Rice Park in St Paul doesn't scream out as a seat of revolution. Yet this was the site where today a small but serious group of orchestral fans launched what they say could result in a major change at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Audience members and other fans launched Save Our SPCO last year as an attempt to help resolve the labor dispute between management and players at the SPCO.
However after months of what organizers described as a no progress in negotiations the group today announced they have formed an exploratory committee to consider creating an alternative management organization to run a world class chamber orchestra in St Paul.
In other words, they are looking at taking over running the SPCO.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
The group's Mariellen Jacobson says they have been hearing from many people saying someone else should just take over, and while she doesn't think it would be easy, the group decided to at least consider it.
Part of it was spurred by frustration with dealings with SPCO management.
"Every overture we made to the SPCO board and management was just really not responded to at all, or was responded with just soundbite kinds of responses, and made us believe that just was not a productive avenue so we should just move ahead and make this announcement," Jacobson said.
Save our SPCO named five people to the exploratory committee: State Representatives Phyllis Kahn and Joe Atkins, former long-time SPCO harpsichordist Skip Layton James, former SPCO principal cello Peter Howard, and U of M School of Mathematics Professor Emiritus Donald Kahn, who in addition to being a keen amateur cellist is also married to Rep. Kahn.
At the Rice Park announcement Rep. Kahn suggested, as she has in the past, that as chair of the House Legacy Committee she is interested in finding ways of getting money from the state's legacy fund directly to musicians. She wants to both get back money unused by the SPCO for this year and any more funding awarded to the SPCO should the dispute continue.
"What we intend to do," she said, "is to set up something so that this funding would be available for any new group that would take over. What it would do would be it would go to musicians to play music," she continued to applause from the crowd. She said however if the dispute is settled the funding would go back to the SPCO.
Such are the complexities of its task, Save Our SPCO has not set a deadline for the committee.
Not surprisingly SPCO management didn't want to say much in response to the announcement.
"We are focusing on getting an agreement," said the SPCO Marketing Director Jessica Etten. "And we hope that agreement is coming."
Earlier in the day Interim SPCO President Dobson West sent out a statement that a clause about an integrated media agreement had been removed from management's latest proposal as requested by SPCO musicians. This agreement governs on-line use of SPCO material and the musicians say it should be negotiated by their national union the American Federation of Musicians.
West said in the statement he hoped the remaining proposal could be put to a musicians vote soon, and that negotiations with the AFM can wrap up quickly too as both agreements have to be in place by April 8th if the SPCO is to avoid canceling the rest of the season.