Monday, May 26, 2014

"Diminuendo"? Bullsh*t!

Yesterday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune did it to me again. It just amazes me how this newspaper, the state's largest, covered and continues to cover, the Minnesota Orchestra. Supportive?  Hardly.  Positive.  Not a chance.  Creative?  Far from it, unless you count the number of ways they have found to send the same message, i.e. the one the MOA Board of Directors wants the public to have about how right they were regarding the organization's financial position.  Oh, yeah, the newspaper's publisher and CEO, Michael Klingensmith, is on the MOA Board.  I wonder if they'd welcome a very different point of view from the one they've been espousing for the last nearly two years.  In my opinion, the newspaper and the MOA Board are stuck in an unproductive loop of thinking.  They're still fighting the contract dispute but no one else is.  It's like they cannot stand not being right.  OK, what started all this?

Richard Davis (Photo: businessinsider.com)

Sunday, May 25, 2014: Front page center, right below the Minneapolis Star Tribune's name: an extremely positive article about Richard Davis, former Chairman of the MOA Board and one of the architects of the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians.  This article did address the lockout by diminishing it and the effect it had on the musicians, the organization, downtown businesses, and the community.  This article condenses months into one paragraph:
When the board's negotiating team proposed an average musician pay cut of 30 percent to balance the orchestra's budget, talks imploded.
This was not the single reason that the talks stopped.  In fact, the MOA Board's "final" offer was a gutted master agreement that included over 200 deletions of work rules, changes to take artistic decision-making away from the Music Director and give it to the President, no more pay for school outreach concerts, no more pay for chamber concerts, changes in vacation time, in healthcare costs, and the 30 percent pay cut.  When the musicians rejected this "final" offer, the MOA Board locked them out.  Then the board's negotiating team insisted that talks could not resume unless the musicians made a counter-proposal -- "that's just the way contract negotiations work."
Conductor Osmo Vanska had threatened to resign in the fall of 2013, and Gov. Mark Dayton called board members to the governor's mansion.
How dramatic!  Mr. Vanska, in fact, had repeatedly asked both sides for months to stop treating each other so disrespectfully and find some way to sit down and talk.  In addition, he'd written letters to the MOA Board informing them of looming obligations that must be prepared for.  It was the Board's intransigence that caused Mr. Vanska to resign.

The meeting with Governor Dayton is covered in more detail in the article, describing Governor Dayton as he "laid into Richard (Davis)," according to Doug Kelley, an MOA Board member.  Governor Dayton was angry about the inflammatory ads that had been running in the Star Tribune. (A lot of people were.)  Supposedly, Governor Dayton  "pointed his finger at Davis."  Davis' response was to get right into Governor Dayton's face and asking him if he believed everything he read and scolding him for not knowing better.  Really?  Davis did that?  How arrogant.  The kicker is in the next paragraph, after noting that Davis and the Governor parted on good terms, Doug Kelley "remembers it" as a startling moment, that the usually "relentlessly gracious" Davis had held firm.  Well, there are ways of holding firm without getting all alpha male with the Governor.  This article, though, wants us to believe this was a good thing, and a great way to respond to a state leader. 

The article's section about the lockout ends with the Young Musicians of Minnesota's protest concert outside U.S. Bancorp headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, and how Davis went outside to listen to them.  Then there's this:
The students did not clearly advertise the reason for the concert, and U.S. Bank employees passing on the sidewalk mistakenly assumed that Davis had arranged for the performance.  They thanked him.  Always one to make lemonade from lemons, he said, he did not correct them. (emphasis is mine)
"I didn't mind turning it into a positive," he said with a laugh."
It was a positive for him, not anyone else.  He took the credit.  If he'd been honest, he would have explained why the kids were there performing in front of his offices, and show them the respect that they deserved.  This is how Richard Davis thinks.  Deflect the attention to himself.

That's not the end of it, however, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  In the Opinions Section the same day, Bonnie Blodgett, a writer in St. Paul, wrote a piece that got a great position on the front page of the section, and with a color photo to boot.  I knew I was going to be unhappy with her from the subhead: The Minnesota Orchestra dispute was a symptom of a larger transition in our culture.  Not really.  The dispute was about a board that got too involved with managing the organization instead of governing it, about a weak President/CEO more interested in building a new corporate lobby than leading and inspiring the administrative staff, and two bankers on the board who seemed to think it was time to bust the musicians' union so they could control the musicians.  It was also about a cover-up of financial games played in order to secure a bond issue from the state and make it look like first, the organization was in robust fiscal health, and then when the musicians' contract was up, that the organization was in the direst of financial straits. 

What Blodgett's article does confirm is that there are two economic classes in the U.S.  We can stop deluding ourselves that there is a large middle class.  No, the two classes are the "ruling class" who have all the money, and everyone else.  Blodgett paints a picture of the world today that plays right into the corporate mindset: "Hard work is the new opiate of the people -- all the people. Gone are the eight-hour workday, equitable income distribution, reasonable executive compensation, equal access to investment opportunities and stewardship of the environment as well as the arts."  I would add, caring about people.  The final paragraphs support the MOA Board's ideology that the musicians are slackers, there are lots of talented young musicians out there who'd love to play in this orchestra for far, far less money. Yes, this is the reason the Board locked out the musicians. 

What has made me hot under the collar is that there's nothing new or productive in Blodgett's article.  She's simply reiterating what's already been said before many times, in my opinion.  Instead of this stale thinking, what would have been different and important would have been an article about creative ways to pull the so-called ruling class back into arts philanthropy, how to involve the younger generations in fundraising as well as attending concerts, and helping, rather than hindering, the arts, not only classical music.  It used to be that the wealthy knew about the arts, they had learned about them in school -- not college or graduate school but elementary school.  They loved the arts.  Is it really true that the wealthy today only love their businesses and their money?

I reject Blodgett's conclusions.  Her article is entitled "Diminuendo."  I find it interesting that she, or the editor, would use a musical term if no one understands what it means.  Music is everywhere in our lives -- TV, movies, radio, everywhere.  Classical music isn't going away any time soon.  I would like to invite those in the top 1% in the Twin Cities to think about what the founders of the Minneapolis Symphony (now Minnesota Orchestra) wrote as the organization's purpose in Article I of the original Articles of Incorporation (and something that Richard Davis really needs to think about):
The general purpose of this corporation is the advancement of the knowledge and love of music, the education of musical taste, and the providing through concerts, lectures and other means, the opportunities to hear, enjoy and understand the best music.

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