The orchestra lockout has now gone on for almost six months with concerts recently cancelled until April 27 and no signs of progress in negotiations. Meanwhile, losses for the community are mounting day by day. Lost income for the Convention Center, downtown restaurants, parking garages and music stores now totals millions of dollars.  School children are missing educational programs and ticket holders, almost a whole season of concerts. Talented musicians are leaving to take positions with other orchestras and donors are becoming disillusioned. Like most of us, you are probably upset about the situation — incredulous that this is happening here in Minnesota, a place where problems usually get solved and people find ways to work together.

What can be done?
Blame has been assigned and anger expressed in numerous blog posts and in commentaries and letters to the editor. Legislators have sent letters. And the situation hasn’t changed. The two sides — musicians and management — seem to have dug in even deeper, simply reiterating the positions they took in the first place.  The musicians, who had attained such a high level of artistic accomplishment, feel denigrated and disrespected by the salary proposals put forth by the Board. Meanwhile, Board members who have given generously of both time and money but think community support for the orchestra is declining, feel unappreciated and vilified.

Obviously what is happening now isn’t working. Both sides are feeling ever more pressure and distrust is increasing. A new approach is needed. There is a process that has proved successful in all kinds of negotiations from trade agreements to hostage crises; the underlying theory and methods are taught in the Harvard Negotiation Project and outlined in a book called Getting to Yes.

What Orchestrate Excellence is doing
In recent weeks, using this process, we have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and interests, perceptions and feelings underlying the public positions of both sides.

We have met with the members of the musicians’ negotiating team and have been carrying on conversations with them. At the same time, we have been talking with several Board members who have enabled us to better appreciate their fundraising challenges and correct some misperceptions on the hall reconstruction.  We do not intend to insert ourselves in the negotiation process, but are hoping simply to jump start the kind of dialogue that seems a necessary precondition for the win-win solution we are still hoping for.

Some may be tempted to dismiss this approach as naive or simplistic. What could be more important, however, than developing a deep and accurate understanding of the needs, interests, and intentions of the “other side?”  This mutual understanding is the foundation upon which trust (now sorely lacking) can begin to be cultivated — and trust is the crucial prerequisite to any productive negotiation.

How you can help
Write to the MOA and to the musicians.  Tell them how the lack of progress is damaging the community and ask them to listen to the other side with open minds.

Contact the MOA at or on Facebook.
Contact the musicians at or on Facebook.

Also, please comment on our Facebook page or write to us at

A hopeful note
With so much bad news at home and many orchestras around the country going through painful labor negotiations (the latest in San Francisco where musicians have recently gone on strike) our Best Practices committee has chosen to focus on one community, Cleveland, which is successfully supporting its orchestra and might furnish ideas for us going forward. Click here to read about what they are doing. It is helpful to remind ourselves that a positive outcome is possible if we can find a way for all of us — Board, musicians and community — to work together.

Lockout Update