Monday, September 30, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the moment that we lose perspective of the future. It is entirely possible that in three or four years from now we will be reading about the sale of the Vikings football team for a profit of $100 or $200 million as a result of the new stadium financed virtually entirely by the taxpayer and the fans. And, yes, there will be stories of how Zygi Wilf outfoxed and outmaneuvered those representing the interests of the public.

However, on the other side of town in a newly refurbished Orchestra Hall there will be no sounds of Brahms, Copeland, or Sibelius but rather the stillness of silence.

We will publicly wonder how we could pass a Legacy Amendment (by way of disclosure, Governor Wendell Anderson and I served as co-chairs) designed to properly fund the outdoors and the arts, pour hundreds of millions into a facility that ultimately moved Wilf from millionaire into billionaire status, and then stand by while our own world class symphony orchestra disintegrated.

We will understandably ask - where were our priorities? How could we go so overboard for one and yet be so detached from the other? Since when do the arts not play a major role in defining our quality of life and is it not that some quality of life that attracts business job growth? And then, will we wonder about our leadership?

What is hard to comprehend is why the Legacy Amendment, the over generosity of the public in the stadium deal, and the lack of progress in the stalemate at Orchestra Hall do not pose an opportunity for the Governor, the Mayor, and legislative leaders to come together and figure out how some money can be moved in order to permit us to retain the Vikings (with an increased share of participation from Wilf) as well as a treasured world class symphony. We owe this to ourselves and to our future. Let’s get moving


  1. Do you really want an answer to that, Governor?

    When we defund arts in the schools and focus all our attention on steroid induced field rage and bad off field behavior, we can only expect our kids to get a skewed vision of the world.

    Arts have no value in America. Artists are expected to donate their work; no one remembers most of them have no insurance, or minimum wage, or sometimes even food on the table. Corporate entities trim and skim their support, expect musicians and actors and writers to "make do" while they host balls and galas that musicians can play at...but could never afford to attend.

    It's a writer...and the mother of a blues man (who's playing here in town at Harriet Brewery on October 12) to sit back and not be concerned that his day job doesn't provide insurance....but they tolerate his road gigs. Artists make do. They rarely thrive. And watching the Minnesota Orchestra management jerk them around just makes me sad.

    We had world class music here two years ago. Will we have it again? Not the same calibre. We'll become second rate....just like the Vikings and the Gophers.

  2. Here's another idea. Keep the government out of the entertainment business and let the people themselves have the freedom to pick and choose which kinds of entertainment they'll support. Use the money saved to do things like, say, fix roads and bridges, and let private entities like the Vikings and the various Orchestras and Theaters face the challenge of convincing the people themselves, and not some arts council or legislator, of their value.

  3. I absolutely cherish the arts and consider cultural identity and what it says about us important. Ideally, I prefer government stays out as much as possible to keep any conflicts of interest from creating controversies; but government has a role in providing at least modest support for some businesses that can benefit the public, even if it is for "entertainment."

    What is most striking about the current priorities is the totally disproportionate relationship between athletes and musicians which is being lost on our leaders both civic and governmental. The estimated Vikings player payroll for the current year is $136 million, ranging from $405,000-17,000,000. 90 musicians with benefits at current rates would result in a payroll of around $18.25 million, little more than the salary of a single top paid Viking. That does not count the cost for a stadium (which recurs in relatively short periods of time). Orchestra Hall opened in 1974, and aside from the lobby re-model continues to provide an outstanding facility.

    Additional economic benefits are getting inadequate consideration. Performance venues provide very real and more sustained support to bars and restaurants than athletic events. I don't have data to compare the impact on a per-event basis, but just take a look at how Washington Avenue changed after the Guthrie opened compared to how it looked with just the dome in the area.

  4. While I would much prefer public dollars fund arts rather than professional sports, the MN Orchestra, operating as a non-profit, paid their president $620K in the year before the lock out. Executive pay must be addressed in this organization, with the goal of having some returned, before any deal is made by the State. Asking musicians to take a significant pay cut while the president receives a sizable bonus was not a prudent move. The musicians and the public deserve better than that.


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