Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Update on the MOA

Almost four months have passed since the Minnesota Orchestra musicians returned to Orchestra Hall.  Their progress musically can be heard and seen on stage at Orchestra Hall, as noted by Scott Chamberlain in his lovely review of last weekend's concert. The musicians have been working hard, boosted by the return of Osmo Vanska as Music Director. There's a sense of hope that yes, the damage done was great but not irreparable, and now we can move forward and regain what was lost. Their work, however, depends on the administrative support that the MOA provides them, and this support was, is, and should always be the primary mission of the administrative staff.

What I've observed:
Osmo Vanska

1.  The length of time the MOA Board took to rehire Osmo Vanska. I understand that perhaps some Board members were not happy about the way Mr. Vanska resigned.  Perhaps some Board members didn't think they could afford to pay him his former salary as Music Director. The Board has not shared their thinking about this with the general public.  I am glad that Mr. Vanska stood his ground so that he would return as Music Director and not principal guest or principal conductor.  Perhaps the negotiations took so long because of his standing his ground, I don't know.  But the intial approach to him by the Board should have occurred much, much earlier.  This Board has a disturbing habit of dithering, in my opinion.

Mr. Vanska, in many interviews, is clearly still angry about some things.  He's probably right that the organization needs a good housecleaning.  How can it move forward when the people responsible for the lockout and the policies and strategies leading to it are still in charge?  Having said that, however, I think Mr. Vanska, in addition to his vision, needs to also make peace with his anger and work with artistic staff to get the job done. He is the artistic leader of the organization.  He needs to set an example, especially for the musicians who are also still hurting, take advantage of the goodwill in the community to boost momentum, and get the work done that needs to be done.  It's not easy.  Nothing worth doing is.  If I'm completely wrong about this, I apologize.  But after doing years upon years of research about conductors, I do know that all of them share a powerful stubbornness that can derail even the best intentions.  

2.   Michael Henson is still President and CEO.  Yes, I know, he's resigned, effective August 31, 2014. Why keep him in the position?  Everyone knows he's halfway out the door so how effective a leader can he be?  How does that benefit the organization?  Of course, if Mr. Henson had decided to prove everyone wrong about his questionable leadership abilities and dug in to take advantage of the positive momentum after the contract settlement to get people moving and working at the MOA, that would have been a huge benefit to the organization.  But I have not seen that happen.  What I observe now is a leadership vacuum that affects the entire organization.

It's not too late to do something about it, however.  The Board could choose to pay Mr. Henson what he would earn from now until August 31, and then ask him leave.  The next step would be to hire an interim (and only an interim) President until the Board completes its executive search for a new President and CEO.  I've bandied names about with friends, and the two that keep floating to the top are: former Governor Arne Carlson, and Peter Hutchinson.

3.  What is the Development Department doing?  They've had a prime opportunity to build on first the contract settlement and then Mr. Vanska's return, and there's been an astonishing and ominous silence.  I've also wondered why Mr. Henson was so involved in fundraising -- perhaps his true calling is with a Development Department instead of executive leadership.  Anyway, my impression is that the Development Department has not been working at all in the last four months.  I had expected an avalanche of a fundraising campaign with Development partnering with SOSMN to increase its reach.  Where's the creative thinking in that area?  How could it be that the MOA could have 28,000 donors in the 1980's and only about 7,000 now?  The community wants to be involved, Development Department.  Give them an opportunity.

Another area for Development is to work with the corporations in the Twin Cities to re-affirm their support of the orchestra.  Two important corporations are Wells Fargo and US Bank.  I think these two corporations need to transcend their employees' (Jon Campbell, Richard Davis) involvement in the lockout and continue to sponsor concerts as well as donate to the MOA. Any other Board members who work for large corporations need to work for the good of the MOA and not be spiteful which could be a huge temptation.

4.  Well, Development needs support from Artistic and Marketing, you know, in order to do their work.  Artistic -- who is left in the Artistic Department that's involved with planning and executing the 2014-15 season?  What are they doing?  There's been not a word about the new season, not even rumors.  This is a terrible sign.  It's almost June.  For certain many, if not all, guest artists will have already booked their 2014-15 seasons, leaving slim pickings for the MOA.  This is where the leadership vacuum is really felt -- powerfully felt.  What's everyone doing in the office?  Hiding under their desks until Mr. Henson has left the building?  We're waiting, people.

The Marketing Department has not distinguished itself either.  I've not seen such BLAH ads for the Minnesota Orchestra.  The ad copy says nothing.  I know about writing ad copy for this orchestra because I've done it.  Specificity sells, not vague adjectives like "beloved" or "award-winning."  There's no energy in the advertising, no forward momentum.  It is a disturbing reflection of the organization as a whole.  I don't understand why there's not a drive to get things done and to take advantage of the community's interest and support.  Another sign of a leadership vacuum.

5.  I have been happy to hear that the MOA Board has been talking with SOSMN, however.  I think this is important.  I think all the community organizations need to be included in those talks -- SOSMN, Orchestrate Excellence, and the YMM.  I think Board members can learn a lot from these people as well as from Minnesota Orchestra musicians.

6.  I still have not seen any sign that MOA Board members are trying to learn about nonprofit governance, about arts organizations, about classical music.  The MOA needs administrative staff as well as Board members who love classical music, who are passionate about the art.  They don't have to be musicians themselves, either.  I'm thinking of everything I've heard in the last 2 years about staff members who have no interest in classical music.  These staff members need to find a new job in an area of business that truly interests them (Bryan Ebensteiner, for example).  There are already a lot of job openings at the MOA, and I'm concerned about how slow Human Resources has been in posting some of them, how the Director of Education is now the Manager of Education (with the accompanying pay cut, I'm sure).  This is another sign of a leadership vacuum.

7.   The Orchestra Hall lobby needs some spiffing up.  Surprised?  After all, it's brand new.  But they left out some things in the design that need to be returned, e.g. the big ottoman-like seats that dotted the old lobby for people to sit on.  It's astonishing to me that there's this huge lobby and no place to sit to wait for people you're meeting, you know?  Also, the main entrance is now the skyway entrance into the lobby.  There are only two doors at street level, and neither is very large.  I find this exceedingly strange.  You'd think they'd want people to enter the hall from the street, right?  And finally, they really need to install a permanent box office in the lobby, one that is open for business during the day and during concerts, not just for limited hours during concerts and for "to call" tickets only.  Whoever decided to move the box office out of Orchestra Hall was truly a complete idiot, in my opinion.

8.  State Rep. Phyllis Kahn's bill, HR 1930, regarding community ownership of the orchestra, has been sent to the Government Operations committee and will most likely NOT see any action this year.  While I don't agree with the bill, I thought it could be effective positive pressure on the MOA Board to do something about reforming the governance structure at the MOA.  I still support and promote a membership governance structure, and would love to do a presentation about it for the MOA Board.

Feb. 2014: Maestro Skrowaczewski and the MO
In conclusion, there's still a long way to go until we in the Twin Cities and Minnesota have a Minnesota Orchestral Association that is truly supporting and working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  Trust needs to be earned again, and the MOA Board has not been doing well in that area. By keeping Michael Henson rather than showing him the door at the time his resignation was announced has created a dangerous leadership vacuum in the administration and damaged trust.  From my perspective, work is not getting done, opportunities have not been taken advantage of, and the place seems to be in the grips of paralysis due to a leadership vacuum.  If I'm wrong, I want to hear about it with specifics, not some vague assertion that I'm wrong. The MOA Board has not demonstrated that it's open to learning from its mistakes, but rather, that it has chosen to cling to a win-or-lose mentality.

Let me be clear: no one won.  Everyone lost, none more than the Twin Cities, state, national and international community of classical music lovers.  It's time to let go of that and move forward.  To the MOA Board, I know that you are volunteering your time.  I know that you don't normally meet often.  But I believe that in order to get the organization up and truly running again by addressing the issues I've raised, you may need to spend more time on MOA governance than you normally would.

I dearly hope that I will see more forward movement soon....

May 23 Update: Late yesterday, May 22, the MOA announced that Kevin Smith, former president of the Minnesota Opera, will serve as interim president and CEO after Michael Henson leaves Aug. 31.  Mr. Smith will begin work in July.  Also announced was the appointment of Dianne Brennan as VP of advancement.  Is that the Development Department?  Ms. Brennan was Director of Development at the Guthrie Theater for 16 years. This is all good news and I'm happy to see this forward movement and fresh minds.  Both these people are dedicated to the arts and have track records of success.  I say "Bravo!" to the MOA Board on these announcements.        

1 comment:

George (Jake) Jaquith said...

Thanks Gina for making many strong points. This should be part of a mandatory focus group for all working with the MN Orchestra. One has to wonder why the next season has not been announced which would surely get us in a forward momentum. And how about fund raiser to replace the canceled Symphony Ball? We need somethng that would appeal to all ages and socio economic groups.