|Minnesota Homecoming Concert Feb. 7 (Thanks to MOMO for photo!)|
A month into the new world at the Minnesota Orchestral Association, I attended the February 15 Homecoming Concert and saw Board Member and Life Director Luella Goldberg in the restroom. My mind flooded with everything that I wanted to say to a Board Member. Luella and I had met once years ago, but I doubted that she’d remember me. What to say to her – in a restroom?
I ended up not saying a word to her. I realized later that what had been in my heart to say was “thank you,” and I hope I’ll see her again so I can say it. But seeing her got me thinking about what it must be like to be serving on the MOA Board of Directors right now. Former Chairman Jon Campbell has left. Richard Davis has left. There’s a new leadership structure with a Chairman and three Vice Chairmen. Life Director Dale Olseth passed away recently. The leadership has formed a committee “to look into the artistic leadership” question, i.e the open Music Director position. Board members have attended the Homecoming Concerts as well as Michael Henson. And Mr. Henson has proceeded with his re-branding of the Minnesota Orchestra and Orchestra Hall most evident in the website re-design and the concert season brochure (although I’m still not at all certain what the new brand is – it’s not clear at all).
If I were a Board member, what would I be facing as far as “things to do”? The Board does not manage the day-to-day operation of the organization, but is supposed to observe and guide the President and CEO in his management of the organization. I would hope that Mr. Henson would have given the Board a report by now on the following:
· The status of completing the paperwork for the contract settlement
· Ticket sales for the Homecoming concerts
· Subscription sales
· The status of the administrative staff and filling the gaping holes, especially in the Artistic Department (the Personnel Manager position has been filled, but she needs help; there’s also Pops and Special Presentations and Director of Education, among others)
· The status of marketing efforts
· The status of planning the 2014-15 season (orchestra seasons are typically planned or sketched out several years in advance, and it’s possible that Mr. Vänskä, working with the Artistic Department, Andrew Litton and others would have sketched out the season ages ago). Plus, the status of planning for the 2015-16 season (possibly with Robert Neu). The truncated 2013-14 season that is in process now may also have been sketched out earlier, so that the Artistic Department would have had some of the work done even before the settlement.
· The status of hiring guest artists as needed for concerts
· An update of fundraising and other financial reports (with Bryan Ebensteiner)
These things (and others) all fall under the responsibility of the President and CEO, i.e. his job as the manager of daily operations. There is a ton of work that has to be done after the 16-month lockout to get the organization up and running smoothly again. I would guess that one of his first priorities needs to be hiring staff. The Board may ask Mr. Henson questions about specific issues to assess his thinking or to check that he’s staying on top of something. Needless to say, Mr. Henson has his hands full for the foreseeable future.
What’s left for the Board to do? Besides their fiscal responsibility to the organization and overseeing the President, the Board needs to assess the situation regarding the open Music Director position. They have now a committee that’s spearheading that effort. Why isn’t it automatic to re-hire Osmo Vänskä? Yeah, you’d think it would be a no-brainer. But as a Board member, I could see his resignation as abandonment. Or as a statement against the Board as a whole, and certain members specifically. Or I could accept Mr. Vänskä’s resignation letter as is without suspicion of ulterior motives. I don’t know what each member of the Board thinks or feels about Mr. Vänskä at this point. They could also be very, very reluctant to pay him his former $1+ million salary again. And he could have alienated Board members by speaking out about Michael Henson, although Mr. Vänskä himself has not explicitly tied his willingness to return to Mr. Henson’s departure. He said that for the healing to begin, Mr. Henson would need to leave. The musicians continue stand by their November 2012 no confidence vote regarding Mr. Henson. The musicians want Mr. Vänskä to return (among many others in the classical music world nationally and internationally) and the Board does need to consider his stature in the classical music world, and his expertise, especially with the Minnesota Orchestra.
When pushed too hard, a bureaucracy tends to dig in, slow down, and revert to bureaucratic processes such as task a committee with “looking into the artistic leadership” issue. Take a moment to consider this: you sit on a Board that has just failed in a contentious and historical labor dispute to achieve your goals. There’s no time to lick your wounds, and you are now expected to make everything “right” again according to a large, vocal community who doesn’t walk in your shoes. I think it would be quite reasonable for this Board to ask for help from Board members at other American orchestras, from artistic administrators, from experts in non-profit governance. The Minnesota State Arts Board runs the Nonprofits Assistance Fund with educational programs available for new and experienced managers that could be a valuable resource to Board members. I doubt they will want to rush into anything. They will want to proceed carefully to insure they act in the best interests of the organization. The first thing this Board has done (correctly) is to get the musicians back to work performing concerts to which tickets can be sold to the concert-goers who are clamoring for the classical music.
The second hire the Board has responsibility for is to hire the President and CEO, so they will most likely be scrutinizing everything Michael Henson does for the next six months now that his bosses Jon Campbell and Richard Davis are gone. For the same reason they won’t be moving fast filling the Music Director position, I doubt they will make a decision about the President and CEO position anytime soon. Yes, I believe a case could be made that by keeping Mr. Henson, the Board could be continuing to damage the organization. But the alternative would be to lay off Henson and have an open President/CEO position and no leadership until the Board completes an executive search for a new President/CEO. You need to think, as a Board member, about the health of the entire organization, including the financial health. If Mr. Henson can keep the organization on track financially while the Board deals with the artistic leadership issue, then I can understand them not wanting to move on both positions at the same time. (I also would favor letting Bryan Ebensteiner go because of his role since 2009 in controlling the financial information of the MOA. I would not trust him.) Mr. Vänskä may need to work with Mr. Henson for a while if he is chosen again to fill the Music Directorship.
Then there is the governance structure issue, as some in the community have pointed out certain issues in the current structure at the MOA, including me, ScottChamberlain, MN State Rep. Phyllis Kahn who has coauthored a bill (H. R. 1930) for the State Legislature calling for community ownership of the MOA, and others. If I were an MOA Board member, I’d be concerned about priorities and insuring that the organization’s priorities were addressed first, governance second. But the thing is, governance is also an organization priority. While I understand, as Robert Levine has pointed out at Polyphonic.org, that other orchestra boards are structured the way the MOA’s is and have not run into the same issues that seem to plague the MOA, I strongly believe that the MOA needs to reform its governance structure to a membership structure to put back into place the checks and balances that the Board removed in three separate steps ending in 1990 when they eliminated the membership altogether. The real question, though, is not if the MOA Board needs governance structure reform (it does), but if the current Board members have the courage to achieve it.
I believe Luella Goldberg has the courage. Who else? If I were a member of this Board, I would be working hard for governance reform. But I would also be mindful of what the President and CEO was doing, what he was telling us was happening with the organization, and have one ear stretching to eavesdrop on the artistic leadership committee’s meetings. This MOA Board will have to chew gum, sing, and skip rope all at the same time, and I think they can do it.
In conclusion, I haven’t a clue what the individual members of the MOA Board of Directors are thinking and feeling right now. This entire post is pure conjecture. If I am close, fine. If I’m way off base, I think it would be extremely helpful for the Board to release, perhaps through the PR Director, what their plan of action truly is. Gone now are the days that this Board will be able operate totally in isolation and secrecy without raising the ire of some extremely important stakeholders: the community of concert-goers, the business community, the city and the state, in addition to the musicians, donors and staff. If they try, they’ll be challenged on it, as they should be.
Finally, the members of the current MOA Board deserve our thanks. Thank you for ratifying the contract settlement and getting the musicians back to work. No one “won.” Both sides took hits. But I do believe that the audience and the community has finally won with the Minnesota Orchestra once again playing in Orchestra Hall and they need to understand that there’s much more to the issues now than simply demanding a change. Thank you MOA Board of Directors for your service to our state treasure. Thank you, Luella.