Bad News, Good News

In case you missed the news, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has promoted Kevin Smith from Interim CEO to Actual CEO. He’s staying until the end of the 2017-2018 season (at least), and he will be negotiating both Osmo’s and the musicians’ new contracts. The board voted unanimously to keep him.

I haven’t met Mr. Smith yet, but nearly all of my musical friends have, and I’ve heard nothing but good about him. A few things are abundantly clear. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the Twin Cities. He has years of experience under his belt. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he listens. Stakeholders respect this man. When he has to make the tough decisions that lie ahead, I may not always agree with his choices, but I will respect them, and I will know that he is working for the good of the organization and the art form and the community. You can’t buy that kind of trust.

In fact, if I had to choose what’s the bigger news, Osmo’s rehiring or Kevin’s promotion… I’d probably go with Kevin’s promotion. And you all know how thrilled I was that Osmo was re-hired. So you can guess how excited I am about Kevin.

But wait. As the infomercials say, there’s more. In an interview the other night on Almanac, when asked if Osmo’s contract would be renewed, Smith said:

We are talking about that. I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.


The phrase “I would hope and expect, yes” in a pretty font and decorated with my excited yellow Rays of Yay


It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that this quote isn’t plastered all over blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Strib articles.

I think most people would agree that

  1. the chances of a second lockout have declined precipitously
  2. we just might be looking at a fair musicians’ contract extending until approximately 2020, and
  3. the Osmo era is likely going to continue.

It’s looking like the Minnesota Orchestral Association has entered its own Era of Good Feelings. And I’m on board with that.

So it might be time to bid a fond farewell to the Song of the Lark Outrage Machine. The Outrage Machine ran fast and hard for a very long time, fueled by the spittle from my flail-y freak-outs and the sarcasm of animated GIFs. But between Kevin Smith’s hiring and the Atlanta Symphony lockout ending, it looks like outrage is going out of style. Which is great.

It’s just too bad I can’t take the Outrage Machine out for a final spin to commemorate old times and old scandals.


Somehow… somewhere… some news could break about the Era of Bad Feelings.

But, no. That’s impossible. Michael Henson has been gone from the Minnesota Orchestra for months now. His vision – or maybe that’s “myopia” – has been thoroughly repudiated by all. Surely there’s no new news left about his tenure…


I’m sorry,, the website that “gather[s] and disseminate[s] information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization“…did you say something?


Oh? What’s this? The 990 form for the Minnesota Orchestral Association covering the time span of September 2012 to August 2013, which features only one non-lockout month?

Do you hear that roar in the distance? I think it’s the outrage machine revving up for one last final outing! So jump aboard now, for one last ride, for nostalgia’s sake…

For background, this particular 990 covers the time period from September 2012 to August 2013.


Contributions and grants went from $32.2 million to $11.9 million. (True, the hall fundraising campaign was still going great guns in the prior year and was slowing down in the current year, but still.) I wish I could see a breakdown of where all that money came and went from.

Program service revenue went from $8.2 million to…. $203,166. (True, all the concerts were canceled, but still.) Fun factoid: that’s a roughly 97% decrease in program service revenue. What other major orchestra can boast of that?


Well, on the bright side, the expenses of salaries and benefits decreased from $24.1 million to $8.5 million. It’s amazing how much cash you save by not paying your employees. *thumbs up*

Then comes a Great Wall of Text:

wall of text

I don’t expect you to read all that – it’s basically a description of what the Minnesota Orchestra does and seeks to do – but there is a hilarious addendum at the very end, and it reads like the part of a drug commercial where the voiceover starts talking quickly and in hushed tones about horrible side effects.


Yes, that should be…”noted.” The longest work stoppage at a major American orchestra? Definitely worthy of an asterisk. Yup yup.

And then another interesting observation:


Hmm. Like John Oliver said when he was digging through the 990s for the Miss America pageant, “Okay, that is suspiciously defensive right out of the gate. That is like Walter White saying, ‘Hello, and welcome to this regular car wash that is definitely not laundering money for my meth lab.'”

It’s like the 990 is saying, Michael who? Michael Henson? That guy? Oh, that guy’s not here anymore. We don’t know anything about that guy. That guy’s gone. Yep. No idea where that guy is, that guy doesn’t have anything to do with us anymore. That guy was here seven years but he’s definitely not here anymore. Heck, we have a whole freaking committee established already to look for the replacement for that guy. That guy is so gone right now. You would not believe how gone he is.

…He’s showing up later in the 990, isn’t he?

Okay. Well, moving on…

In the Program Service Revenue box, something amusing appears under business code 711130:


This is the magic of the upside-down-world of the MOA: there was a lockout, there were no subscription concerts during this year, and yet they sold $36,253 in orchestra tickets. Kudos, MOA.

How about advertising? How much did the MOA drop on advertising and promoting concerts that never took place?


I wonder what it would feel like to spend $626,549 advertising and promoting things that obviously will never happen. What would it feel like to spend half a million dollars advertising, say, a Save-Our-Symphony-Minnesota-sponsored party for Michael Henson? (Like…with skywriting or something.) You know ahead of time that party’s never gonna happen, but what would it feel like to spend $626,549 on promoting it anyway? Horrifying? A tiny bit thrilling, maybe? Horrithrilling? (new word!)

I’m also dying to know if the variety of inflammatory full-page Strib advertisements are included in this figure, or if the Strib editor on the MOA board cut his colleagues a sweet deal. (We can probably guess the answer there.)

But really, these are just little tidbits. I’ve left the real crazy for last.



There. In the calendar year 2012, the year he locked his musicians out, Michael Henson brought home $393,448.

AND A $116,550 BONUS.

And in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t the $202,500 bonus from last year that triggered Bonusgate. This is a separate bonus. Different bonus. Another bonus. Not before a lockout year. During a lockout year. $116,550 in bonus pay. BONUS PAY. DURING A LOCKOUT.


A visual representation of my frustration

Yeah, funny story: I know a person or two who could have used that money in 2012.

Heck, I know an organization that could have used that money. Remember this headline?


If it wasn’t for this bonus, they could have had a deficit under a million dollars. WTF, MOA?

Not to mention… Henson got a bonus for what? Bonus for instituting a lockout? Bonus for this fabulous testimony at the State Legislature, which included such gems of lines as:

Um, first of all, I want to say that we want to get the orchestra back to work as soon as poss – we want to negotiate a contract that is sustainable for this community with its generosity, and I think the – it’s balanced on two equations, the money that we haven’t actually taken, so obviously box office, and then the money, uh, that we haven’t paid – unfortunately – because of the lockout.

A bonus for winning Adaptistration’s Bush League CEO award in February? Bonus for successfully not-commenting on Domaingate in August 2013? A bonus for dealing with near-universal scorn?

And here’s a disheartening reminder for you: this is not the last 990 with Henson’s name on it. Next year there will be another released covering the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and the payout to Michael Henson could be very high. Resignations like his can be expensive.


Cuz "you know I love the [orchestra] players"

I think it’s worthy of a repeat of this GIF. “Cuz you know I love the [orchestra] players”


I know that some people will be uncomfortable that I wrote about this topic. Minnesotans don’t like conflict. I don’t, either. And it’s certainly not my intention to needlessly rehash the past. The best way to heal is to move forward.

But here’s the truth. Just because the MOA is doing the right thing now doesn’t mean we should stop looking back at what happened, understanding what happened, and going, “How the hell did that happen?” We must all engage with this organization, on all levels. And one hugely important way to engage is by looking at these documents, and making it clear that Every Single Year, they will be looked at and will be talked about. The greatest danger the Minnesota Orchestra faces right now is apathy. Kevin Smith is great. So far, I adore him. But he will only listen to you if you’re there to be listened to, and if you intend to be there to be listened to long-term.

That being said, I’ll choose to interpret these bonuses-in-a-time-of-lockout as evidence of how truly far we’ve come. After all, when the board was trying to solve the great Vanska/Henson showdown, the Strib reported that they voted “strongly in favor of Henson” on February 28. Now? The board, now abandoned by the folks who were so upset by Henson’s oh-so-voluntary resignation, voted unanimously to pass the reins over to a man who is very different to Michael Henson. That’s hard evidence of a major, major change.

And thank goodness for that.

Well. The SOTL Outrage Machine had a good run. I’ll haul the machine into the barn for now. It’ll be there if it’s needed.(The Woodruff Arts Center for one seems ripe to produce further outrage.) But for the first time…well, ever really, I feel like my Orchestra is in good hands. There isn’t a much better feeling in the world than that.



Filed under Labor Disputes, Minnesota Orchestra

18 responses to “Bad News, Good News

  1. Amy Adams

    I believe I now understand why Michael Henson has been in no apparent hurry to find a new job. He’s got a right nice little nest egg, ‘e ‘as.

  2. cindi bartels

    Emily (author) you might want to edit 3 paragraphs from the end. One passes the “reins” (as in the straps used to guide a horse) to another person, one does not pass the reigns (as in the rule of a monarch) to another person. Details, yes, but important ones.

  3. There is always the possibility that Henson’s “bonus” was actually some kind of severance payment that he negotiated in exchange for his resignation. If so, then that was money well spent.

  4. Richard Campbell

    If you are going to dig for bones, perhaps get at least some accounting training from the local community college so you don’t hold up an old piece of wood and proclaim, unicorn horn!

    This more then likely related to severance and in the last you and others made some classic accounting audit mistakes that make the musicians supporter look like the torch and pitchfork crowd.

    Remember the people that approved these contracts and leadership are still around and they also are the people that keep them afloat, so we need to be nice to them otherwise we end up with a small community band.

    • I’m assuming the pseudonym Jon Davis wasn’t available? :)

    • Amy Adams

      “Richard Campbell”….you kill me! Is your middle name Michael?
      More “then” likely, you adorable troll.
      Paragraph two could have used a few more spelling and grammar errors, dear. Thanks for the sinister warning at the end, though. #nicetouch

    • Sarah

      Here’s an accounting tip – make sure you are talking about the correct time period. The bonus mentioned above was given during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended 8/31/13. The lockout was still in place, and Henson was busy dissing George Mitchell so as to not lose any “leverage”. #nicetry

      • The bonuses were actually given in the calendar year 2012. I used a bit of exaggeration in the entry (discussing events that happened during the entire fiscal year) that might have clouded that point. That being said, the bonus was given either immediately before the lockout or in the first few months of it.

  5. Terry

    Did I miss the resignation of the MOA’s Vice President of Finance? He’s not listed as an Officer in the December “Showcase” magazine.

    • Yes, Bryan Ebensteiner left in early December. As my readers know, he was the one who verbalized the strategy to “reset the business model” by having big deficits late in the musicians’ 2007-12 contract.

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