Of Blogs and Boards

So Minnesota Orchestra Association CEO Michael Henson declared that “blogs are senseless and must be ignored,” and he is right.

At least in the same sense that people think Congress is ineffectual but approve of their own representative. People don’t value blogs themselves, they value the people behind them.

Lynn Harrell hardly posts on his blog, but because of his stature when he posted about Delta taking both his cello’s and his frequent flyer miles, it raised such a ruckus there were newspaper articles about the situation and a segment on the Colbert Report.

The same is true for Bill Eddins, he doesn’t post often, but when he does, people respond.

Drew McManus doesn’t get cited as an expert solely by sitting in front of his computer typing away, he is out there consulting, speaking at conferences, giving interviews…and writing interesting things on his blog.

Emily Hogstad wouldn’t have garnered so much attention about MOA’s pre-emptive domain squatting if she hadn’t developed trust with years productive and interesting work.

Were blogs not to exist, these people wouldn’t be any less smart, talented and worth listening to. The blog medium just makes it easier to do so.

In the same vein, people don’t give to organizations, they give to people. Michael Henson seems to have either forgotten or been unaware of that fact.

Except in this case it is the reverse of the situation with Congress. People don’t value the individual musicians, but they value their relationship with the assemblage of musicians as a whole.

And perhaps unfortunately for Michael Henson and the MOA board, people don’t just value their relationship with the current musicians, but those of the past as well. Henson and the board may think they are bringing a recalcitrant bunch of musicians to heel, but by shutting down the season, they are interfering with a Minnesotan sense of pride in their historical support of arts and culture, including the Minnesota Orchestras of the past.

Now you even have Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton making a statement about the window closing on the two parties after having remained voluntarily quiet on the subject for months.Since there have been calls for the orchestra to return state monies, this may be a harbinger of things to come.

It is heartening that when we have had so many government officials telling artists and organizations what sort of art they should create, the subtext of Gov. Dayton’s remarks is basically to just get back to making art.

There is a conceit expressed by theatre technical staff where they say about actors, “without us, they would be performing naked in the dark.” This ignores the fact that theatrical performances don’t have to occur in a dark room outfitted in fancy costumes.

Sure, audiences LOVE the spectacle, but give them the option of a sun lit live performance in the middle of a cow pasture or an opportunity to listen to a recording of that same group in a 2000 seat concert hall accompanied by a spectacular light show and see where they go. Even if the tickets to the cow pasture are more expensive, people are going to choose the live show over the light show.

Orchestra boards are making the same mistake. They think their job is to get a musical performance for as cheap as possible, but people prefer the substance over the reasonable facsimile.

Now the question of whether people prefer orchestra music over something else is one of programming rather than labor and organizational existence.

Orchestra board members may be important people individually, but as a group they are subsidiary to the musicians themselves. Just as people only come to see the light and costumes in the context of a performance, no one comes to an orchestra concert for the board members.

When board members are feted for the great work they did for the orchestra, it is due to the delight the orchestra brought. The board made it possible for the musicians to deliver that delight, but the board is not the source of that delight.

Boards are praised for helping to construct, support and build arts organizations. Not for making them less. No board has ever been praised for their courage in cutting the oboes.

Boards, like blogs are meaningless of themselves and only gain value by dint of the talent of the people behind them.

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The Minnesota Orchestra cross-blog event is a collection of more than a dozen bloggers, musicians, patrons, and administrators writing about the orchestra’s devastating work stoppage. You can find all of the contributions in the following list and the authors encourage everyone to participate by sharing, commenting, or publishing something at your own culture blog.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


5 thoughts on “Of Blogs and Boards”

  1. Why can’t the negotiators forget their smart ass “tactics” and talk to the musicians as the intelligent people they are. This could have begun a year or two ago before the head tactician, whomever that might be, talked the board into trying to cow the fuzzy-headed musicians into fearful submission.


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