Happy Fun Exciting Hall Operations Analysis…Part 1 of 3

Today some reports from the Minnesota Orchestral Association hit the blogosphere, courtesy of audience advocacy group Save Our Symphony Minnesota. An Annual Report of Hall Operations and a Legal Opinion Accompanying the Annual Report? Oh, it’s Christmas!

So. Look over the documents here and here before going any further. They’re pretty short and they’re entertaining reads…as long as your sense of humor is dark.

This is the color of my sense of humor, so I'm good. *thumbs up*

This is the color of my sense of humor, so I’m good. *thumbs up*

I think I’ll aim for a three-parter. Why not? I’ll also title the article with some exciting adjectives like “happy fun exciting” to lure unsuspecting readers in.

Okay. So. Here are my preliminary reactions.

For the long term viability of MOA to perform the Governmental Program, we must operate in a fiscally sound fashion that does not require unsustainable draws from our endowment to achieve budgetary balance.

Of course, at first this sounds like more more-of-the-same, blah blah blah blah blah, but it comes within an interesting context. I’d like to remind everyone of the assessment the City of Minneapolis gave before agreeing to the lease arrangement:

“The stabilized financial condition in FY 2014 is based on a number of assumptions including: cost cutting, including a significant decrease in salaries and benefits they hope to achieve as a result of musicians’ union contract negotiations now under way… [T]here is no guarantee that all these assumptions will be achieved and thus there is a risk that the operations will not be consistently self-sufficient… However, MOA has a large combined endowment that will be available to help manage any deficits.

Bold mine. (Information courtesy of Slide 19 of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s The MOA Debacle presentation.) So is the endowment available to cover deficits or not? What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate, and it’s a bit of a conundrum whose fault it is. The City of Minneapolis, for not digging deeper into the MOA’s financial plan and economic ideology? The MOA, for not being completely clear with the city that they were refusing to manage deficits with large endowment draws? Both? (Probably both.) (But more the MOA’s than the City’s.)

MOA’s incremental $38 million investment in the Orchestra Hall renovation, which accompanied the State’s $14 million in bonding that was facilitated by the City of Minneapolis, was but one of the many initiatives intended to increase revenues to support the viability of the organization by providing a more comfortable and appealing venue for the public to experience fine music in the heart of the City.

The point has been thrashed to death, re-animated, then thrashed to death again, but…was it really worth spending $52 million for a purported $300k a year increase in rental revenue? Were there seriously no other alternatives here? Where is the math to back all this up? Argh.

We are, of course, deeply saddened by the lengthy labor dispute

Of course.

have expressed multiple times our willingness to negotiate

We also rebuffed our hand-picked mediator who brought peace to Northern Ireland…

and have offered numerous contract proposals and compromises

That were for the most part basically the same offer, only dressed up in different ways, but –

However, without two parties willing to negotiate and compromise, the timing of the resolution of the current labor dispute is outside of MOA’s control.

Yes, apparently the resolution of a lockout…is beyond the power of the company that…initiated the lockout.

But look. This is what the MOA does. They spew metric crap-tons of BS out in the world, most of which is easily disproven or irrelevant to the point currently at hand, encouraging rubes like me to pick their idiocy apart point by point in massive sprawling arguments, until the buzz of he-said-she-said becomes white noise that nobody outside the bubble listens to or cares about. So focus, Emily. Focus on the lease stuff. Lease stuff.


Regardless of the circumstances, our goal and intent is to fulfill the Governmental Program and provide performing arts in the Hall for the enjoyment of our community.

Keep this sentence in mind, because it becomes important later…

Compliance with the Governmental Program “shall be evidenced by the fact that at least half of the earned revenue is being generated by the production or presentation of music and other performance programs.”

Go on…

In the short period since the Orchestra Hall construction was completed, several noteworthy events have been held in the venue, most significantly the Orchestra’s annual gala, Symphony Ball, and its companion event for young professionals, Crash the Ball. The events, held on September 20, featured musical performances by a Twin Cities pop and jazz ensemble whose musicians have performed with such renowned artists as Prince, Bette Midler, Johnny Lang and others.

Allow me to translate:


Hilariously, the MOA can’t bring itself to say Belladiva. If you’re going to hold up Belladiva as the brightest highlight of your performing arts season, then you shouldn’t be ashamed of them; you should stand – firmly! – behind them. You don’t say of Renee Fleming – “she sang with Pavarotti” – or of Josh Bell – “he played with Kristen Chenoweth.” You say loud and proud: Renee Fleming. Josh Bell. So come on, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Davis, Mr. Henson. Stand behind this group. Say loud and proud to the City of Minneapolis: a concert by Belladiva was the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s most significant performance this fall, and we’re proud of it!!

Got the moves like Davis, got the moves like Davis…oooooaahhhhh, moves like Davis

I also want to remind folks that tickets to Symphony Ball cost quite a bit of money, and that people who couldn’t afford those tickets were literally left out in the rain. The MOA just gave quite a bit of free ammunition to those who say they’re not interested in anyone besides the corporate crust of Minneapolis. The MOA is saying that with the Belladiva performance, they “provided performing arts in the Hall for the enjoyment of our community.” Even though during said performance broad swaths of that community were watched by armed guards that glared at us if we got a few inches too close to the building.

Are you suitably disgusted yet?

Anyway. Moving on.

On September 20, on the MOA’s Facebook page, they said they took in $1 million from Symphony Ball…and in a footnote in this report, they say that they took in $430,000 in non-ticket-sale donations from Symphony Ball…so perhaps we can then extrapolate they took in roughly $570,000 in ticket sales from Symphony Ball? Perhaps?

Here’s their chart..


Here’s a chart of what the numbers would look like if ticket income from Symphony Ball was shifted into the Non-performing Arts Events category…


Annnnnd if you categorize $570k in Symphony Ball tickets as neither Performing Arts Event nor non-Performing Arts Events, and rather treat it as a separate ticketed fundraiser (which I think is how a reality-based world would treat it), here are the numbers…


Unfortunately, I can’t verify these numbers until we know how much money the MOA pulled in from Symphony Ball ticket sales. However, if these numbers are remotely accurate, one understands why they had to play the “uh, Symphony Ball was a Performing Arts Event!” card. They really had no choice.

Question: Did Belladiva just help the MOA keep a grasp on the hall?

Next time…in the thrilling Part 2… Duke Ellington rises from the dead, Julie Andrews spins on a mountaintop gif, and the MOA gets frustrated that it doesn’t control all people in all circumstances. Don’t miss it! Update: here it is!



Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

8 responses to “Happy Fun Exciting Hall Operations Analysis…Part 1 of 3

  1. jameslMason Bassoon1 retired. Toledo Symphony still going strong

    Sad that idiots run orchestras like pizza parlors!

  2. Sarah

    Ooh! A three-parter!! More snarky goodness!!!

  3. JKM

    If the future of a symphony orchestra for Minnesota weren’t at stake, this makes for great farce.

  4. Sandi Sherman

    Great job Emily. Looking forward to Duke Ellington’s return to the stage! Somehow, even in his present state, I think it unlikely that he will cross a picket line!

  5. despond

    What about a 501c3 corporation giving a huge bonus to one of its employees (Henson)and then using the hall for a political event promoting union busting! Oct. 7 a lecture by former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels hosted by the Center for the American Experiment, a conservative think tank. “He was talking about right to work,” http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/228414691.html. There is some danger here of losing their non profit status. http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/library/articles/How_to_Lose_Your_Tax_Exempt_Status.shtml

  6. Marya Hart

    Looks like Orchestra Hall’s new competition will be Bunker’s, First Ave and Famous Dave’s. Next up, Hookers and Blow.

  7. princetrumpet

    Let me be the first to thank you for the Belladiva clip. It’s pretty hot if you turn the sound off.

  8. Dave

    OK. AS of today, 3/20, it’s official. Hensan is gone. Thank you ‘Song of the Lark’. It’s people like you that really care about what’s important and dedicate your time and effort which benefits us all.

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