Ever since the Minnesota Orchestra lockout began, I’ve read a lot of articles on arts administration. (And from a unique perspective, too: not as a board member or an employee or a union shill, but as a concerned audience member.) Once in a while I’ll disagree with a particular point, debate it with friends, and then tuck the insights away.
But. Last month I read an article that made me say “wait a minute…” so many times, I knew it could be used as bloggy fodder and discussion. It’s called Baumol’s Cost Disease Is Killing Me, and it was written by management consultant Duncan M. Webb. I feel very strongly that post-Minnesota, people who are still talking about Baumol’s Cost Disease in the way that Webb does are doing themselves and the institutions they advise a disservice. So I thought I’d take the chance to think out loud about some of the points he raises…from an audience member’s point of view.
Webb’s entry begins:
I first read Baumol and Bowen’s The Economic Dilemma of the Performing Arts some 20 years ago, almost 30 years after it was first published in 1965. The theory was fairly straightforward: the problem in our sector is that because there are no productivity gains associated with the creation of the work (it takes the same time and energy to rehearse and perform a Brahm’s Requiem today as it did when first performed in 1868), and because costs always increase over time and earned revenue growth is limited by a range of market forces, we are doomed to fall further and further behind, essentially forcing the more aggressive pursuit of contributed income just to balance the budget. And the problem is progressive, meaning that every year we fall a little bit further behind. This phenomenon has come to be known as Baumol’s Cost Disease.
Let’s start at sentence number two. It takes the same time and energy to rehearse “a Brahm’s Requiem” now as it did in 1868?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the power players in the Atlanta Symphony lockout are the members of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) board. This impression was solidified once former ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein resigned and it was revealed that the interim CEO would have no role in negotiations. Nowadays it’s all Woodruff, all the time.
During the upheaval of the past few weeks, I’ve been chatting online with disgruntled Atlanta patrons. Lately we’ve been wondering who the Richard Davis / Jon Campbell equivalent is over at the WAC.
Well, good news: We Found Him!
(Warning for language.)
I’m so excited about the new season and our bright future. And I seriously cannot wait to work with people at the MOA who I was unable to work with during the lockout.
But. Fault lines from a multi-year conflict remain. (No, duh.) And if anyone ever cites false or misleading claims about the negotiations, well, then I have no compunction about setting the record straight. And I’ll use a sharp tongue if necessary, kum-ba-yah-ing be damned.
Board member Doug Kelley came forward today in MinnPost to reminisce about the Petters case and…the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. (Because those two things go together…I guess…) Remember Doug Kelley? He originated the catchphrase “frolic and detour” (frolicking detour?) and was the management go-to spokesman when Michael Henson was so inexplicably unavailable. (Which was most of the time.) Kelley’s stances on the lockout have been viewed as problematic by many observers, as even MinnPost acknowledges. Scott Chamberlain has also had issues with Kelley’s claims in the past, so it’s not just me who finds Kelley so…problematic. So with that in mind…
Yesterday I read a slim but interesting book called Marketing for Millennials, by Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton. It verbalized a lot of my gut instincts, and especially the gut instinct that most orchestras suck at marketing to millennials.
Roughly speaking, millennials are carbon-based human life forms aged 18-35. (For a point of reference, I’m 24.) It’s tough to generalize about an entire generation, but I’m about to do so.
- use the Internet a lot
- tend to be more politically progressive
- are extremely well-educated
- value companies with consciences
- frequently live with our parents thanks to the recession
- possess larger social networks than any other generation
And here’s an interesting factoid: there are more of us than there are baby boomers. Yup, you read that right: we’re the largest generation in American history.
You would not know any of these things based on most orchestras’ marketing efforts.
So here, without further ado, are seventeen suggestions for orchestras to keep in mind as they think about how to attract young people.
Well, before the story moves on and my memories become completely irrelevant, here are my thoughts on the 2013 Symphony Ball – or, to be more precise, the rally that Save Our Symphony Minnesota planned and executed during the 2013 Symphony Ball.
To my intense irritation, the media played up our gathering like they were expecting a second Haymarket Riot. The New York Times sported the headline MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA PLANS GALA; DISSONANCE IS EXPECTED. One local television station warned of an upcoming “tense protest.” WCCO called it “a situation.” People on Facebook said that things could “get ugly.” A politician even Tweeted that he was excited to mock us. It was ridiculous, especially since I’d sat in on conference calls with my fellow SOSMN volunteers, and I’d heard firsthand how they’d spent untold hours planning the event and mapping out messaging. They could not have made it any clearer in their media advisories and press releases that this was meant to be a peaceful celebratory rally led by audience advocates. Of course, this angle was the focus of approximately none of the mainstream media’s coverage.
Jon Stewart once said in an interview:
The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.
There may be something to that.
I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies. A tented sidewalk extended out from the hall’s main entrance, made a sharp turn to the left, and drained down to the empty Peavey Plaza fountain, which now was the location of a Symphony Ball tent, in which exciting activities would no doubt take place (dinner? dancing? dozing?). The tents didn’t have any windows, but there was a plastic French door on the Twelfth Street side that bravely attempted to add elegance to the proceedings. Generators buzzed near the sidewalks with massive cords leading into the great white tent. What were they for? Lighting (a blue hue eventually began glowing from the ceiling)? Heaters? A DJ booth? Endless possibilities! Parked next to the generators were trucks full of wine bottles. Caterers were unloading them. They were dressed like stewards on the Titanic.
I was interviewed for the WQXR Conducting Business podcast yesterday! Take a listen here.
The incident is the latest example of political-style web advocacy that’s moved into the realm of classical music and the arts. In this podcast, we get three views on the trend, including that of Hogstad, who writes the blog Song of the Lark.
A Minnesota Orchestra spokesperson told NPR Music‘s Anastasia Tsioulcas that the organization reserved the URLs to protect the orchestra’s name, knowing well that the labor talks would be contentious. Such purchases are a standard business practice, although they’re usually masked by a third-party buyer so that it’s not quite so obvious what’s taking place. Even so, the revelation drew a wave of negative commentary and the orchestra had to acknowledge Hogstad’s blog, which she said it had previously ignored.
This is the start of a really important conversation that everyone in the arts world is going to need to have sooner or later (and preferably sooner). It was a fascinating discussion, and I was honored to be a part of it. I’m heartened and humbled by the immense power of blogs and social media.
My next entry was going to be about the extraordinary Tuesday night we had at Orchestrate Excellence’s forum with Dr. Alan Fletcher. And there’s still a part of me that wants to cover that.
But, um. Something happened on Wednesday. Namely, I posted an entry about the MOA cyber-squatting, and then went to a doctor appointment.
Here’s a reaction GIF of what it felt like to get back home:
WHAT – IS – HAPPENING? I JUST WENT OUT TO A DOCTOR APPOINTMENT AND GOT SOME PIZZA; THAT WAS IT!! AND THEN I GET BACK HOME! AND SUDDENLY EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!!! I CAN’T LEAVE YOU GUYS ALONE FOR A SINGLE AFTERNOON, CAN I??
Stats! Going through the roof!
Facebook likes – by the thousands!
Lame jokes about The Fifth Estate!
Coverage on NPR and MPR!
Plus: Alex Ross!
The failure to mark these purchases as private seems indicative of the general level of competence in the current management.
Yesterday was quite the day: the Young Musicians of Minnesota made metro-wide news.
Yeah, unbeknownst to the locked out Minnesota Orchestra musicians, the Young Musicians of Minnesota brought their instruments to Nicollet Mall to play a concert of Tchaikovsky 4 in front of US Bancorp. Their mission? To send a message to Richard Davis to end the lockout of their mentors and heroes. YMM members deliberately didn’t tell the musicians what they were up to. I’m sure there are rumors floating around the upper floors of US Bancorp and Wells Fargo that those damn musicians put ‘em up to it, but to believe that would be to succumb to the worst kind of cynicism. (Hear that, Minnesota Orchestral Association monitors? Good.) Sadly, Richard Davis didn’t acknowledge the crowd, nor did he send anyone down to say hello, but they did get an awful lot of attention on the Mall.
Some of YMM at the US Bancorp gig
I couldn’t be there, but I was tipped off about the show beforehand, and so I shooed some dedicated Twin Cities Larkers to downtown Minneapolis, and I heard a couple reports of how the afternoon went. Well it turns out there was press there, and US Bancorp couldn’t really do much about any of it except watch uneasily and talk to people on cell phones.
Consequently the following three videos aired last night on KSTP at 4:30, 6, and 10. Kudos to YMMer Emily Green, who has more composure in a major interview than any other teenager I’ve ever seen.
I did notice, though…. There’s something in the first video that got snipped out of the second two. See if you can spot it!
I hate to rain on your Fourth of July parade, but I was part of a rather gloomy MPR article yesterday, along with Bill Eddins, Drew McManus, John Budd, and Norman Lebrecht. (Pretty heady company there.) An excerpt…
No union musician will play at the Minnesota Orchestra as long as the lock out continues, Hogstad said, and one shouldn’t forget what she calls rage among some audience members who feel their concerns have been dismissed by management.
“I would like to send a very clear message to the MOA and anyone who is planning on renting out the hall, that as long as there is no resolution of this there will be picketing and leafleting by patrons,” Hogstad said.
So. The cat is out of the bag. If the dispute is unresolved within the next few weeks, there will be picketing. Period. Anyone that books that darn hall will have to answer to angry patrons. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what day and time various events are likely to be scheduled. You want to book the hall for a wedding? Know your guests will have to deal with picketing. You want to have a Christmas party? Know your guests will have to deal with picketing. You want to have a corporate dinner on stage in Hall? Know your guests will have to deal with picketing. Symphony Ball? Know the board will have to deal with picketing. Yes, come Symphony Ball time, the board will either have to engage in meaningful conversation with patrons, or ignore us and watch our waving signs and wonder what we’re up to. I imagine that more than one banker or lawyer will wish the old blue tubes were up blocking the view of the streets. (Is it too late in the renovation process to install curtains…?) Picketing picketing picketing. Picketing. Peaceful picketing, and respectful picketing, but picketing nonetheless. Firm picketing. Resolved picketing. Picketing.
I have a commentary in MinnPost today. Check it out. It raises questions we have about the Minnesota Orchestra’s past and future fiscal performance. Thanks to MinnPost for printing it.
The management and board of directors of the crippled Minnesota Orchestra have repeatedly stated that their financial plans are sound. Unfortunately, many outside observers are not so sure…
Edited: MinnPost has recently begun accepting “original letters from readers on current topics of general interest” that are 300 words or less. Would you like to submit one?