You can read the first half of my rebuttal here. Here’s the second.
Music and musicians are the very center of our organization,
Interesting! Mr. Henson could prove this by addressing musicians’ concerns about sustaining artistic quality in a substantive public fashion, something he has not yet done.
and we are seeking to negotiate a contract with our musicians that is aligned with what our community can afford. This point is worth emphasizing. The Minnesota Orchestra is entirely supported by the generosity of this community, and our expenses need to be based on what this community is willing and able to give. That is the issue at the center of our talks.
No. It’s not.
Look: we gave your organization over $100 million in the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Despite being the sixteenth largest metro area in the country, the Minneapolis metro area – population 3.3 million – has built the sixth largest orchestra endowment in the United States. The size of our orchestral endowment only trails Boston (population 4.6 million), San Francisco (population 4.4 million), Chicago (population 9.5 million), New York (population 19 million), and Los Angeles (population: 13 million). All of these orchestras have base salaries of at least $128,000 (which, by the way, is nearly twice the $78,000 base you’re proposing here in Minnesota). What more do you want from us? Why, Mr. Henson, are you failing to provide us the product we’re clearly paying the Minnesota Orchestral Association to get? They’re getting the product in other cities. So why can’t you deliver it here?
Okay. Here. Put all those facts and figures aside for a moment. Consider for a moment a completely separate fact: we don’t know what our community can afford, because for a period of years, Mr. Henson misled Minnesota about the state of the Orchestra’s finances. We weren’t told our orchestra was in danger, and we were never given the opportunity to step up to the plate to save it. The way things went down these past few years, no one is qualified to say what kind of an orchestra Minneapolis can and cannot afford – not management, not musicians, not me. Nobody. End. Of. Story. When Mr. Henson can build a time machine, go back in time, and see what his telling the truth does to fundraising, then maybe we can have a discussion grounded in actual fact.
I’d like to make two final points. The first is to thank you, the legislature, for the $14 million in bonding dollars you appropriated the renovation of Orchestra Hall. That project is one of our major revenue generating initiatives outlined in our strategic plan, and is one of the fiscal solutions to our current financial challenges.
Has anyone seen any studies of how the new hall will increase revenues, and by how much? I have found nothing on this point, and trust me: I’ve looked.
The building project is on budget and on pace for our 2013 opening and we are currently employing approximately 130 union members of the building trades as we speak. When I first visited the site, I was asked by a construction worker what I did and he thanked me and thanked the organization. He said it enabled him to actually sustain a job for a year during this project, and he had been out of work for a number of months before that. We’d like to thank you for making that possible in terms of creating job stimulus.
This was Mr. Henson’s biggest misstep in a long series of missteps. He makes the ludicrous insinuation that employing 130 union members in some way balances out or makes up for:
- 80+ musicians having to go without pay
- 80+ musicians having to go without health insurance
- losing musicians to other orchestras
- students going without instruction
- the damage done to Minneapolis’s artistic reputation
- the $70,000 reduction in revenue one parking facility alone has reported
- the Convention Center losing out on between $250,000 and $600,000
- shortfalls in revenue at Minneapolis restaurants
- impacts felt by small businesses
- the Minnesota Chorale losing twenty percent of this year’s revenue
- taxpayers having to pay musicians’ unemployment
- the state losing out on taxes
Shall I go on? Because I could.
Besides, his premise is a faulty one. Why not employ unionized construction workers and unionized musicians…as was the state’s expectation when lawmakers agreed to give the MOA $14 million?
I have to be honest: at this point, I cringed for Mr. Henson, his PR people, and the entire Minnesota Orchestral Association. And then after I heard the musicians’ and Orchestrate Excellence’s testimonies, chock-full of facts and figures, I cringed again, this time retroactively. What an embarrassment. Mr. Henson had his moment in the spotlight – a chance to blow us away with his airtight logic – and he completely utterly blew it.
Secondly, I know that it has been a point of concern for some legislators that our yearly operating support from public money might be used to fund our current negotiations or lockout. In order to eliminate all concerns around this point, we’ve sequestered in a separate account all state monies received to date this fiscal year, and we will continue to do the same going forward until we’ve reached our contract resolution. I reiterate that point: no state monies have been or will be used to fund these negotiations.
This is all well and good, but interestingly, Mr. Henson doesn’t mention the other points of concern that legislators have: that Mr. Henson lied to legislators about the Orchestra’s fiscal health, and that he approved the “strategic” reporting of deficits in order to be better positioned to receive state money. I wonder why?
On a personal note, I would like to close by noting that I have worked my entire professional life managing symphony orchestras in various cities around the world.
Clarification: According to Mr. Henson’s own biography, Minnesota is the first orchestra he has managed outside the UK. Previously, he headed the Ulster Symphony and the Bournemouth Symphony. That’s it.
Normally I would let something relatively minor like this slide, but it’s evidence of a repeated pattern of slipperiness and exaggeration, so I’ll include it.
Mr. Henson again:
My family and I were drawn to Minnesota and to this great orchestra because of its outstanding reputation.
From Robert Levine, member of the board of directors of the League of American Orchestras, on November 9:
I think the Minnesota Orchestra’s reputation has been wrecked for years amongst musicians by recent events, especially amongst the musicians who they would most want to recruit – those at the top of their game.
No more need be said on that point.
Back to Mr. Henson:
Along with our board of directors, I see it as my duty to ensure the Minnesota Orchestra remains artistically excellent and financially solvent for the future. These two goals are entirely possible to achieve in tandem, and it is only by achieving artistic and fiscal strength that we can ensure our orchestra will be around to serve this community well into the future.
Former Minnesota Orchestra music directors Edo de Waart, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and Neville Marriner in the Star Tribune on 6 October 2012:
An orchestra does not recover easily, from such drastic cuts, if ever.
Is Mr. Henson insinuating he knows better than these three exalted gentlemen, with over a century of knowledge between them? If so, bwa-ha-ha.
Mr. Henson then wrapped up his testimony by saying
Mr. Chair and Representatives, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to this committee.
Representative Atkins then asked Mr. Henson the only question he asked of anyone during the course of the orchestra testimonies:
And thank you, Mr. Henson. Could you speak to one point that I believe has been raised, and that is, at the time the $14 million was awarded, the Capitol dollars from the State, was there an awareness or expectation of the possibility of a lockout, or did the economics of the orchestra tend to indicate that that might be a possibility at that time?
There’s been no intention at any point during the application for those fundings to actually have a lockout. The board managed responsibly a very challenging situation three and a half years ago and we continue to hope that we weren’t going to have a lockout as we actually approached the conclusion of the negotiations that we had at the start of October 2012.
First of all, notice that Mr. Henson didn’t directly address the question of whether there was an “expectation of the possibility of a lockout.”
So allow me.
According to Minnesota Orchestral Association minutes, the MOA hired a public relations firm – Padilla, Speer, and Beardsley – in September 2010 to prepare for negotiations. My bold:
The role of the consultant would be to create consistent messages throughout this process, and help us to address the many constituencies that we serve, including the board, staff, corporate sponsors, foundations, individual donors, and public entities. We have interviewed two firms, and are recommending the engagement of Padilla Spears, & Beardsley. They specialize in crisis management, and their team includes a member with union experience… The fee would be $55,000 per year for three years, with a $15,000 contingency, at the options of both parties.
Clearly the MOA was “expecting” a work stoppage in the summer of 2010. And not only that, but they were expecting they’d need a PR firm to work with them until September 2013…roughly a year after the expiration of the musicians’ 2007-2012 contract. And they chose who they did in part because they “specialize[d] in crisis management.” Soooooo. What happened between January 2010, when Mr. Henson requested state money with no expectation of a lockout, and September 2010, when he was clearly expecting an imminent union “crisis”? Surely something huge happened behind the scenes to totally completely utterly turn his expectations upside down. If it didn’t, Mr. Henson was misleading, if not outright lying, to the legislature on the 23rd. And it adds an extra layer of slime to his testimony in January of 2010.
So. I’ve written quite a bit here, and made quite a few accusations. Mr. Henson is, as always, welcome to engage with me. He won’t, but he’s welcome to. In the meantime, I’ll be sending this essay to Representative Atkins along with my thank-you note for holding the hearing. Even if I didn’t learn a lot about why the Minnesota Orchestral Association is behaving in the manner it is, I did learn how weak Mr. Henson’s best arguments are, and how utterly untrustworthy he is. And that’s not nothing.