Effects of Minnesota Orchestra lockout ripple through the community

Laurie Greeno, Paula DeCosse
Laurie Greeno, left, has a background in strategic and general management, having just just concluded 20 years as an officer at General Mills. Paula DeCosse, right, has a background in writing and teaching and is a 40-year season subscriber and donor to the Minnesota Orchestra.
Submitted photo

By Laurie Greeno and Paula DeCosse

Laurie Greeno has a background in strategic and general management, having just just concluded 20 years as an officer at General Mills. Paula DeCosse has a background in writing and teaching and is a 40-year season subscriber and donor to the Minnesota Orchestra. Greeno and DeCosse are cochairs of Orchestrate Excellence: A Coalition to Support Our Minnesota Orchestra, which describes itself as "concerned citizens who have come together to find ways to assure the high quality of the music that we love."

As the orchestra lockout drags on into its fifth month, the musicians aren't the only ones who are suffering. Junior and senior high school musicians who have been preparing for this year's Young People's competition have lost a chance to earn a scholarship; the competition has been canceled. Some of the schoolchildren looking forward to a concert may miss the only opportunity they will ever have to hear what critics have called "the greatest orchestra in the world."

The ripple effects of the lockout extend beyond schools and beyond the Twin Cities. Of the 350,000 audience members who attend Minnesota Orchestra concerts annually, many had already bought tickets to concerts that have been canceled. Some of these music lovers have held season tickets for more than 50 years. Letters to the editor decrying the lockout come from the four corners of the state — including Bemidji, host city for a scheduled Minnesota Orchestra residency in April, now threatened.

The lockout has been difficult for downtown Minneapolis. The Convention Center was supposed to be the orchestra's performance venue during the renovation of Orchestra Hall. It lost out on $274,000 in revenue last year. If the lockout extends until summer, the city will lose more than $500,000. But the total bill for downtown will be higher. It's estimated that a total of almost $1.25 million for meals and parking has been lost to downtown merchants since the lockout began. According to Meet Minneapolis estimates, visitors who attend classical music concerts spend almost $30 million annually; because of the lockout, this year's revenue will be much less.

The orchestra crisis points to a possible erosion in our state's famed quality of life. Minnesota is regularly named "Most Livable State in the Nation," due in no small part to its strong support for the arts. An excellent orchestra is a key part of making this a livable city, and diminishing it will also make it more difficult for companies to attract top talent. Research has found that for tech workers, after salary, "community quality of life" was the most important factor associated with taking a new job. Without the orchestra, more people may choose to move elsewhere.

In response to the crisis, concerned citizens have come together to form Orchestrate Excellence. More than 1,000 of us now stand together as "a coalition to support our Minnesota Orchestra." We are donors, season subscribers and occasional concertgoers. We are from the Twin Cities and from greater Minnesota. We are members of community orchestras, radio listeners and citizens who understand the importance of the state's largest arts institution. We are 80-year-olds who have lived in Minnesota all our lives, and we are young professionals who could have lived anywhere but have come to the Twin Cities because of its thriving arts community.

All these people are worried about losing a priceless treasure: an orchestra that was founded 110 years ago and has represented the highest artistic standards of our community and our state ever since. We believe that the Minnesota Orchestra is an essential community resource that educates and inspires us by its brilliant performances of great music. We believe that the citizens of our state can and will sustain an artistically excellent orchestra.

Orchestrate Excellence respects the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, who bring their deep experience and selfless quest for perfection to every performance. We respect the Minnesota Orchestra's Board, whose members are all volunteers and give generously of their time and personal resources. However, we are independent of both the musicians and the board. We represent the community. We want to provide a positive voice that encourages both the musicians and the board to find a solution to the current impasse — one that assures the future of the world-renowned orchestra Osmo Vanska and the musicians have built.

Working together, we hope to forge a new path forward. All of us, through our taxes, our ticket purchases and our personal gifts, have contributed to the Minnesota Orchestra. This crisis presents a unique opportunity to build a new collaborative model for the way the orchestra operates and the way it engages the community.

We want this orchestra — our artistically excellent orchestra — to continue to represent Minnesota to the nation and to the world, now and for another hundred years.