Phyllis Kahn wants the state to restructure the MN Orchestra, sell the people half [UPDATE]

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-- Updated with a statement from the Orchestra --

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn is drafting legislation that could establish community-ownership of the dysfunctional Minnesota Orchestra.

She's still working on the details. As it stands, the governor would oversee the creation of a new company, and that company would sell stock to raise the funds to buy the orchestra.

No individual or entity would be allowed to own more than five percent of common stock, and at least half the company would be reserved for community members, who'd be limited to owning one percent a piece.

SEE ALSO: Osmo Vanska resigns from Minnesota Orchestra

For more than a year now, the community has mostly sat silent while the musicians and the board carried on a labor dispute and public relations campaigns. Two weeks ago, the orchestra's celebrated music director, Osmo Vanska, resigned.

When asked how a potential restructuring of the orchestra would prevent a similar impasse in the future, Kahn responded, "I'm not a financial expert." But she added, "The major thing for this bill is to start a conversation."

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State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL)
Orchestra president and CEO Michael Henson issued this statement: "The Orchestra board continues to focus on seeking talks with musicians that will lead to a negotiated settlement that can restart the Minnesota Orchestra's season as soon as possible."

Blois Olson, a spokesman for the musicians, said Kahn's proposal speaks for itself, adding: "The Orchestra is a treasured community asset and the board should be stewards of it."

There's no mistaking where Kahn's own sympathies lie. In an op-ed for MinnPost, published during the early days of the lockout, she asserted that the labor dispute was really a clash of values -- the artistic versus the corporate.

True, the board's proposals represented a significant reduction in pay. But even the latest offer was enough to make a workhorse salivate: $104,500 salary on average, a $20,000 signing bonus, and 10-weeks paid vacation.

This month also saw the departure of Aaron Jay Kernis, a Pulitzer-prize winning composer who blamed the board as well as the musicians: "I have personally never seen two sides that show such unwillingness to sit down together and attempt to tackle the major challenges that confront the orchestra."

The problems go deeper than that. It may be hard for admirers to admit, but orchestral music simply isn't as popular as it used to be. The kids aren't clamoring for tickets. Of the hundreds of people who attended a public forum on the orchestra in August, maybe three dozen looked like they were below the age of 40.

Kahn disagreed with each of those points. The musicians' pay should be determined by the market, she said, and they don't deserve equal blame for the failed negotiations, because the board rejected the analysis of a mediator. What's more, she said, "plenty of younger generation people" have attended concerts at Orchestral Hall.

The state legislature resumes in February 2014 and Kahn intends to introduce the bill as soon as the pre-filling period begins. Scott Dibble, who also represents part of Minneapolis under the DFL banner, is expected to co-author the bill in the state senate.

In 2005, Kahn introduced legislation that would have allowed the public to purchase stock in the Twins for a new stadium. She proposed a similar plan for the Vikings in 2011.

-- Email Jesse Marx at jmarx@citypages.com or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse


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9 comments
Melissa Niederkorn
Melissa Niederkorn

Far from a waste. Want to look at a waste? One is a recently built stadium, another is a stadium that is going to be built. Those are waste. Kids should be in music classes, and they should be excited about it. There should be focus on that. Multiple studies have shown that kids in music are better learners and better in math. It's the ultimate team sport.

Selena Cripps
Selena Cripps

thats still not a reason to waste money . im all for music an the arts but there are many more things that need attention than this

James Cowart
James Cowart

not to mention our orchestra is actully good, unlike the sports teams..

James Cowart
James Cowart

because they are pretty much the best orchestra outside of boston...

Selena Cripps
Selena Cripps

of all the crap going on....why are we bothering with this

Melissa Niederkorn
Melissa Niederkorn

Disagree, Joe. I think if sports teams somehow demand millions of taxpayer dollars, teams that don't even perform well, mind you, that so should the Orchestra be deemed important to the culture of MN. I think a lot of folks would agree. We have a vibrant arts and theatre district.

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