If you care about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, you should probably be reading Emily anyway, but here’s a really good one. Her incredulous rage is my incredulous rage. Other letters are worthwhile, too.
In the last week, the Orchestra Board has openly declared their willingness to treat us as commodities. I don’t mean “us,” the orchestra patrons, although honestly I don’t doubt that we’re pretty fungible in their minds too. I mean us, people who work in the arts. Artists. (I get a little squirmy about declaring myself an artist. But muttering things like “I tell lies to strangers for money” only gets you so far.) Anyone who’s an avid reader or a fan of music or the visual arts or dance or–hell, anyone who watches television–we all know that these things are not like cans of Campbell’s soup. Not even the extra-fancy super-chunky cans. You may like my short stories and Alec’s short stories, or mine and Bear’s, or any of a number of other combinations, but everybody knows that liking both does not mean that they’re interchangeable.
I’m sure the Minnesota Orchestra could get some young, desperate musicians. It could even get immaculately trained young, desperate musicians. And the thing is, sometimes young musicians are the right answer–the Orchestra needs a range of ages not to fall into a variety of problems. But leaning heavily on the young and desperate–the people who need some orchestra job to pay off their conservatory loans–is not going to get you the same quality as focusing on the best. It’s not going to get you Burt Hara. It’s not going to get you Douglas Wright. It’s not going to get you Wendy Williams. I play the flute. If you want to hear a demonstration of what you’re paying Wendy Williams for, you can have me as a flutist for the Orchestra for a weekend. I promise, nobody will ask for me back.
I’m really afraid at this point that even if some kind of official settlement is reached, the musicians are going to have to look for better options as soon as they can find them. And I mean that: have to. I would. I would advise them to, unless we can get this Orchestra Board changed. I will be sad and in some cases devastated to see them go, but I work in the arts, too, and I have seen what happens to people whose publishers do not value them. It’s not pretty. I cannot recommend it. If we do get a settlement–which became even less likely the minute they started treating Osmo like he was a can of tunafish or a pair of sneakers–the first priority has to be ousting this board. Because they don’t have a plan, they don’t have a clue, and their attitude towards the musicians is scary and toxic.
This is not a difference of attitudes on one contract. This is a difference of attitudes on the value of art and artists.