Just in: Minnesota Rep. calls for public ownership of orchestra

Just in: Minnesota Rep. calls for public ownership of orchestra


norman lebrecht

October 15, 2013

Agency report:

ST. PAUL, MN – Today, State Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL – Minneapolis) announced plans to introduce legislation designed to ensure the long-term viability of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Kahn, who chairs the House Legacy Committee responsible for appropriating state funds to support the arts, said her bill can help Minnesota retain its world-renowned orchestra and prevent the kind of uncertainty caused by the current lockout, which has now dragged on for over a year.

More quotes here.



  • Malcolm James says:

    A Republican suggesting public ownership? Do I read you correctly? Even though classical music shouldn’t be elitist, I’m sure a large number of the supporters of the orchestra are Republicans and this hypocrisy smacks of them looking after their own. That’s not to say that it isn’t welcome nonetheless.

    • Richard Wattenbarger says:

      No, Kahn is a Democrat–or, more precisely, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (which is what The rest of the country calls the Demoratic Party).

      • Mathieu says:

        I guess Malcolm was misled by the abbreviation “Rep.”, which means “Representative” (in the present case, a member of the House of Representatives of MN).

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    “Progressive” orchestra supporters: sophisticated and educated. Republican orchestra supporters: elitist. Got it.

  • robcat2075 says:

    I can’t imagine how the plan would work. Selling stock in a company that will never turn a profit? Who would buy such stock?

  • Michael WIlkerson says:

    Public ownership (e.g. Government) doesn’t require stock. In fact, it circumvents the whole idea of “business models” and fundraising (‘begging”) that dominates the life of an arts administrator (and increasingly an artist) these days.

    I love this idea primarily because the conversation that needs to occur is: to what extent are the arts a valued part of our social fabric? Are they community and state assets, or are they private organizations with defunct revenue models? So far we’ve been pretending it’s the latter, with some magic fairy dust yet to be found that will shore up the income side, but we need to be thinking about public ownership of cultural assets. It’s well beyond time. Yay Minnesota.

  • Steve Foster says:

    This would be interesting! Mainly because if funding for the musicians is cut in the future, the supporters of the musicians will have to wage war against the very politicians they voted in. I want to see that. I *really* do.

  • Having the government (that’s us) buy up old arts organizations that can’t keep themselves relevant or economically viable is a horrifying thought. If we the people are going to invest in the arts, the last place we should be looking for investment opportunities is crumbling institutions built around outdated European music traditions that appeal primarily to elite white people.

  • V. Lind says:

    This is an idea that has as much chance as flying in the US as, say, universal health care. At the best of times which, in part thanks to Republican attitudes to health care, this is not. It is courageous of this Representative to float it in what will inevitably be her last term in office. That’s “courageous” in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense of the word.

  • J. Carr says:

    Rep. Kahn is no fool (she has a PhD from Yale). But she is a long time political gadfly. Back in 1986 she proposed a bill dropping the voting age to 12 years; but on the other hand, in 1975 she authored a clean air bill that banned smoking in public places, legislation which ultimately became the template for similar measures around the country.

    I would say her proposal re: the MN Orchestra should be taken seriously. The “legacy” funding referred to in the news article comes from revenue provided by a small sales tax (approved by voters several years ago) that is specifically earmarked mainly for support of the arts in MN. It might fly if she can convince others on the committee (which she chairs) that the MnOrch is a “foundational” arts institution, important for other arts entities in the state.

  • Lawrence says:

    Not gonna happen, folks. A nice gesture, keeps the Minnesota Orchestra crisis in the news, may provoke more public discussion about the disgraceful conduct of the MOA board/mgmt, so it’s useful to that degree. But the MOA is a private corporation, and private corporations – even nonprofit ones – have the right to run themselves into the ground and out of business via bad management. IF the MOA provided some vital service that involved the life and safety of citizens – maybe if they were an electric utility – there would be some cause for a government take over of a private enterprise.

    But as vital as access to a world-class professional symphony orchestra may be to SOME of us, it’s not something a state legislature is going to get involved in. There just isn’t a mechanism in state government for doing this, unless the MOA petitioned the Minnesota legislature to take them over. A sympathetic member of the legislature could agree to introduce a bill for that purpose, but it still won’t happen because governmental bodies in the U.S., for the most part, don’t run professional symphony orchestras.

    The downside of a multi-cultural society is that for any particular artistic endeavor, there’s a whole lot of people who aren’t interested in it and object to their tax dollars paying for it instead of something they really care about. And the elected officials who depend on those constituents for getting re-elected respond to that.

    The meaningful prospect I see on the horizon for breaking the Minnesota impasse is getting a new board chairman: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/10/minnesota-chair-might-not-see-out-the-year.html

    I’m surprised no growing group of disaffected back benchers on the board has staged a coup against the leadership. There have to be some people on that board who think this lockout is as ridiculous as many of us on the outside do. But so far, nothing.

    • J. Carr says:

      Lawrence —

      I think you may misunderstand funds from the “legacy” amendment that Kahn is talking about. I don’t think she is proposing that the state “own” a reconstituted orchestra; rather, that funds generated by the “legacy” amendment may be used to support such an endeavor — at least until they establish their new organization and can generate ticket sales revenues and a donor base.

      Such monies do not have to be approved by the legislature (or the Governor), just a committee that has been established to dispense funds annually. More info here:


      • Vaquero357 says:

        Ah, I get it. This, coupled with Sarah’s comment below about the transfer of ownership of Orchestra Hall from the MOA to the City of Minneapolis, certainly puts a different color on the situation. Add in the earlier report that the term of the current MOA board president is up in Dec…..and there may be some realistic hope of breaking the impasse and getting our orchestra back.

  • V.Lind says:

    The Minnesota Legislature seems to be keeping Minnesota Orchestra hours. Has someone locked THEM out? One expects a little more activity from paid elected representatives.

    • Andrew says:

      The Minnesota Legislature is quite deliberately a part-time job. Its members are expected to make their livings in other pursuits, though there are some dubious issues with “per diem” pay and other perks. The session spans two years, with the odd-numbered-year portion being longer than the even-numbered-year portion.

      As much as I like the spirit of Rep. Kahn’s idea, I don’t think it will stand in its present form, as it raises significant legal concerns similar to eminent domain. A bigger problem, and one that I think the legislature could more legitimately tackle, is that there is little stopping any nonprofit from creating a situation in which they no longer use their funding for their purported objectives. I didn’t say *nothing* is stopping them, though. There are legal avenues, however difficult, for involuntarily dissolving a nonprofit. I am not a lawyer, and I am not sure of all the difficulties involved in doing so.

    • Lawrence says:

      State legislatures, especially in the Midwest, meet for only part of the year. The Iowa legislature meets from mid-January to the end of April or early May. That’s it. All the state’s business that has to be voted on by the full House and Senate has to be conducted during that session. It’s not a full time job – most legislators have other, full-time employment. (Government of the people, for the people, by the people, etc.) I suspect the MN legislature operates in a similar fashion….

  • James Brinton says:

    Just Google “public utility.” The same financial model would work for an orchestra.

  • Thank you, Rep. Kahn!

  • ed says:

    This is the October 14, 2013 Press Release at Representative Kahn’s website:

    Kahn Introducing Bill to Establish Community Ownership of Minnesota Orchestra

    ST. PAUL, MN – Today, State Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL – Minneapolis) announced plans to introduce legislation designed to ensure the long-term viability of the Minnesota Orchestra.

    Kahn, who chairs the House Legacy Committee responsible for appropriating state funds to support the arts, said her bill can help Minnesota retain its world-renowned orchestra and prevent the kind of uncertainty caused by the current lockout, which has now dragged on for over a year.

    “My bill establishes broad-based community ownership of the Minnesota Orchestra as a means for preventing the kind of ongoing disputes between musicians and management that we’re seeing right now,” said Kahn, who dubs the approach as the ‘Green Bay Packer model,’ referencing the publicly owned and third oldest NFL franchise. “It creates a path that ultimately allows our state to retain this cultural and economic asset over the long haul.”

    The legislation directs the governor to facilitate the formation of a corporation or other form of business organization to acquire the Minnesota orchestra and to identify a private governing structure. The organization would operate under the following provisions:

    No individual or entity may own more than five percent of the common stock.

    At least 50 percent of the ownership must be sold to members of the public in a general solicitation through which no person or entity may own more than one percent of the common stock.

    The governance documents of the organization may provide for a class of preferred stock in addition to common stock, and may specify what rights accrue to each class of stock.

    The governance documents of the organization must ensure that artistic decisions are made only by persons employed to make those decisions, and not by the board of directors of the governing entity.

    “I see the state of Minnesota and City of Minneapolis as obvious partners under this kind of operational structure,” said Kahn. “State bonding dollars contributed $14 million towards the recently completed renovation of Orchestra Hall, which is owned by the City of Minneapolis. We’ve already invested considerable resources in the orchestra at the state and local level.”

    The bill would put Minnesota’s internationally-acclaimed orchestra on par with a number of other state and community owned orchestras throughout the world, including the Argentine National Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Peru, Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico.

    “It’s my hope that this bill refreshes the dialogue between everyone that has a stake in this matter on how we can move forward,” added Kahn.

    (URL: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/pressrelease.asp?pressid=7984&party=1&memid=10302 )

  • Sarah says:

    What a lot of us just learned in the past few weeks is that when the $14 million in state bonding was approved for the Orchestra Hall renovations, ownership of the Hall was transferred from the MOA to the city of Minneapolis. Finally some skin in the game for taxpayers! And Rep. Kahn stated that she is trying to start a conversation at a significant level between various levels to have more accountability over this mess.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      “[O]wnership of the Hall was transferred from the MOA to the city of Minneapolis.”

      Whoa!! That’s a game-changer. Has this been widely circulated? First I’ve heard of it.

      Maybe the city could evict the MOA and hire a “New Minnesota Orchestra” from the substantial pool or world-class symphony musicians in the Twin Cities who are currently under-employed.

      Seriously, if the City owns the hall and the private corporation that is leasing (?) it is engaging in a long struggle that is hardly in the public interest, the city certainly should be able to exercise some muscle here.

  • Kyle says:

    For interested parties, the following are documents relevant to the agreement entered into by Minneapolis and the MOA making possible the distribution of state bonding money: