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.