In the latest Minnesota Orchestral Association email blast, there was a sentence that could not have irritated me more if it had been specifically designed to do so (which, knowing the MOA, it probably was).
“It is the Board’s privilege and duty to serve as responsible fiduciaries for the Minnesota Orchestra. In many ways, we serve as advocates for Orchestra patrons [my bold] and our goal is to ensure that these patrons—you—have a sustainable orchestra for many years to come.”
As Dr. John Watson would say:
Want to know why this was especially galling? I had to rely on a friend to forward this email to me, because the MOA hasn’t written or called my family in about a year, despite the fact all our contact information is complete and up-to-date. Many of my most vocal readers have met the same fate (while, ridiculously, musicians and their families are routinely hit up for money).
So. That being said, I have some stories to tell you.
I have a faithful reader. She and her husband have been orchestra patrons and donors for years. Months ago, she heard that Michael Henson, the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, was giving a Q&A session for patrons. So she dressed up in her best clothes and diamonds and went to the MOA’s temporary offices. She was met by a secretary who looked at the list of pre-approved guests and said she wasn’t allowed in because she wasn’t “on the list” and there “wasn’t room.” Awkwardly, it was obvious there was room. The secretary offered to have someone from development call her to discuss her concerns. That development person never called her. Is the board and management advocating for her? Hell no.
I have a couple of readers who banded together this spring to ask the Minnesota Orchestral Association to play and talk during the spring season. They assembled a petition and sent it to as many board members as they could contact. They didn’t hear a word back from anyone. Not even a “we appreciate your efforts and your passion and we will consider the idea and be in contact with you.” Is the board and management advocating for them? Hell no.
I have readers who were told all sorts of bald-faced lies on the phone by MOA fundraisers. Things like
- musicians in Chicago have taken massive pay cuts
- musicians in the Cleveland Orchestra are playing without a contract
- a terrible thing will happen to the Minnesota Orchestra in six months if more donations aren’t received
Is the board and management advocating for the poor uninformed people who didn’t know they were being lied to, who then, out of sheer misinformation, wrote them checks? Hell no.
And speaking of that, is the board and management advocating for the men and women who funded a $50 million lobby, without being told massive cuts in musician compensation were coming…despite the fact the board and management knew? Hell no times two. Times three. Times fifty million!
I know of hundreds upon hundreds of patrons who have tried to contact the board of directors via phone and email. Most of the time they’re ignored. On the rare occasion they’re acknowledged, they’re completely condescended to. You can almost see the disdain, the ugly ugly paternalism, dripping off their replies. Is the board and management advocating for those patrons? Hell no.
In July, a group of passionate articulate brilliant young musicians visited Richard Davis’s US Bancorp headquarters and performed Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony on Nicollet Mall in a desperate plea to end the lockout. They have a right to be concerned; their teachers and mentors are leaving Minnesota at a heartbreaking clip. All of them are acutely aware that the youth symphonies in the Twin Cities are inextricably linked with the best talent at the top. If Richard Davis was interested in advocating for them, he would have come out to shake their hands, explained why he disagreed with them, or reached out to them afterward in private to discuss their concerns. Have they heard a word from him or his representatives? Hell no.
There was a tiny disabled woman who lived in Wisconsin and lived a very sedate and quiet life. The two things that brought her the most joy were playing the violin and hearing the Minnesota Orchestra. She started writing about the orchestra’s contract negotiations in August of 2012. After a while, she became aware that the Minnesota Orchestral Association was reading her, but never actually responding. This, frankly, creeped her out – not to mention pissed her off – but she continued to write, all the while begging over and over and over again that they contact her and answer her questions. When she found out that the management had bought at least thirteen domain names like “save our orchestra” and “save our Minnesota Orchestra”, her discovery got international press. Still, the Minnesota Orchestra did not contact her or reach out to the patron advocacy group that she and her readers helped to found.
Is the board and management advocating for her? Or for any of her thousands of readers?
I tell you on the very best authority:
To sum: the Minnesota Orchestral Association board and management has refused to advocate for broad swaths of the patron population. This is a fact. It is not an opinion, and it is not open for debate. Period.
So. Just so the MOA is clear: this is what real patron advocates look like. Real patron advocates realize that blogs are actually useful tools to get to know customers. (In fact, in reality-based economies, customers are often at the very center of a business’s mission.) Real patron advocates answer emails with care and attention and respect. Real patron advocates call their donors and customers back when they have concerns. Real patron advocates don’t scrub patrons off contact lists when they start complaining about how the organization is being run. Real patron advocates have multi-way conversations with patrons: online, in phone calls, via letter, in person. Real patron advocates show up in huge numbers at events like lockout concerts and the Orchestrate Excellence forum, and even schedule community-wide town hall meetings on their own. Real patron advocates listen to and absorb what patrons have to say to them, no matter how crazy and off-base they feel those patrons are. Real patron advocates share information rather than hoard and hide it. Real patron advocates let patrons know when an orchestra is facing a financial cliff, instead of letting PR people decide what size deficit to report when. Real patron advocates include patrons in their strategic planning process. Real patron advocates praise young people when they stand up for what they believe in, even if they disagree with those young people. Hell, real patron advocates are…wait for it…easily accessible to patrons. The fact I have to even write that sentence makes me shudder.
In short, real patron advocates constantly seek out what patrons want, and then stand up in front of powerful men and women to…advocate for patrons.
The moment I see real advocacy actually happening, I will notice it and praise it and get giddy over it. I will pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate – and I don’t even drink. But until that moment happens, I suggest the MOA mulls over the definition of “patron advocacy” long and hard. And then it should get in touch with the largest patron advocacy group to date, Save Our Symphony Minnesota. If the board and management accept our open invitation to have tough substantive fact-based talks with us, I can guarantee a fascinating discussion on all sides about what patrons really want, plus explanations of exactly how we want to be advocated for. I’m guessing those answers will be enlightening for board and management alike. And I’m sure we patrons will learn a lot from the exchange, as well.
For more on this whole fascinating topic, please listen to my recent WQXR interview: “Protesting or Praising, Classical Music Fans Become Activists Online.”
As Drew McManus writes…
The Minnesota Orchestra cross-blog event is a collection of more than a dozen bloggers, musicians, patrons, and administrators writing about the orchestra’s devastating work stoppage. You can find all of the contributions in the following list and the authors encourage everyone to participate by sharing, commenting, or publishing something at your own culture blog.
- Bill Eddins (Sticks and Drones); The Cheap Seats
- Daniel Gilliam; MOA Cross-blog contribution
- Drew McManus (Adaptistration) Arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill
- Emily Green (guest author); It’s Time to Make Music Again
- Emily Hogstad (Song of the Lark); “Patron Advocates”
- Frank Almond (non divisi) Calling the questions
- Henry Peyrebrune (guest author); The Holy Grail
- Holly Mulcahy (Neo Classical) A Journey Of Legacy, Appreciation, and Heart
- Jim Lieberthal (guest author); A quiet opinion
- Joe Patti (Butts in the Seats); Of Blogs and Boards
- Kevin Case; False Equivalence
- Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight); Minnesota Orchestra: Down To The Wire
- Rolf Erdahl (guest author); Reflections on Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
- Scott Chamberlain (Mask of the Flower Prince) An Un-Strategic Plan
- Tom Peters (guest author); Baseball and Beethoven: The Minnesota Orchestra, the Marlins and the Perils of Market Correction.