Banks, power and the Minnesota Orchestra

Euan Kerr and Chris Roberts recently reported on the bleak outlook of Minnesota Orchestra negotiations with its locked out musicians.

In it, musician and blogger Emily Hogstad stated she believes progress will require the intervention of a third party.

"Whether that's a politician, a community leader, a mutually respected arts consultant, somebody like that -- if both sides are open to outside help, and I don't know that they are," Hogstad said.

That caught the attention of Robert Levine, Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony. On, Levine writes that the  real problem is there is no third party willing to intervene:

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And why is that? I would guess it’s because the Minnesota Orchestra board chair and the head of the board’s negotiating committee – in other words, the two people most in charge of calling the shots – run, or help run, the two biggest banks in town, Wells Fargo and US Bank (to be more precise, the board chair is “Executive Vice President and Director of Government and Community Relations” for Wells Fargo and the negotiating committee chair (and immediate past chair of the MO board) is Chairman, President and CEO of US Bancorp.) US Bank is the fifth largest US bank, while Wells Fargo is the fourth largest, or largest, depending on which measure of size is used. People this powerful in banks this large would be major players in world financial capitals, much less the 15th-largest metropolitan area in the US.

There are not many people who could actually make a difference to a bad orchestra negotiation who are willing to tangle with that kind of firepower. Normally, one would expect the mayor, or the state’s governor, or perhaps the state’s US senators, to get involved in a negotiation that’s garnering so much negative national publicity. But politicians need donations, and most certainly don‘t need the fourth or fifth largest bank in the country opposed to them. Other board members are not going to be willing to go up against heavy hitters like that either – not if they might ever need a working relationship with one of those banks in the future. So who’s left who can lean on board leadership to change course?

Every bad orchestra negotiation is a battle with the community’s power structure, as just about every orchestra board is tied into that power structure, almost by definition. But I can’t recall any negotiation where the key players on the board were quite so… powerful, relative to the rest of the board and the community, as these two men appear to be.

You can read Levine's complete piece here.