Minnesota Orchestra and the Future

In Perceval’s Secret, the first novel in the Perceval series, American conductor Evan Quinn is the Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra whose name has been changed by the Arts Council to the Minneapolis State Symphony because they have the power to do so.  The name change also reflects another change: the orchestra is no longer an independent, non-profit organization, but now “owned” by the Arts Council (which claims it is only a “steward of the arts for the American people”) and run as a for-profit organization.

Writing a story in the near future, in this case 2048, requires extrapolation of current trends and then making stuff up.  I didn’t imagine the arts disappearing completely in favor of a country focused on money and profit and a dystopia; but I thought the ruling elite, i.e. the New Economic Party members, would want to use the arts just like every other endeavor and the people who work — to make a profit.  The New Economic Party controls federal, state and local governments in this near future, so the government controls the arts.  The Arts Council is the federal agency that determines what is acceptable or unacceptable art, so censorship is an everyday occurrence, even with classical music.  Evan Quinn makes money for the Arts Council at the Minneapolis State Symphony, with the Hartleben Quartet, and when he tours as a guest conductor.  He reward?  He continues to live and work as a conductor, but he lives on the upper edge of poverty.  Evan is not free to conduct whatever he chooses, nor to play on his violin whatever he chooses.  He must do as the Arts Council dictates.  They know best how to make a profit.

Bleak, huh?  I don’t spend a lot of time in this dystopian America in the first novel, only in glimpses from what people say about it and what Evan remembers.  My purpose in the novel is not to immerse readers in yet another dystopia, but to show how growing up and living in a dystopia affects someone, and how he then behaves once he’s free of the dystopia.  Do I believe America is headed toward becoming a dystopia?  We’re halfway there.  Whether we continue down that road will depend a lot on how Americans decide to live with Capitalism, money, greed, and the current growing income disparity.  And something is happening in Minneapolis at the Minnesota Orchestra that also causes me some concern about the future.

Courtesy the Minnesota Orchestra

We are witnessing a labor contract dispute between the Orchestra’s musicians and the Association’s management and Board of Directors.
Management has proposed over 200 changes to the union contract, taking away salary increases, benefits, etc. in order to help keep the organization financially viable.  The musicians do not agree and have asked for a joint independent audit of the Association’s finances.  Comments from Management make it sound like they see this non-profit arts organization as a profit-making entity.  Some members of Management and the Board come from the Corporate world and their experience is with selling products or services to make a profit.  There doesn’t seem to be any powerful voices with non-profit arts administration experience in Management and the Board to balance the Corporate voices.  Only the musicians seem truly focused on the purpose of the organization: to make music and serve the community with concerts, outreach, education, and as an ambassador nationally and internationally for the Twin Cities.

Does the Minnesota Orchestral Association have money problems?  Yes, due to a combination of bad investment advice, bad management decisions, and a bad economy.  But the impasse they are at right now sends a chill down my spine.  It is not such a huge leap from here to the Minneapolis State Symphony of the Perceval series’ future operating as a for-profit organization serving the Arts Council.  In this dystopian future, the Arts Council doesn’t care about artistic integrity or quality; it cares about ticket sales, CD sales, sales of broadcast rights, and the bottom line.  Evan must program concerts full of easy-listening classics such as Copland’s Appalachian Spring, or soundtracks from movies or video games, or pops music.  As in any dystopia, the bureaucrats at the Arts Council ban music based on their individual tastes and whims, so as long as one particular guy is the Chairman, no one can perform Brahms.

I fervently hope that Management and the Board at the Association agree to the independent audit.  It is a major obstacle in moving forward with the talks, I think.  Both sides would benefit from getting a disinterested financial perspective and knowing what the financial picture is.  I also fervently hope that non-profit minds step up and counter the for-profit thinking.  I personally believe that the Association could benefit greatly from new managers and Board members with more non-profit experience.

Courtesy nytimes.com

We need to keep the current group of musicians that make up the Minnesota Orchestra together in order to maintain the cohesive and disciplined ensemble playing that Osmo Vanska now gets from them, and what has made them one of the top ten best orchestras in America and a world class orchestra.  That is the way to maintain the standard of artistic excellence that Osmo Vanska has set and sustains.  It may be the way to keep Osmo Vanksa here also…..

To read more about the contract negotiations and the Minnesota Orchestra, check out the following links: Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra website/Contract talks, and Song of the Lark.



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