Friday, June 13, 2014

Money Talks, People Listen

For the last four or five months, I've been reading the biography of conductor and composer Stanislaw Skrowaczewski entitled Seeking the Infinite by Frederick Edward Harris, Jr.  It's a thick book, a big book, full of stories of a quite amazing and fascinating life.  What I have found especially interesting are the ways in which so much stays the same in this world, no matter how much time passes, or even if different people are involved.

Mr. Skrowaczewski served as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1960 to 1979, built the orchestra much as Osmo Vanska has, and fought for, and won, the building of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis so the orchestra would have an acoustically excellent home of its own.  His dealings with the MOA Board of Directors reminds me of the current MOA Board so much it feels like I enter a time warp when I'm reading.  Mr. Skrowaczewski is the Minnesota Orchestra's oldest living former Music Director, a staunch supporter of it and classical music in Minnesota.  He's been a continuing presence for years, and especially the last two years.

Maestro Skrowaczewski with MN Orchestra

I bring this up because of a meeting I attended this past Tuesday evening of Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN).  This organization formed almost a year ago as a community-based group supporting the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and artistic excellence.  Their meeting was open to the public for a review of accomplishments as well as what still needs to be done.  One of the hot topics was when the 2014-15 season would be announced.  It has now been announced, and anyone interested in checking it out can find it here.


SOSMN's focus for the immediate future is to help sell season tickets to the 2014-15 season and fundraising; in other words, money, not music or healing or governance reform or any of the other issues that really do need to be addressed, not at some point in the future, but concurrent to fundraising and selling tickets.  They have met with representatives of the MOA Board, administration and musicians -- indeed, there were musicians in attendance the other night, but no one from the Board or administration. 

Two points came up about in the middle of their presentation.  The first was the leadership vacuum.  I was not happy to learn that my fear was correct, i.e. Michael Henson has not been doing much of anything which leaves the organization in its time of most need without leadership.  The staff is working hard to get the work done, but it seems that at the management level, there's not a lot happening.  It was a mistake to keep Mr. Henson on staff. 

The second point was "money talks and people listen."  Sad but true, in our society, wealth is often mistaken for intelligence or creativity.  But we recognize that money is power.  The MOA Board is currently deeply divided and this is the reason it's been taking so long to get anything done.  One question that arose the other night: of the Board members who departed, how much money did they take with them?  Wow.  It wasn't about ideas, expertise, excellence in governance.  No, it was the loss of money.  This is also the way most of the MOA Board thinks, I believe.  They are obsessed with fundraising and selling tickets, when those two things would become much easier if the community saw the Board and organization making real strides toward healing, making much needed changes, and getting new staff hired.

To SOSMN's credit, they are not about to let anyone forget the things that really need to get done.  This is important.  They need to remain firm in representing the community's desire for change in governance at the MOA, staff changes, hiring new staff, insuring that all stakeholders are involved in helping the organization move forward.  My thing is governance reform, and I did have the opportunity to talk with the SOSMN person who is involved in future initiatives such as that kind of reform.  It also came up during the group discussion, raised by at least three people in the room, one with a great deal of passion. 

One barrier with the MOA Board is that often money only listens to other money.  We have a real need for them to stop watching the channel they've been on for the last 5 years, and switch to the SOSMN channel.  Money may have clout but not always the necessary knowledge.  We already know that this Board deeply lacks experience in nonprofit governance and are not that open to learning.  They really don't know what they don't know.

This is a time in my life when I wish I were wealthy, really wealthy, so my money could talk to theirs, and maybe, just maybe, much needed changes could be made sooner rather than later.....

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