Laurie Greeno testifies before the House Commerce Committee

Testimony on the effects of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, given by Laurie Greeno, Co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence to the MN House of Representatives Commerce Committee, January 23rd 2013

Chair Atkins, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee, thank you for considering the impact of lockouts on our communities and the state of Minnesota.

I am Laurie Greeno, co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence, an independent coalition of over 1000 community members, donors and concertgoers. In the last few weeks, this group of concerned citizens has formed to give voice to the tremendous economic, educational and artistic repercussions of the MN Orchestra lockout.

On the economic front, the impact of the lockout is significant and far-reaching. According to estimates by Meet MPLS, the convention and visitors bureau, visitors who attend classical music concerts spend almost $30 million dollars annually — and much, if not all, of this revenue will be lost as a result of the Mn Orchestra and SPCO lockouts.

Already, a single parking facility is reporting a $70,000 shortfall due to concerts cancelled to date.

The Convention Center, the orchestra’s home for this season, has lost over a quarter million in revenue, with a potential of $600,000 lost for the year.

One Minneapolis restaurant manager is reporting revenue shortfalls of $3,000 to $10,000 per concert evening, with revenue reductions expected to exceed $100,000 for the 54 concerts cancelled so far. Multiply that times the number of restaurants on south Nicollet Mall, and the shortfall exceeds a million dollars for this sector alone.

The economic ripple effects of the lockout are perhaps most significant for the countless individuals affected. Musicians, stage hands, ushers and others are out of work. Servers are seeing their hours cut. Luthiers – small businesses that maintain string instruments – report significant revenue shortfalls. The Minnesota Chorale has lost 20% of this year’s revenue. Bemidji’s community-wide Orchestra project for this spring is at risk.

And, then, there is the “double whammy” effect the lockout has on public funds. Not only are City, county, and state tax revenues down as a direct result of the lockout, but, at the same time, the government is paying out tens of thousands in unemployment every week that the lockout persists.

Clearly the economic impact of this lockout is significant; a thorough analysis by the State Auditor would be revealing.

The lockout is having a negative impact on the education of MN students as well. In a typical year, the MN Orchestra reaches over 50,000 students. Many of these events have already been cancelled, and the public funding spent planning them wasted. For example, the Orchestra was not able to spend two days with Osseo Public Schools children last week. The Forest Lake schools’ orchestra residency has been cancelled. Students in districts throughout the metro area are waiting to learn whether their MN Orchestra events will be cancelled as well.

Lastly, the artistic impact of the MN Orchestra lockout is impossible to quantify, but is potentially the most significant long term repercussion. What we do know is that we have a world-renowned, world class orchestra that is sitting idle — whose musicians are having to leave Minnesota to earn money to support their families, some permanently — and a tremendous state asset, built over generations by dedicated and far-sighted donors, orchestra board members, corporations and state officials, that is in danger of withering away.

We of Orchestrate Excellence, this nascent group of concerned citizens, recognize the significant financial challenges facing the Minnesota Orchestra, and understand that a new path must be forged. We believe that it is possible to identify solutions to the current impasse that preserve our world-class orchestra while creating a path to a secure financial future. We encourage management, the musicians, and the entire community to end the lockout, to engage in productive dialog, and to begin to work together to build for the future.

Thank you.

Testimony given by Paula DeCosse, Co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence to the MN House of Representatives Legacy Committee, February 12th, 2013

Chair Kahn, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee, thank you for considering the Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO lockouts in light of the taxpayer funds those organizations receive, including grants from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Legacy Amendment.

I am Paula DeCosse, Co-chair of Orchestrate Excellence. We are an independent coalition of over 1,000 community members, donors, concertgoers and organizations giving voice to the economic, educational and artistic repercussions of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. New groups are joining each week, evidence of the deep impact the Minnesota Orchestra has had on the community and what we are missing this year.

Although economic activity may not be the direct purview of this committee, it’s important to understand that aspect of the lockouts. Millions of dollars in revenue have been lost, wages cut or jobs lost in restaurants, parking ramps, and the Minneapolis Convention Center, and school programs impacted. Our testimony before the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee outlined these impacts in detail. Copies have been provided to each of you.

The Minnesota Orchestra is exactly the kind of institution the Legacy Amendment was intended to support, helping to attract people to our state to live and learn, run businesses and raise families.

The Orchestra has been built over decades – through tickets purchased by hundreds of thousands, taxpayers’ dollars, individual gifts large and small, and the hard work of Minnesota Orchestra musicians, artistic directors, and staff. We can be justifiably proud of what we have created together. The Minnesota Orchestra is not only an artistic jewel but also an important asset and economic driver for our state.

At least $2.6 million in taxpayer funds were granted to the Minnesota Orchestra via the State Arts Board to be used during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. The Orchestra described specific goals and outcomes for those grants, including:

1. To provide audiences with the highest possible level of musical performances
2. To design programs to reach our community through performances outside of Orchestra Hall.

We absolutely agree that the Orchestra has done a superb job of reaching those goals in prior years – in concert with what the Legacy amendment envisioned. In the 2011-2012 season,
education programs reached 50,000 students, the Orchestra spent a week in Willmar as part of their Common Chords initiative, and tens of thousands thrilled to performances in person.

But the 2012-2013 season has brought silence.

We must work towards resolution. The Arts & Cultural Heritage 25 year framework called us not merely to sustain, but to bolster Minnesota’s reputation as a center for creativity, innovation and imagination. The Minnesota Orchestra is perhaps a leading example of what the amendment was meant to foster across the arts and cultural scene – an orchestra that has gained national and international renown from its tours, recordings and broadcasts, repeatedly lauded by critics as “the greatest in the world.” Let’s not let it implode. All constituencies – Board and management, musicians and the community — need to work together to find a way to continue to build this tremendous asset, not dilute it to mediocrity.

We must look to the future. The Minnesota Orchestra has been a core component of our rich artistic culture for 110 years, and we are convinced that it can be and will be again.

Our first priority should be to get the Orchestra playing again. We ask both sides to re-dedicate themselves to finding a mutually satisfactory resolution – if only an interim solution, such as “play and talk” while productive negotiations continue. Productive dialogue must begin now!

When people from other states find out what is happening to our orchestra, they are incredulous! “That can’t happen in Minnesota,” they say. “Minnesota is better than this.”

We believe that is true — and that, working together, we Minnesotans can find a way out of the current impasse.

Let us gather the best creative minds from all the Orchestra stakeholders – Board, musicians and community — to chart a new path forward. We need to take into account the financial challenges facing the Orchestra and the social, demographic and technological changes that are transforming our world. But we need to use all the imagination and creativity at our disposal to craft a new vision for our state’s largest arts institution, a future that preserves its artistic brilliance. If there is any community and state that can do this, we believe the Twin Cities and Minnesota can.

We know orchestras in similar metropolitan areas are finding new paths to success — creating innovative programming, raising new donations, and providing salary agreements that ensure their musicians stay. We – the community members, music lovers, attendees and donors — want to be involved in finding a solution that works in Minnesota. We want to find a solution that preserves our artistically excellent Orchestra.

We’ve worked together to create the Minnesota Orchestra we have today. Let’s work together to create the Minnesota Orchestra that continues through the 25 years of the Legacy Amendment and beyond.

Thank you.