Carlson says orchestra deserves help as much as Vikings

Arne Carlson
Arne Carlson's official portrait shows him posing in Gopher colors on the University of Minnesota campus.
State of Minnesota

Former Gov. Arne Carlson says the Minnesota Vikings should contribute money toward settling the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

"I can see the Vikings saying, 'We did get a very good deal from the state, so we'd like to be part of the solution'," Carlson said on The Daily Circuit. "I think we should certainly ask them if they would do it. ... Just as the public contributed to the Vikings, I think the Vikings can be part of this solution."

Carlson, who was governor of Minnesota in 1991-1999, faulted current civic leaders for failing to give the year-long lockout the attention it deserves. "The leadership has to wake up and realize that losing the orchestra is comparable to losing the Vikings," he said. "Let's act accordingly."

"We have to look at this as something more than a labor dispute. This represents a very serious threat to the quality of life in Minnesota," Carlson said. "We stand to lose one of the great treasures of Minnesota, the Minnesota Orchestra, and that's something we can ill afford.

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"When we had the discussion on the stadium for the Vikings and the stadium for the Twins, we always talked about the quality of life, the impact we'll have on job growth, being able to attract companies here and to grow companies here. Well, symphony orchestras play exactly the same role."

Carlson pointed out that the orchestra's financial problems could be solved for a fraction of the public money that has been committed to the new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

"What's interesting is our leadership responded very quickly to the stadium request and overall were willing to spend some $475 million to build a stadium. But now we have an impasse where the orchestra has a deficit projected to be approximately $6 million." Carlson said it was "hard to imagine that for $6 million we're going to run the risk of losing a world-class symphony. That would be foolish, and I think all of us can unanimously agree on that."

Potential sources of money, Carlson said, would include Minnesota's corporate community and the state's Legacy funds, which are generated by a sales tax devoted to natural resources and the arts. (Minnesota Public Radio is among the organizations that receive Legacy funds.)

"It's just hard to believe that, one, on a state level, we have a state budget of over $37 billion; we have the Legacy fund, which brings in some $54 million a year; and yet out of that we fund the orchestra slightly less than a million," Carlson said. "So I think there's a lot of room for us to financially negotiate bringing to the table more money for the orchestra and for others that fall into that category — the Guthrie, the St. Paul Chamber [Orchestra], etc."

Carlson said that one criterion for distribution of Legacy arts funding should be benefit to the state's overall economy. "I think we have to realize that there are those larger organizations that truly impact the ability of a state to retain and to grow jobs. And one of them is the symphony," he said.

The former governor suggested that current Gov. Mark Dayton should assemble a team of business leaders to try to solve the impasse. "I would suggest new negotiating teams," he said. "We've got some good business people in Minneapolis and St. Paul that have tremendous skills at negotiating. ... Bring them together, empower them and say, is there some way we can come up with a new approach, a new solution?"

Carlson wrote a recent blog post and op-ed for the Star Tribune that looked a few years into the future:

"We will wonder how we could pass a Legacy Amendment 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 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 same quality of life that attracts business job growth?"