the future might bring in the face of what it knew would be a controversial stand. Nothing nefarious about that — just smart thinking, IMHO and there’s nothing “scandalous” about it..

    • R. James Tobin says:

      Nonsense. It is a form of cyber-warfare to attempt to monopolize means of communication about a public issue.

    • Bob, I have been following this saga for a year, as have many musicians. Hands down, this “Domaingate” has had the most posts on social media and other places, the vast majority of them negative. How do you think this “smart thinking” has worked out for them? Not so good.

      If this is “management being smart”, then their level of incompetence is staggering. They didn’t even use a 3rd party to buy the domain names. I’m sorry to disagree with you, but this is “management being stupid” and nothing more. Buying a bunch of domain names might have worked in 1993 with Alta Vista and WebCrawler search engines, but in today’s world it makes them look like idiots. Young Emily was able to get her message out quite easily. All I’m seeing a misguided attempt at control, a complete lack of understanding of how the internet works, 300 bucks wasted on some worthless domain names, and an embarrassing situation that has the mgmt. scrambling for answers. Come to think of it, it’s very similar to the “smart thinking” that this mgmt. and board has shown all along. It just shows a wider audience of readers what the Minnesota musicians are dealing with: complete incompetence.

      • That seems mildly unfair, David. Can you imagine how much worse the outcry would be if management had bought the domains through a 3rd party? That really would deserve to be called duplicitous and furtive. I don’t believe that buying them was a sensible thing to do, because I’d prefer that management were prepared to deal with the issues head on and address them openly, but I’d rather they bought them cleanly than trying to hide the fact.

        • Anon, the entire affair has been duplicitous, it’s just par for the course.

          The suggestions (by others) that this is “common business practice” only emphasis the obvious: ours is not a common business. There was no need to buy them, 3rd party or not. This is not like Pepsi buying up 500 variants of domain names, and those comparing it to that really need to rethink that. It’s an orchestra, one with a huge budget but still an orchestra. It wasn’t an isolate incident, it was another in a series of poor judgement, poor faith, and woefully out of touch practices. It was also a waste of money, as we can clearly see now.

          It’s never about the action, it’s about how it worked out. In this case, it worked out very poorly or else we wouldn’t be talking about it. The mgmt. is earning their “no confidence” reputation in droves, and this is just another example of it. It’s the timing: If it were done 5 years ago, they could get off with the “protecting our reputation” excuse. They can’t do that when it’s right before a lockout, it makes them look like the incompetents they seem to be.

      • David – Amen!

      • I am convinced that the likes of Anon and George London are trolls from MO management and board. I don’t intend to waste my energy to debate their manufactured intellectual nonsense. However, something needs to be pointed out here to address the motive that management buying up domains. According to their spokesperson, they bought domains to get their messages out and not to attempt silence potential protest free speech. If this claim is true, why did they have to reserve so many and what have they done so far to get their message out? Stop the BS. Comparing to musicians who also have their own website, did the musicians try to squad on so many sites and what have they done with their site? The defense by the MO management is only making them look more foolish and incompetent that only those with low IQ would believe. They have been caught pants down trying to squad websites as part of advance planning to lock musicians out. Just because they were incompetent in their acts, does not excuse their behavior. It is for the management and board of that orchestra to show some class and dignity. Own up your S***. My message to them is simple, don’t forget what your parents taught you.

        • James Brinton says:

          At this point, given their record, they should apologize and resign.
          And I think you’re right about “George London” and “Anon.” I pay them no attention.

  2. James Brinton says:

    I agree with Mr. Tobin.
    I would add that on one of Norman’s original posts (http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/08/aspen-chief-to-minnesota-are-you-sure-you-really-want-an-orchestra.html), there seem to be board-inspired trolls working hard to distract from management’s role in this affair, and twist the discussion toward “free-market, anti-union, anti-socialism” memes–in which management can do no wrong (because of “market forces”) and the musicians (because they have a union) can do no right. Their message seems to be that, in a “free market” bullying is OK so long as it works, but even in a “free” market, unionization is never right, but always amounts to ganging up on defenseless management. The fact that management dictated the lock-out, attempted to preempt calls for a better solution by capturing a long list of domain names, and refused the Mitchell compromise carries no weight in their arguments.
    Thus the true merits of the matter are obscured by right-wing politi-speak.
    I don’t doubt that management (or its PR) is smart enough to do this, but although it is a cunning strategy, it merits no respect–it’s all about winning, and not at all about the music or the preservation of the cultural icon entrusted to their care.

    • George London says:

      James , management in this case represents a non profit hobby.

      There is no politics or conspiracy. The money has run out.

      Plenty of great articles on this site talk about classical music evolving.

      But if all the political rhetoric makes you feel better, it doesn’t get to the math.

      • They money has not run out. They are sitting on a quarter billion dollars of assets. Or at least they were when the lockout began. Since then the stock market is at an all-time high. They have a ton of money: donor money, audience money, public money. And they are hoarding it. Wasting it. And throwing away the precious assets they were entrusted to nurture and protect and any future potential they had for rebuilding what wasn’t really broken to begin with.

        You say it is not political – well, that is very naive of you.

        And even if you are right and there is no conspiracy, there is an abundance of stupidity. Just as bad.

        • James Brinton says:

          And, thankfully, not only is this story going national, but management is losing the PR war:
          http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/22/1233179/-Opponents-of-Minnesota-Orchestra-Lockout-are-ON-FIRE
          I suppose that Henson can always contact “Drudge” or “The Daily Caller” for support.
          Meanwhile the clock is ticking on the state audit of management’s treatment of the Association’s finances.
          If I were in MOA management, I would have Googled “non-extradition” and be out of the country when that news breaks.

        • Right, there is no need to solve whatever financial problems there are (if any) immediately, right now, this year. There was no need to go along pretending everything was fine, not asking donors for help with keeping the musicians, and then all of a sudden, there’s a lockout.

          Whatever financial problems exist could be solved over the long term.

      • tom foley says:

        The money has run out, huh?

        The MOA board was able to raise 52 million dollars, that’s $52,000,000.00, to redo the lobby of Orchestra Hall, all during the worst recession in anyone’s lifetime.

        Nuff said.

      • Gary Swadlincote says:

        George,

        Characterizing the Minnesota Orchestra (or any other full-time, world-class orchestra) as a “hobby” confirms my impression of you gleaned from your other comments on this topic.

        You are a troll and perhaps also a Randian who believes that Thatcher didn’t go nearly far enough in her destruction of the National Union of Mineworkers. But definitely a troll.

        Obviously the money hasn’t run out. The organization running this “hobby” hasn’t dissolved into bankruptcy. Both the management of this “hobby” organization and the workmen renovating their “hobby” hall are still being paid with paychecks which aren’t bouncing.

  3. George London says:

    So why do we care what the head beurocrat thinks about a dispute between two private groups.

    You have one group that decided to pool their money, donations and sell tickets and form an entity to support classical music.

    That group then hires musicians to play.

    The musicians can decide if that is the right amount of money or not.

    If not the musicians can move on to a place that can afford them.

    No reason or place for the governor, it is prett simple.

    This just a group of people who like as a hobby to listen to classical music.

    • James Brinton says:

      And the trolls appear to defend the poor hobbyists against the sinister forces of “socialist unionism.”
      I wonder why nobody in management “cried poverty” when this happened:
      “On April 9, 2010, plans were revealed for a $40 million renovation and expansion. The lobby and public areas will be doubled in size and the current utilitarian exterior will be replaced with stone and glass. A grand new entrance will also be added. KPMB of Toronto are the architects and MBJ of Minneapolis are the structural engineers. Construction began in June 2012 and will reopen in late summer of 2013.”
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orchestra_Hall_(Minneapolis)
      Odd that this 2010-2013 period coincides with management’s demands for incredibly deep salary cuts, cuts that most of the board members would probably find outrageous if applied to themselves.
      Also interesting that the demands for wage cuts coincides with this:
      “…It has now been well documented from the Board Executive Committee’s own minutes that the financial “crisis” was deliberately created through management’s financial manipulation. While seeking public funding through the Legacy Amendment Funds, MNO took sizable draws from its endowment so it could “announce balances” showing that it was financially healthy. With labor negotiations upcoming, MNO made plans to turn off the endowment tap so it could “announce deficits” that would “demonstrate the need to reset the business model.” At the request of numerous Minnesota legislators, the legislative auditor has initiated an audit of MNO’s finances that will hopefully shed more light on these practices and the orchestra’s true financial situation.”
      (http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2013/06/how-managements-self-inflicted-wounds-are-killing-minnesota-s-two-world-cla)
      The “hobbiests” have much to answer for, the musicians less so. It’s no wonder that MOA management does not welcome adult supervision.
      IMHO, the governor could do a lot of good by becoming more involved.

      • James, as I’ve noted elsewhere, my understanding of the whole lobby refurb is that it comes from ring-fenced funds and fund-raising. It has nothing to do with player salaries. You should not expect that money allocated and raised specifically for one thing should be diverted to something else you happen to support more. I’m also surprised that you imply support for drawing down endowment funds, when in fact turning the endowment tap off would be the right thing to do if were ever on. Any deficit so created would be a far truer reflection of real circumstances, and that is where we currently are.
        In other words, artificially painting a good picture was the error, not the poor financial picture.

        • But surely the lobby was a less important object of fund-raising than maintaining the musicians’ salaries. Is the MN Orchestra Board the manager of a world-class orchestra with one of the world’s best conductors, or is it simply the manager of a hall? If the latter, it’s not qualified to manage an orchestra.

        • tom foley says:

          Anon,

          Your understanding seems incomplete. No question, the MOA Board encouraged their donors to dedicate the money to the lobby redo, but they knew full well what they were doing, and that is to exaggerate the effects of the 2008 recession, and use it as a rationale for throwing out the orchestra, implementing their “business reset,”

          Oh, I’m sure it’s easier to solicit donations for a capital improvement rather than for an orchestra that has existed for 110 years. It would seem that such an institution is quite safe. Doesn’t even need to be brought up, and it wasn’t, according to donors I’ve spoken to.

          Wouldn’t it have been better if potential donors had been told something closer to the truth, running something like this?: “like most other endowments, the recession has hit our endowment too, and besides that, miscalculations have been made, and the situation is worse than expected. Would you please donate your money to rebuild the endowment in support of the Minnesota Orchestra.”

          Not having done that, once they realized the disaster they were creating–and still assuming that the board is made up of well-intended people–couldn’t they have called donors back and asked them to rededicate the money to the endowment?

          With an approach such as this, they may have garnered only half the amount they collected for the lobby, maybe only a quarter. But whatever the amount, it would have alleviated the endowment losses. As it is, the endowment is still in the area of 140 to 170 million dollars, the sixth largest orchestral endowment in the nation.

          In sum, however one thinks it through, crying poor and throwing out the orchestra while doing a redo of the lobby at a cost of 52 million dollars–and still crying poor–just doesn’t digest. It doesn’t go down. It causes one to gag.

      • George London says:

        Yes James all the money should have gone to wages. Nevermind the old facility that had safety risks, not accessible to elderly and handicapped, and limited areas for other revenue activities.

        • Amy Adams says:

          Plus …it really needed a nifty gas fireplace on the tier drop level…too bad that wound up $50k over budget. Oops…!

  4. At this point, the Governor is the only Minnesotan with the leadership standing to push the parties to reach a deal. Too much scorched earth from the MOA and the MO musicians. Granted, there is a risk that his pro-labor street cred might be tarnished a bit by the ultimately necessary concessionary deal, but the ongoing damage to the image of the great state of Minnesota is far worse. He is a good man and a strong leader. Time for a cease-fire and a peace treaty.

    • James Brinton says:

      Point taken.
      However, I think it would be helpful and enlightening if the report of the legislative auditor’s investigation of the MOA management of its finances could be accelerated and made public ASAP.
      If I were the board, given what’s already public knowledge, I would be fearful of this report. It is fairly safe to say that it won’t strengthen management’s bargaining position and might even lead to a wholesale restructuring of management.

      • Perhaps you are referring to these findings:

        http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/fad/2013/fad13-10.htm

        Report Summary
        State Money Provided to the Minnesota Orchestral Association
        Special Review

        Financial Audit Division Report 13-10 Released June 13, 2013

        ——————————————————————————–
        Background
        In response to a request from legislators, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) conducted a special review of money the State of Minnesota provided the Minnesota Orchestral Association in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. The state money included grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board for the association’s general operations (as well as other targeted purposes) and bond proceeds for costs related to the renovation of Orchestra Hall. Legislators expressed concern that this investment of public money is threatened by a protracted contract dispute between the association and the orchestra musicians. The association instituted a “lockout” of the musicians in October 2012, and the contract disputes remains unresolved.

        Conclusions
        Based on the scope and objectives of our review, we reached the following conclusions:

        1.The Minnesota Orchestral Association complied with applicable legal requirements related to the grant money it received from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2012 from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

        2.It is uncertain how much money the Minnesota Orchestral Association will be allowed to use from its 2013 Minnesota State Arts Board grant. It is also uncertain which costs may be paid with 2013 grant money. The terms of the grant agreement may allow the association to use money for costs it incurred during the time the Minnesota Orchestra did not perform due to the association’s “lockout” of the orchestra musicians. The association and the Minnesota State Arts Board have different interpretations of which costs are eligible for reimbursement under the 2013 grant agreement.

        3.The payment process for the costs related to the Orchestra Hall renovation project included adequate internal controls to ensure that money appropriated from the Bond Proceeds Fund was used in accordance with applicable finance-related legal requirements. We did not identify any payments for costs that did not comply with applicable legal requirements.

        4.In his testimony to legislative committees in 2010, the president of the Minnesota Orchestral Association made brief and generally positive remarks about the association’s financial condition, and legislators did not ask for additional information. While there are indications that the president and some board members had significant concerns about the association’s financial condition, it is not clear that a presentation of those concerns to legislative committees would have affected the Legislature’s decision to support the Orchestra Hall renovation project.

        • James Brinton says:

          Thanks for this, Kyle.
          I think the following gives sufficient reason to inquire further into the matter.
          If nothing else, Henson appears to have lied by omission.
          Legislatures don’t appreciate that.
          “In his testimony to legislative committees in 2010, the president of the Minnesota Orchestral Association made brief and generally positive remarks about the association’s financial condition, and legislators did not ask for additional information. While there are indications that the president and some board members had significant concerns about the association’s financial condition, it is not clear that a presentation of those concerns to legislative committees would have affected the Legislature’s decision to support the Orchestra Hall renovation project.”

  5. Tom Gossard says:

    No conspiracy here – when anybody chooses a domain name for its website, the web hosting company always suggests in addition to buy a few or a slew of domain names, the purpose being to prevent some other (in this instance) business, brand, organization, political (or any) interest groups from choosing a competing domain name from using the same keywords, e.g. Minnesota or Minnesotans, protect or save, MSO or symphony, which could mean anyone interested or concerned with the issue, controversy, interest(s) might get confused, thus distracting a reader from getting the website’s meaning, or arguments, or situation, etc.

    It’s standard practice for any organizational entity to insure their message or product gets across as they intend readers to identify (brand) with its message, cause, etc.

    • Maryann Goldstein says:

      Tom Gossard— “saveourorchestra” and “savetheorchestra” really accomplishes the MOA’s goal of protecting their brand!

      And even if you are correct in this being “standard practice” does that make it right? The over 5000 people who have signed on to “like” our new organization on Facebook in less than 3 days (www.SaveOurSymphonyMN.org and link to our FB page) are not feeling all that happy about it.

      So is it also “standard practice” for businesses care about their customers these days? If the MOA is interested at all about the future of their organization they would be wise to listen to the other stakeholders that they have locked out—their audience.

      • James Brinton says:

        Okay, they captured the domain names before the shooting started. That implies they expected war; reasonable since they declared war on the musicians.
        Have they used the domains to put forth their case? No. That implies they just wanted to prevent others from using them to put forward the musicians’ case.
        Unfortunately, social networking and the Internet are a lot more complicated than they realized. Terrible lack of forthought here, coupled with true simple-mindedness.
        But to me (and I should say that I own a number of domains) is that they could have spared themselves MUCH embarrassment if they had simply registered the domains anonymously. This costs a couple of bucks per domain on Go-Daddy.
        Maybe Henson, pecking away in the dark of night, decided to save money, or didn’t know what he was doing–dumb either way, and enough to make you question his managerial chops (if any).
        Given everything that’s happened until now, including management’s rejection of the Mitchell proposal and the genuine suffering caused to the members of the orchestra and their families, and the anger rolling through the orchestra’s audience, it appears that management (particularly Henson) is not only incompetent, but a bunch of bullies for whom winning is more important than the perpetuation of a cultural icon.
        That’s grounds for dismissal, right there.
        If they don’t quit, the mayor and governor should see about having them thrown out. I don’t even think they should be allowed to save face.

    • Right. And management wanted to use saveourminnesotaorchestra.org for….sending messages to patrons.
      Or protecting the brand name from…
      Wait a second. Whose orchestra is it, anyway?

  6. Petros Linardos says:

    Question: Is it at all possible that the Minnesota Orchestra disbands but a new orchestra is founded by more or less the same musicians?

    That happened with the Philharmonia in 1964, though for very different reasons and under different circumstances.

    • No, it is not realistic. The endowment and hall belong to the organization.

    • The idea Minnesota Orchestra board would disband the current orchestra and form a new one to get what it wants won’t be possible, because no professional musicians in US will join any such new entity. It has been tried and failed a couple of years ago by Louisville Symphony management, which even announced their planned auditions on Craig’s list. It is obvious that the board of MO is hijacked by people who don’t care much about the art form (the chairman is even reported never being to a performance) and only squad on the board for their personal prestige and social status. The institution is no difference to them from a country club.

      • James Brinton says:

        Interestingly, on the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page, presumably maintained by management, the institution refers to itself as a “venue.”
        Obviously and unsurprisingly, while an orchestra performs in a venue, it is not itself a venue.
        This makes me wonder whether Henson and the board see the hall as the primary asset, the orchestra as overhead, and plan to “maximize ROI” by marketing the former and starving the latter.
        Just think of all the trash entertainment they could rent the hall for…

        • Amy Adams says:

          James, you should read the MOA strategic plan (though technically it’s a “summary” – implying there’s a more detailed Real Strategic Plan somewhere) – Management is counting on something called the “glow effect” to carry them through next season and beyond, through the public’s sheer joyous gratitude for all the new glass, brass, concrete and gas. Isn’t that wonderful? As soon as O̶r̶c̶h̶e̶s̶t̶r̶a̶ ̶ Hall opens, they will just…forget everything and forgive all.
          Can’t wait to see how it goes.

          • James Brinton says:

            Amy,
            If that’s their plan, they live in “the world of magical thinking.”
            Somehow I doubt that management’s dream will come true, especially now that the orchestra’s side of the matter is being heard, and gaining momentum.

  7. I don’t see anyone confused here. Buying up domain names “that could lead to confusion” would entail buying up domains like Minnesnowta Orchestra.com or MNORCH.com or MinnOrch.com, NOT domain names concerned with saving the Minnesota Orchestra. I don’t think any of the patrons are confused here, although the Board may be sending out its chief obfuscators.

    • James Brinton says:

      You’re right. It’s a pretty obvious ploy, buying everything with the word “save,” and the sort only a dim-wit would try.
      At bottom, it couldn’t work because there are so many variations on appropriate domain names that it would be impossible to capture them all.
      But I’m sure Henson thought he was SO smart…

  8. James Brinton says:

    I notice that the Minnesota Orchestra Facebook page now uses the sub-head, “Performance Venue.”
    In other words, management seems more interested in flogging the hall than boosting the orchestra.
    Again this implies bad things about Henson, et al.

  9. James Brinton says:
  10. You know what’s interesting? I believe the SOS MN website now carries more financial information about the MOA than the MOA website. http://www.saveoursymphonymn.org/moa-documents.html

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