Several Minnesota Orchestra musicians – Cathy Schubilske, Tony Ross, and Doug Wright – testified in front of the Legacy Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in a hearing on February 12. The chair of the committee was Rep. Phyllis Kahn. Other representatives who spoke in this portion of the hearing include Rep. John Ward (DFL) and Rep. Joe McDonald (R).
You can listen to their testimony in this mp3. Their portion begins at roughly 1:02:00.
PK: The next person on our list is, um, Cathy Schubilske. I apologize if I mis-pronounce words. Cathy Schubilske the violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra and some musicians from the Orchestra. And each of you should say your name for the tape and identify yourselves.
DW: I’m Douglas Wright; I’m the principal trombonist of the Orchestra and I’ve been in the Orchestra for eighteen years.
TR: I’m Anthony Ross, principal cellist of the Orchestra. I’ve been a member of the Orchestra for twenty-four years.
CS: And I’m Cathy Schubilske, a violinist with the Orchestra. I’ve been with the Orchestra for twelve years, and I’ll be speaking on behalf of the musicians today.
Madame Chair and members of the committee… Thank you for this opportunity to speak today.
On behalf of all the musicians, please accept our deep gratitude for the exceptional support for the arts that Minnesotans offer through the Legacy fund, and for your work to oversee it. Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are proud to be part of the state’s largest arts institution, and we’re thrilled that Minnesotans’ commitments to the arts makes them a cornerstone of our quality of life here. In 2012, the Minnesota Orchestral Association received nearly one million dollars from the State Arts Board in Legacy funding. The Legacy funds support the $97 million that our board volunteers have raised through this recession and the institution’s large endowment – the sixth largest in the United States – all speak to the value Minnesotans place on having great orchestral music played by a home team.
Yet the organization receiving this funding is offering no music of any kind this season. The current leadership’s imposed lockout threatens the quality and quantity of music. The latest round of announced cancellations through April seventh brings the total withdrawn educational concerts to eighteen. The musicians have been locked out with no pay or benefits, yet the building project continues, and management continues to hire employees to staff a building rental business. We believe that the state’s significant investment deserves financial transparency. We are grateful for state leaders like you who are looking into both Legacy funding and the state bonding.
The musicians have been overwhelmed with the deep public support and enthusiasm shown at the few concerts we’ve been able to produce this season. These concerts have included neighborhood and community concerts at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, at the North Minneapolis Y, Colonial Church in Edina. We also produced a successful season opening concert at the Convention Center, concerts at Ted Mann Hall just before Christmas, and recently were invited to play at the mayor’s Grammy celebration concert. Tomorrow night we’ll be playing a benefit for students of the first El Sistema class in North Minneapolis. El Sistema is a program that seeks to build community and opportunity through free music education for at-risk schoolchildren. We are deeply committed to playing not only inspiring music in the concert hall, but to sharing it with our students and citizens of Minnesota and as well as beyond state borders.
In 2010, the Orchestra was hailed as the greatest orchestra in the world by New Yorker critic Alex Ross after a Carnegie concert conducted by Osmo Vänskä. The Minnesota Orchestra was the only North American orchestra invited to the prestigious Proms festival in London that year, and recordings of Beethoven and Sibelius are received with critical acclaim. Yet, despite all the success, for the past four seasons, the management has reduced the number of concerts we offer at home. When there are less concerts, there is less revenue. When there is less revenue, the endowment has to be drawn from more heavily. In spite of all the success, the marketing budget was reduced, as well.
We have heard of the management’s desire for more education and outreach. We agree with this. We’re very puzzled that for the past four seasons several weeks were left unscheduled each year. This is essentially musicians being paid to stay home and no concerts are produced. Musicians approached the management with specific ideas for outreach and education concerts. The answer to each suggestion was “no.” We estimate the cost of these wasted services at two million dollars over the past four years. The rationale seems to be a supply and demand theory, apparently from the airline industry. Unfortunately this experiment has not resulted in increased revenue or capacity sold. In fact, our capacity sold has not increased, we believe due to a diminished presence in our community. If we fail to promote our own art form of world-class performances of great music, people will find other venues and interests in which to invest their time and money, and the orchestra will begin on a downward spiral of less relevance and success in the community.
This is not happening everywhere across the country. In fact, this month’s help-wanted ads for orchestral musicians includes twenty-four positions in other orchestras. We are deeply concerned that these orchestras in states which supply much less arts support than Minnesota will be filling their openings with our players. We believe the model of less music and fewer musicians is contrary to the spirit of Legacy funding. The musicians look forward to more community outreach, not less, reaching more children, not fewer, and living up to the Minnesota Orchestra’s mission of delivering inspiring performances of great music. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra couldn’t be more grateful to the state for its tremendous support. It’s living up to this every day that challenges us to the level of excellence Minnesotans expect in the arts, and that we feel our state deserves. It gives us hope for the kind of thriving musical organization we think this state expects. Thank you.
PK: Thank you. Any comments from either of the other – ?
PK: Okay. Thank you. Uh, Rep. Ward?
JW: Thank you, Madame Chair. Um – and I’m hoping that Mr. Henson – I see him here still so I might get another question for him later, but – can you tell us, um, in previous contracts, um, have you made some concessions, salary-wise, benefit-wise, and what has that amounted to?
CS: I’ll let my colleagues who were present at those concessionary contracts speak to that.
TR: Yes, after the recession hit in ’08 –
PK: As you speak, say who you are.
TR: Oh, excuse me. Anthony Ross. Thank you, Representative, for the question; this is Anthony Ross. Um, this contract that finished last October when the lockout began was a five-year agreement. Uh, I believe in the second year of the agreement, right after the recession, we did re-open and we gave back over $4 million in concessions to try to help with the crisis.
JW: I’ve got a couple questions but I’ll just do one more follow up, if I can. Madame chair, just one more?
JW: What’s the current status – what is asking of you currently to be negotiated to? – what’s the current proposal?
DW: I’m Douglas Wright, the principal trombonist. The current proposal on the table right now calls for anywhere from thirty to fifty percent pay cuts to each of the musicians, drastic cost shift in medical health care costs from the employer to the musicians, over forty years’ worth of working conditions removed, um…what am I missing? Reduction of numbers of musicians. Essentially we’ll… This orchestra spent the better part of its 110-year history among the top ten orchestras in this country, and this proposal will take us outside of the top ten by quite some distance, putting a number of orchestras in front of us that have never been before us.
JW: And Madame Chair, I heard Mr. Henson say that they have also done some cuts. Have they done equal cuts to the management level as well?
TR: This is Anthony Ross. Again, I think that’s a better question for the managers themselves.
JW: I agree. Thank you.
PK: We’ll get to that. Representative McDonald.
JM: Madame Chairman. Question for the testifier: you mentioned that you received one million dollars from the Legacy…is that just for the fiscal year of 12-13?
CS: Thank you. Yes. That was just for fiscal 2012.
PK: Why don’t we have Miss Bravitz [?] say something about the funding. We’re adding general funding from the arts board plus Legacy. So.
B: Madame Chair, you do have a spreadsheet in your packet that was provided by the state arts board. Um, Miss Gens [presumably Sue Gens, executive director of the Arts Board] put this together for us, and you’ll see in fiscal year 2012, according to the State Arts Board, the total funding for the Minnesota Orchestra was just over a million dollars, and of that, $693,000 was from the Legacy funds.
JM: Yes, thank you very much. Small writing, so I guess I’ll bring my glasses next time.
PK: I should have pointed it out to you.
JM: I did see it earlier but I wrote notes on the back. And then to the testifier – um, you mentioned the funds from donors – the endowments – you mentioned the number, but I don’t want to repeat it for fear that I got it wrong. Could you mention that number again?
CS: Yes, and I’d like to recognize some of our wonderful volunteer board members who are here today who have done an amazing fundraising job, that since the recession began, they have raised $97 million for the Building for the Future campaign. We have deep respect for our music-loving board members who have undertaken this fundraising.
JM: Madame Chair, I thought that was the number, I wrote it down. So that’s for a building project? Does that not cover – does that help the musicians at all?
CS: You might want to ask the management, but it is allocated to the building, as well as a portion to the endowment, and a portion to artistic initiatives.
JM: Madame Chair, thank you. I just was Googling the success of orchestras in the United States. We are in a great recession – we’re just coming out of it – some good news – so I would imagine – I presumed, incorrerctly – and I imagined that attendance was down at orchestras across America, perhaps that’s why management wisely has to cut and find ways to save money so they can survive, and we all have to take part in the responsibility of that – the violinist to the lawmakers to those who love attending such events, such as Rep. Urdahl and myself and many of these others. So we all share in the sacrifice and I hope that your labor group is seeking solutions to help be part of the solution, not the problem. But I did notice that Ohio’s orchestra has record ticket sales. And there are several others that I was just Googling and the power went out so unfortunately…[laughter] Such is the nature of technology. So I’ll have to use my memory. So it appears that in tough times we can gather together and come up with solutions to have record ticket sales and do what you need to do to survive. But I’m curious, although most of the funding is from donors and other areas, not necessarily the Legacy committee, the taxpayers – what do you want us to do here on this side as policymakers?
CS: Thank you. We’re very grateful for your question and grateful to Madame Chair for inviting us to speak today. We really appreciate the state being interested in the financial transparency of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, especially as regards to the investment of state bonding and Legacy money, and the musicians have been requesting an independent financial analysis to that end for many months now, and it’s – we are five months into a lockout and it has not appeared.
PK: Okay. Well, I do want to try and see if first we can get through everyone that’s listed on the program, so hopefully we’ll have some other chance for people to answer questions, too. Thank you very much for coming.
Musicians: Thank you.
PK: And let’s hope you’ll hang around and we’ll be able to get back. Okay.