History: Solve, Not Study

speakerThe Arts Partnership began in 2006 with a committee simply called “The Task Force.” It was co-founded by Carleen Rhodes, President of the St. Paul Foundation, and Bob Senkler, CEO of Securian Corporation. They were joined by the four heads of the participating arts organizations and several other community leaders.

Initially, it was thought that the scheduling problems at the Ordway could be solved by making the existing Music Theater more flexible through the construction of a “slip stage.” However, the cost of the slip stage was much more expensive than anticipated, its construction would have required the Ordway to be closed for at least a year, and once it became operational the slip stage still would not fully solve the problem it was supposed to fix. From this disappointment sprang the solution of converting the 300-seat McKnight Theatre into an 1100-seat Concert Hall which was decided to be the best solution for solving a number of historic problems.

The hands-on collaboration between the leadership of the four organizations, their boards of directors and corporate and foundation leaders is at the heart of the Art Partnership. Robert Senkler, CEO of Securian Financial Corporation, coined the phrase “solve, not study,” to define success. A Blue Ribbon Committee Report that sat on a shelf unimplemented would NOT be considered success.

This page lists the leaders currently implementing the solution. There are dozens of others – board members, donors, volunteers, consultants – who are also at work solving the problem.


The solution agreed upon by The Arts Partnership members was a threefold strategy:

  1. Completed in late February of 2015, the creation of the Concert Hall has resulted in a much more efficient and effective use of Ordway’s real estate. It is now the primary home of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and is used by many other music organizations. The expanded capacity relieves the scheduling pressure on the current 1900-seat Music Theater, and the overhead costs of the new Concert Hall are significantly less than many other venues.
  2. Secondly, an endowment was created that significantly helps defray the costs associated with the Concert Hall and Music Theater, making the halls a viable option for many arts organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford the rental costs. This endowment also helps support long-term sustainability by providing funds for ongoing facility maintenance and upgrades and through operating budget relief which allows the member organizations to invest in their own missions and goals and keep ticket prices accessible.
  3. Thirdly, a master scheduling agreement among the member organizations now provides a solution to maximize the usage of both the Music Theater and the Concert Hall.

The Concert Hall

The Concert Hall is now the primary home of the SPCO

The Concert Hall was designed by Architect Tim Carl of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) and Acoustician Paul Scarbrough of akustiks. The General Contractor was McGough Construction, who built the original Ordway facility in 1985.

The world-class Concert Hall was designed specifically for the presentation of acoustic and electro-acoustic music in a most intimate and beautiful setting. The space creates a visceral and direct connection – an artistic conversation – between the audience and the artists on stage. The Concert Hall is also suited to popular music, family events, lectures and small corporate events. Equipped with a full service recording facility and a digital infrastructure, it can also be used as a recording site.

The 1,100-seat state-of-the-art facility is a “shoebox” style concert hall where there is no separation between the performance platform and the audience. Acoustic dampening curtains can be drawn to accommodate percussive or amplified programming. Reverberation time of the Concert Hall has been designed to showcase small ensembles, especially The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

A spectacular sweeping dowel ceiling adds drama and is integral to the acoustic treatment of the room. The ceiling is also practical, as it masks the catwalk structures that support the lighting, sound and rigging infrastructures, as well as the dampening curtain systems.

The Concert Hall also includes 3M Plaza (first floor lobby and outside area in front of the Ordway), Target Atrium (public spaces through the Ordway’s second level), the Securian Sky Lobby (the third-level lobby of the new hall) and the Ecolab Grand Staircase.

Other Successes

Sphinx Virtuosi

Sphinx Virtuosi

The Arts Partnership regularly works collaboratively on joint programming and other goals. When the Concert Hall first opened, there was a grand opening celebration with 22 days of performances at the Ordway as part of Rock the Ordway. The members have also worked together to present the ensemble Sphinx Virtuosi, with the third annual presentation of this group coming up in October 2018. Additionally, the first ever Family Arts Blast took place in April 2018 with phenomenal success, and plans are being made to make this into an annual event to welcome more families to the Ordway facilities.

The Future

In January of 2016, a team of board and staff created a new mission, vision and strategic plan to guide the organization through collaboration on programming, efficiencies, and communication. Department heads of the four member organizations meet regularly to discuss joint programming, joint goals, opportunities for shared resources, and the strategic goals and direction of The Arts Partnership.

Because of the Cultural Opportunity Fund underwritten by Knight Foundation, there is now more diverse and collaborative programming happening in the Ordway than ever before.


Board of Directors

Jon Limbacher, President​
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Managing Director and President

Christopher Harrington, Secretary​
Ordway Center, President and CEO​

Barry Kempton, Treasurer
Schubert Club, Artistic and Executive Director

Laura McCarten
Schubert Club, Board Chair

Patrick Garay-Heelan
Ordway Center, Board Chair

Deborah Palmer-Rich
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Board Chair

Kimberly Randolph
Ordway Center, Board Vice Chair​

Mark C. Gordon
Minnesota Opera, Board Chair​

Ryan Taylor
Minnesota Opera, President and General Director

Investment Committee

Christopher Harrington, Ordway (Chair)
Doug Flink, Schubert Club
Barry Kempton, Schubert Club
David Kuplic, Ordway
Jon Limbacher, The SPCO
Eric Lind, Schubert Club
Benjamin Ollendick, Minnesota Opera
Nic Pifer, The SPCO
Mary Schaffner, Minnesota Opera
Ryan Taylor, Minnesota Opera
Jennifer Wolf, Ordway