The Millennials’ Orchestra: Millennial Generation Audiences & Donors

Social media, the Internet, and mobile technology are considered to be key to connecting, interacting, and building relationships between Millennials and arts organizations. Read more of my research on engaging Millennial generation audiences and donors in my latest blog post. Continue reading


The Millennial Alumni Research Project

Millennial Alumni

It’s hard to believe that I’m coming up on one year post-graduation from American University’s Arts Management program and the completion of my Capstone Project, ‘The Millennials’ Orchestra – Marketing and Development Strategies for Engaging Millennial Audiences and Donors in the U.S. Symphony Orchestra Classical Concert Experience.”  During the research process, my understanding of the Millennial generation as a whole and their inclinations to give was greatly enhanced by the studies and articles published by Achieve, Pew Research Center, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  I became a big fan of these Millennially-charged fact tanks, so you can imagine my nerdy delight when I found out my Alma mater was selected to partner with Achieve and the Chronicle of Philanthropy in the 2014 Millennial Alumni Research Project.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in partnership with Achieve, will research the attitudes and engagement preferences of young alumni (Millennial generation graduates age 22-32). Through research surveys, focus groups, and user testing, institutions of higher education will have a better understanding of how alumni prefer to be involved and ways to connect and seek their support.

Flickr photo, ITU/Rowan Farrell

Flickr photo, ITU/Rowan Farrell

As a Millennial alum, I received an email asking me to participate in the survey.  I was excited to help out my school and contribute to the continued learning around the Millennial generation. Of course, I had to say yes!

I clicked on the link, taking me to the online survey.  In an appreciative and upbeat manner, the general purpose of the survey, as well as the length of time I could expect to devote to completing it, was explained upfront:

Thanks for agreeing to take the 2014 Higher Education Millennial Alumni Survey!  Your university is partnering with the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Achieve to understand the interests and preferences of Millennial alumni.  The survey will take approximately 10 minutes and we thank you for your time.

The survey began with a couple of simple, demographic questions, asking me to identify my gender and birth date (to verify that I fall into the Millennial age-range, I suspect).  Having completed the introduction, I was informed that the survey would be broken into three main components.  Compelled to know more, I continued with the survey.

As I completed one section and entered another, I received a clear message indicating the section/topic change.  I appreciated these mile-markers, not only for the reminder of the topics, but also for the structure of the survey.  Before we go any farther, however, you’re probably wondering what these mystery topics were all about…

  1. Alumni Attitudes
  2. Alumni Giving
  3. Alumni Involvement

As you might expect, I was asked a variety of questions about my interests, career development as it relates to my degree, giving preferences, and involvement with my Alma mater post-graduation, among others.  By the end of the survey, I was invited to participate in their on-going Millennial Involvement Focus Group and agreed.

It will be interesting to take part in this focus group over the next several months and exciting to read about the results of this research initiative.  We’ll have to stay tuned!

The research findings of the Young Alumni Engagement and Attitudinal Study will be released at MCON14 on June 18-19, 2014 in Chicago, IL.


The Millennials’ Orchestra: Let the Journey Begin!

“The Millennials’ Orchestra” series of blog posts are not meant to be opinion pieces, but rather founded in research, which I gathered and reported as part of my graduate Capstone project from 2012-2013. This is a personal blog and does not represent the views or opinions of my employer.

The Millennials’ Orchestra: Let the Journey Begin!

Millennial Generation Audiences
Since the summer of 2012, I have been working on my Master’s Capstone Portfolio in arts management at American University in Washington, D.C.  During this time I focused my attention on Millennial generation audiences and donors and improving their engagement with U.S. symphony orchestras.  Now that I have graduated, and therefore successfully completed my research project, I am excited to share it with you and hope you will enjoy reading about my thoughts and findings.  As always, I encourage you to comment and share with whomever you think will enjoy my blog.  Thanks for following along — I hope you’ll stay tuned for the duration and take interest in Millennial engagement in the arts!!  Let the journey begin…

Source: vxla on flickr

*     *     *

The Millennials’ Orchestra:
 Marketing and Development Strategies for Engaging Millennial Generation Audiences and Donors in the U.S. Classical Symphony Orchestra Concert Experience

The purpose of my master’s portfolio is to describe effective marketing and fundraising strategies for engaging Millennial generation audiences and donors with symphony orchestras and classical music performance.  My work as the Strathmore Development Intern for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the supervision of Stephanie Johnson, Donor Relations Manager, and Deborah Broder, VP of Development, is contained in the portfolio section of my capstone. Work samples demonstrate elements of orchestra management and development, as well as the Next Generation BSO initiative – a development campaign inviting donors to consider underwriting tickets for young professionals to engage in Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performances.

Several key factors point to the importance of involving and recognizing this generation as participants in the culture and fundraising efforts of symphony orchestras in the U.S. today.  As with any other generation, this population group is characterized by certain distinguishable attributes and shaped by the particular life events and societal dynamics of their time.  Millennials – young adults between the ages 18 and 29 (as of 2010), or individuals born between the years 1981 and 1993 – are known for being confident, connected and open to change.[1] They have been described as the “American teens and twenty-somethings now making the passage into adulthood”[2] with a strong desire to get involved in meaningful activities, engage in social interaction, and give to causes they care most about.[3]

Robert Flanagan, American economist and Professor Emeritus at the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[4] discusses the socio-economic perils facing U.S. symphony orchestras.[5]  He points to the fact that most Millennials are still finishing school or just starting their careers, and are therefore less likely to fit the traditional concert-goer mold.[6]  As of 2002, for example, the median age of people attending classical symphony orchestra concerts nationwide was 60 years and older.[7] These audiences also tend to exhibit higher socioeconomic status (i.e. individuals having at least a college degree and an annual income of $50,000 or more).[8] Such disparities may make Millennials feel less welcome in the concert hall and ultimately less likely to participate.[9] Unfortunately, the absence of Millennial audiences has become a growing concerning as audiences continue to age and participation declines.[10] The National Endowment for the Arts’ 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts reports on some of the influential factors in the marked decline of overall arts participation throughout the United States.[11]

In addition to the financial hardship associated with the economic recession just prior to the survey (2007-2008), the NEA found that classical music audiences between 1982 to 2008 “have aged faster than the general adult population (classical music is one in a small group of performing arts disciplines, including ballet, non-musical theatre, and jazz, to experience such rapid aging of audiences).”[12] In addition, the incidence of music education in the lives of Millennials reportedly fell by more than a third (to 38%) during that time.[13] Greg Sandow refers to the NEA’s research in his classical music ArtsJournal blog, but emphasizes the dramatic decline in attendance by Millennials beginning in the early 1980s.[14]

Given the decline in classical concert attendance even among older adults in recent years,[15] and relative absence of Millennials to help sustain arts organizations going forward, waning attendance becomes not only a concern of reduced ticket sales and annual revenue[S1] , it also brings the long-term health of classical symphony orchestra performance into question.[16] Millennials are clearly eager to make a difference in the world[17] and symphony orchestras would be wise to develop ways of effectively and strategically engaging these individuals, making good use of their time, skills, and donations.[18]

[1] Pew Research Center, 2010, Millennials: Confident-Connected-Open to Change, In Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, edited by Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter: Pew Research Center.
[2] Ibid.
[3]Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, “The Millennial Impact Report 2012.”
[4] Anne Gregor, “Financial Leadership Required to Fight Symphony Orchestra ‘Cost Disease’,” in Stanford Graduate School of Business (2012), published electronically February 8, 2012,
[5] Robert J Flanagan, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras: Artistic Triumphs and Economic Challenges, 2012.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Alan Brown, 2002, Classical music audiences, in Midmorning: Minnesota Public Radio.
[8] Robert J Flanagan, The Perilous Life of Symphony Orchestras.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Greg Sandow, “Building a Young Audience (Proof of Culture Change).” In Greg Sandow on the future of classical music. ArtsJournal, 2012.
[11] Kevin Williams and David Keen, “2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts,” edited by Don Ball, National Endowment for the Arts, November 2009.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Greg Sandow, “Building a Young Audience (Proof of Culture Change).”
[15] Alan Brown, 2002, Classical music audiences.
[16] Greg Sandow, (ArtsJournal blogger), interview by Catherine Starek, “The Future of Classical Music,” June 10, 2012.
[17] Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, “The Millennial Impact Report 2012.”
[18] Ibid.

Saving the Legacy of Important Art

My blog has been relatively quiet over the past several weeks.  As I approach the end of the semester and the end of my graduate program at American University, it has been a very busy and exciting time.  In the past month or so, I have completed my comprehensive exams in arts management, had job interviews, performed in the American University Symphony Orchestra, continued my work in PR and Marketing for the Arts at AU, submitted my “nearly completed” Master’s Capstone Project, and served as Crowdfunding Project Leader for the ART CART: Saving the Legacy campaign on RocketHub. (I also got to stand as a bridesmaid in my best childhood friend’s wedding in North Carolina – it was a blast!)

I am excited to announce that we recently reached and have since surpassed our goal for the crowdfunding campaign!  Reaching our goal early presents a wonderful opportunity to enhance our success further. Our project will continue to accept funds for the next two weeks, which enables the success of our second documentary, “Living the Legacy,” as well as the promotion and implementation of the ART CART 2013 exhibitions in DC and NYC in the fall.  In the following RocketHub post, I reflect on my experiences in crowdfunding and the importance of the ART CART project.  Enjoy! : )

*     *     *

Saving the Legacy of Important Art
Catherine Starek, ART CART Project Leader, Crowdfunding Pioneer
Originally posted: April 23, 2013


We launched our 2013 RocketHub campaign to raise funds for our second documentary film, capturing this year’s ART CART: Saving the Legacy process. Getting this on film will help us to raise the profile of the ART CART project, the efforts of our artists and student fellows, and this incredible interdisciplinary, intergenerational experience.

Our first documentary (2011) was a great success and RocketHub provided the platform. Since the pilot in NYC, ART CART has expanded to Washington, DC, taking on a national voice. As a DC Fellow and now the RocketHub Project Leader for ART CART, I have developed my understanding of the artistic process and realized the importance of documenting our nation’s creative legacy. We have returned to RocketHub to raise the funds needed for our second documentary, helping us to continue the expansion of the program to six locations by 2015.


This is my first time leading a fundraising project. It has been an exciting experience for me to see the variety of people and levels of support emerging in response to the ART CART: Saving the Legacy 2013 RocketHub campaign. Funders range from friends, family, and colleagues, to arts administrators, researchers, professors, graduate students and alumni, as well as ART CART artists, their working partners, fellows, and faculty. Supporters are located on both coasts, from California, to New York, Washington DC, and North Carolina. I look forward to welcoming others into the ART CART network over the next few weeks as we carry out our project, as well as learning more about their interests in the arts.


When I was first approached to lead this crowdfunding project, I found RocketHub’s Success School materials to be very helpful in developing my understanding of RocketHub’s crowdfunding process and maintaining a strategic mindset. Joan Jeffri, the Director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture and Founder of ART CART, also made sure to introduce me to the 2011 project leader in order to learn about our first documentary campaign. My advice to others who are considering their own crowdfunding campaign would be to:

  • Create a well-thought-out plan for the content and implementation of your project (if your project has a Director/Founder like ART CART, make sure s/he is an integral part of the process and aware of the project’s development throughout).
  • Have someone who cares about the project proofread your project description and appeals.
  • Maintain a dynamic project page with frequent status updates, a variety of media, and news related to your project. Don’t forget to share your excitement with your social media connections, too!
  • This may be a personal standard of mine, but I believe in prompt “thank-you’s.” No matter the size of the gift, show your gratitude for each funder’s support. I send an individualized thank-you to every person who gives to our campaign and helps bring awareness to our project.
  • Have a passion for what you’re doing. If you don’t believe in the project, why should others?
  • Be creative!

Engaging in this project has been rewarding for me in many ways. I have learned a lot about the crowdfunding process and even more about the ART CART artists participating in the project. Through our project on RocketHub, I have witnessed the power of ART CART to bring people of all ages together in support of a common goal – one that will impact future generations.


– Catherine Starek, ART CART Project Leader, Crowdfunding Pioneer
BE OUR HERO - Save the Legacy
RocketHub Blog

  • RocketHub is the world’s crowdfunding machine. RocketHub is an international, pioneering, open community that has helped thousands of artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and social leaders raise millions of dollars.

SURVEY RESULTS: What People Really Think About Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance in the 21st C.


110 responses

1. Which generation do you represent? (Upper age limit adjusted as of 2012)

The Millennial Generation – Those born after 1980 – the first generation to come into adulthood in the new millennium; ages 18-32 62 56%
Generation X – People born from 1965-1980; ages 32-47 25 23%
The Baby Boomers – Those born between 1946 and 1964, associated with the fertility spike following WWII; ages 48-66 23 21%
The Silent Generation – Adults born during the Great Depression and WWII, between 1928-1945; ages 67-84 0 0%
The Greatest Generation – The generation that fought and won WWII, the adults born before 1928; ages 84+ 0 0%

2. What is your gender?

Female 79 72%
Male 31 28%

3. Is there a particular instance or influence that first attracted you to classical music?

Musicians in your family 32 29%
Music teacher 20 18%
Friends 6 5%
Particular performance 15 14%
Multimedia – movies, video games, TV shows, YouTube, etc. 14 13%
Other 23 21%

4. When was the last time you attended a symphony orchestra performance?

Within the past 3 months 57 52%
Within the past 6 months 9 8%
Within the past year 16 15%
Within the past 2 years 12 11%
Between 2 and 5 years ago 8 7%
Five years + 5 5%
Never been 3 3%

5. When and by whom were you first introduced to symphony performance?

As a child, by your parents or family 50 45%
During a field trip in primary school (ages 5-10) 23 21%
In secondary school, through friends, teacher(s), a mentor, band (ages 11-17) 24 22%
Private music lessons, by a teacher or peers 3 3%
During college, through peers, classes, professors, advisors, school performances, local orchestra (18+) 8 7%
Other 2 2%
  • My father has been involved with classical music as a child himself; therefore, he wanted to instill the same traditions into his daughter. As a child, he would play Harold in Italy by Berlioz for me and I would dance along with the melody. From this moment, he knew that I would play the viola.
  • I was in High School.
  • I saw a lot of band concerts because I was in band.
  • I (joined) the Symphony orchestra at the University.
  • Wolf Trap summer children’s festival. Also school field trips to the Kennedy Center.
  • Our public school district in north Jersey had a strong, well-supported music program.
  • My high school…

6. What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing symphony orchestras, especially when it comes to engaging younger audiences in live performance?

Programming – concert selections, musical time period, etc. 16 15%
Expense 16 15%
Concert experience 17 15%
Lack of interest 50 45%
Other 11 10%
  • I was an intern at the Kennedy Center for September through December in 2012 and attended many of their performances during that period. I think the NSO Pops drew the youngest average crowd for an orchestra production, but I’m not sure if that was due to the repertoire or the novelty. The concert experience itself does seem the most important element to me though, as everyone wanted to be there for this unique event.
  • pieces need to be fun and upbeat in order to get younger audiences interested. I am a musician myself, and I still get bored at orchestra concerts sometimes…

7. How do you participate in orchestra performance most often?

Listening to broadcasts and/or recordings 40 36%
Creating music – composition, performance, etc. 22 20%
Online – YouTube, streaming, Spotify, etc. 21 19%
Mobile devises – iPod, cell phones, iPad, etc. 9 8%
Other 18 16%
  • General Manager of the Capital City Symphony
  • Also most often an audience member.
  • Violinist in the AUSO (American University Symphony Orchestra)
  • Public radio
  • I’m also learning how to compose my own contemporary classical pieces. I frequently use Pandora and have several stations from different periods of music. I most often listen to the station created around Sergi Prokofiev and the Romantic period.
  • I have a large collection of music on my computer, and I keep meaning to buy the .99 cent master collection albums from Amazon. (100 tracks for 99 cents) …

8. If you had the option, how would you prefer to participate in orchestra performance?

Listening to broadcasts and/or recordings 20 18%
Creating music – composition, performance, etc. 49 45%
Online – YouTube, streaming, Spotify, etc. 7 6%
Mobile devises – iPod, cell phones, iPad, etc. 4 4%
Other 30 27%
  • While I do feel live performances are often the best way to experience a show from an audience perspective, online viewing does create a nice substitute though. Being able to see the performers does add another level of involvement, even if doing so from home, because the audience relates the physicality involved with producing the music.
  • Performance
  • The other options should always support and encourage people to attend (frequently) the live in-person experience, which is second to none.
  • On-line streaming could also be useful
  • I would love to compose or play, but I haven’t received the training…

9. If you could choose, what would you like orchestras to do differently? (change, do more/less of, add new, etc.?)

Concert timing (days, time of day, time of year) 14 13%
Musicians’ dress 5 5%
Programming (Classical, pops, contemporary, etc.) 35 32%
Technology 18 16%
Composers and/or artists 7 6%
Other 31 28%
  • Work with other groups to expand audience. Cross-pollinate!
  • Our minds have become overwhelmed with stimulus, and we are accustomed to bigger and better. With technology today, pairing orchestral performances with dance, aerial cirque acts, light shows, and video footage gives the active mind more to do and fortifies the experience so shelling out the $100 a ticket is more likely.
  • Evening performances are the norm for a working public, but I would love to see more daytime performances.
  • I think the orchestra has to do more to draw people in especially through social media, free events…

10. What else (ideas, experiences, opinions, suggestions, etc.) would you like to share about engaging audiences (current and new) in classical music or symphony performance?

  • Overall making performances relevant to current audiences, including programming, accessibility, concert experience, online interaction, etc.
  • Orchestra musicians, conductor and the soloist should come out from their backstage dressing rooms and greet the audience members after performances. It’s a more intimate feeling than just playing on stage.
  • As a performer, I find it is difficult to engage current audiences in classical music because of the general notion that it all sounds like Mozart or is boring. I would like to spend more time encouraging my friends to listen to more music that is not as predictable by taking them with me to more live performances or encouraging them to see me play. I feel it is always more interesting and engaging as an audience member to see someone you know up on stage performing.
Number of daily responses

*     *     *

Special Thanks:
My professors in the arts management department at AU; Millennial blog platform, GenYHub and GenYTV rep, Marni G.; Professor Marc Whitt and his PR and Music Industry students at EKU; musicians in the AUSO; Audience Development Specialist, Shoshana FanizzaDr. Michael Ryan, ED of Fine Arts in Fort Worth I.S.D. (Independent School District); Twitter followers: Zero2Maestro, Harpist Nadia P., arts marketer Connie R.LibraryOboistSinfonia TorontoPolyphonic, American Composer Christopher James Lee, PV (Pioneer Valley) Symphony, Ilias Ntais of enchoris, Emily Davis President of Emily Davis (EDA) Consulting, and the League of American Orchestras.

Also, thanks to anyone who has taken interest in my work, shared my survey, or offered their thoughts, ideas, encouragement, or advice!

Make Time to Make Money – TRG Arts

  1. 250 signed up for this afternoon’s webinar! Are you one of them? There’s still time to register–we’ll start at 2 ET
  2. 250 signed up for this afternoon’s webinar! Are you one of them? There’s still time to register–we’ll start at 2 ET
  3. #trgrx Webinar starts in 1 hour (2 EDT)! Get TRG’s take on balancing time & priorities: #auddev #artsadmin
  4. Welcome to all now online for the @TRGArts webinar “Make Time to Make Money”. The hashtag is #trgrx – looking forward to chatting!
  5. Data, knowledge, solutions, results for arts organizations in the US and abroad @TRGArts #trgrx
  6. Reviewing “Top of Mind 2013” results @TRGArts — Conclusion: (The arts) need to refocus on what gets results… #trgrx
  7. The next hour, @TRGArts prescription for “Taking Time to Make Money” #trgrx
  8. Get organized and take the time to prioritize your work #trgrx
  9. And @ricklestertrg takes the stage on the #trgrx webinar. He says “stop doing everything.”
  10. Consider your patrons, analyze your revenue sources, etc. then use your priorities as a framework going forward #trgrx
  11. Best advice in a webinar, ever: stop doing everything. I wish I could. #trgrx
  12. Create a “stop doing this” list — analyze your activities and results, tailor your to-do list, motivate your colleagues #bigpicture #trgrx
  13. Choose sustainability re: programs for future growth #trgrx
  14. Goal: sustainable income for orgs long-term future #trgrx
  15. Sticky, high-value patron relationships through deeper engagement and coordinated, focused arts management #trgrx
  16. Make time… #trgrx It’s subs renewal time, Do I even have time to do this webinar?! 🙂 OF COURSE!
  17. Your work effects everybody! Think about all departments, reconnect with donors, engage with volunteers #trgrx
  18. Agreed! Time to prioritize prioritzing!! RT @SaraMKelly: Best advice in a webinar, ever: stop doing everything. I wish I could. #trgrx
  19. Personal (& ideally, organizational) mantra — Good data in, good data out #trgrx
  20. @TRGArts Thanks for all the RTs! Enjoying the webinar so far 🙂 #trgrx
  21. Develop an #actionplan that reflects your priorities, based on what’s required for your org to succeed and sustain arts over lng term #trgrx
  22. “Data analysis generated ~ 60% improvement…” #trgrx
  23. .@ricklestertrg: “you don’t have to be an IT person to know what’s going on with your data”
  24. Good leaders need to be brave, but also focused, because there is distraction everywhere. #trgrx
  25. Change is difficult…embrace stewardship and be a brave, brave leader #trgrx
  26. It’s hard, but it is also possible. Change is evolutionary. Change takes time. Have confidence and trust that you’re on right path #trgrx
  27. Be a brave leader. Stop doing everything. Steward clean data smartly. Get results. #trgrx
  28. Facts and data do INDEED provide a better picture and provide correct view of past. No more anecdotal driven decisions. #trgrx
  29. What do you do if your focus, your messages aren’t supported? #trgrx
  30. Does your org have a number to galvanize around? With that clarity, your decisions become easier! #trgrx
  31. Understand your revenue sources and their impact on your organization. #trgrx
  32. Mission has to be #experienced – engage staff in conversation on importance and relevance of your patrons #trgrx
  33. Patrons are not just marketing, not just development. They are part of your mission. #trgrx
  34. #understand — so much involved in this one word (awareness, analysis, priorities, direction, mission) #trgrx
  35. implementation driven by data and tied to revenue streams; relevance and impact #trgrx
  36. Audience development vs. patron management – understand the differences and build objectives and budget around it #trgrx
  37. Biggest takeaway from #trgrx Use Data to inform building and supporting the Patron list.
  38. Arts organizations don’t need new audiences, we need more repeat audiences #trgrx
  39. @TRGArts #Question: How can symphony orchestras most effectively engage Millennial generation audiences/donors on a long-term basis? #trgrx
  40. Thank you for this empowering and informative webinar! #trgrx
  41. Really enjoyed the #TRGRX webinar today. Esp. like the advice to plan & invest in every campaign like you do a subscription campaign.
  42. Surprise! “No arts organization needs new audiences.” Keeping audiences coming back has the higest ROI. #TRGRX
  43. Getting the #trgrx webinar recording together & re-listening… @ricklestertrg & @jrobinsontrg did a great job!
  44. Thanks! Glad you could make it! MT @emadram: Really enjoyed the #TRGRX webinar. Esp. the advice to invest in every campaign like sub camp…
  45. @TRGArts You’re welcome. Thanks for a great webinar!
  46. @TRGArts Thanks to great #trgrx hosts! @ricklestertrg
    @jrobinsontrg I appreciate the follow-up and Tweet shout out.

Graduate Research Survey: Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance

Classical Music and Symphony Orchestra Performance

Purpose and Source: I created this survey in order to gather current perspectives and insights on classical music and symphony orchestra performance.

Estimated Time: This survey should take about 5-10 minutes to complete, depending on the depth of responses. Please take as much time as you need, however, and answer to the best of your ability.

Confidentiality: I value your time and effort. Please know that your responses are contributing to my graduate research project in arts management at American University, and participation is voluntary. You can always contact me with questions or concerns at: 

Participants: If you a receiving this directly, I have chosen to contact you or a corresponding group based on previous interactions. That being said, I encourage you to share this survey with contacts and friends for the benefit of the research.

Thank you for consideration! You are an important part of the puzzle. Click here to begin.

*Please respond by March 10, 2013, and stay tuned for the results!

Source: Wikimedia Commons Author Superbmust

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons – Superbmust

Creative Commons License
Classical Music and Symphony Orchestras in the 21st C. (Graduate Research Survey 2013) by Catherine Starek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Systemic arts – What if we took a holistic approach to managing nonprofit arts organizations?

I am pleased to announce that my post has been featured on the Americans for the Arts blog as an Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS) post!!  You can check it out here>>

*     *     *

I have always thought of symphony orchestras, or any large musical ensemble, to function somewhat like clockwork.

As a musician, one quickly realizes that the success of the symphony (e.g. high-quality performance, beautiful tone, expressive phrasing, etc.) is dependent on the sum of its parts. The performance of every individual must be sensitively adjusted to compliment the rest of the ensemble in order to produce one cohesive musical story.

The internal intricacies, typically unseen by its admirers, must be functioning properly and working together in order for the larger system to operate properly.  In the case of a clock, even the grandest, most impressive-looking ones may cease to operate with broken or damaged parts.  Similarly, symphony orchestra management can be most effective when all of its departments are working well and moving forward together.

Source: Tai Toh on

What if we, as nonprofit leaders in the arts, took a systemic approach to orchestra management? Rather than focusing on issues separately and only when we are forced to deal with them, one might adopt the mindset of always doing what is best to maintain the overall health of the organization in the long run.  Perhaps we should start asking ourselves: How does the health of the organization affect the community it serves or the field as a whole? How can you help your art-form continue to be resilient in an environment of constant change?

I have thought about the idea of holistic management for a while and now a new book, appropriately named Resilience, is making me think that it is not only a good way to manage arts organizations, but may also be a better way of living life.  In no way am I an expert at this and I am still learning, but I wish to be the best arts manager I can be.  I believe in the importance of symphony orchestras in society and hope to inspire others to continue to engage in their performances and events.

  • What do you do in your daily life and work to make sure you’re seeing the larger picture?
  • What mechanisms have you built-in to ensure that your organization has the ability to “bounce back” in the face of hardship?

More ideas to come… for now, I welcome your thoughts and comments!

*     *     *

Thank you, Professor Andrew Taylor for inspiring me, as well as other emerging art leaders at American University, to embrace new ways of thinking about the arts and career readiness around the concept of resilience.

Then and Now: Millennial Lessons from a Performing Arts Veteran – the Smithsonian Impresario

In a recent event hosted by the Smithsonian Associates, I was given a glimpse into the changing landscape and historic events of the performing arts in DC.  It was the first day of November and I had the opportunity to hear from a veteran of the field, the acclaimed Smithsonian Impresario, Mr. James Morris – although he seemed to prefer to go by “Jim”.  The event was moderated by Dwight Bower, the curator of entertainment history at the National Museum of American History.  I was one of the few Millennials in the audience, but I was eager to learn and to get involved.  Scribbling furiously on my steno notepad, I tried to capture the evolution of topics and statements made during Mr. Morris’ discussion.  I will do my best to accurately reconstruct the memories and experiences shared at this event.

Jim began by reflecting on his life and work in the performing arts.  He highlighted some of the many roles he has had in and around the arts, ranging from politics, to theatre, music, and television.  Although he initially built his career as a performer in entertainment and the arts, after a while – and with the addition of his wife and a three-year-old child at the time – he decided to apply his creative energies to a more administrative role.  Bowers addressed this transitional stage, asking Jim to describe how he first got involved with the Smithsonian Institution.

He was referred to Secretary S. Dillon Ripley through a connection made at a trade fair.  He contacted Sec. Ripley by phone to discuss his interest in developing the performing arts at the Smithsonian and was invited for a job interview shortly after.  Jim met Sec. Ripley at the Smithsonian Castle, but much to his surprise, the interview ended up taking place in Sec. “Ripley’s automobile” — after all, Sec. Ripley was a busy man and needed to get things done.  Jim was disarmed by the conversational tone of the interview that unfolded.  In fact, it turned out that it was hardly an intense interview at all, it felt more like “chit chat.”  Not knowing what to make of his interaction with Sec. Ripley, Jim left uncertain of his chances.  Later that evening, the phone rang at his home.  It was Sec. Ripley and he was offering him the job.  Jim was hired as director of Museum Services in 1966 and appointed to director of the Smithsonian’s new Division of Performing Arts in the following year.

The decision to hire a director of Museum Services was not one that was warmly received among the other curators at the Smithsonian. Jim somewhat jokingly recalled, “I felt like a wild animal that had been set loose in their environment.”  Eventually, a member of the board stuck up for him and said, “Management hired him to enhance what we do here,” encouraging others to let him do what he was hired to do.  His impact on the Smithsonian Institution from that point forward was truly revolutionary. As the new Director of the Division of Performing Arts, he got involved in and accomplished many things at the Smithsonian. He became the founder of the highly anticipated, annual Folklife Festival, helped initiate the American College Theater Festival with Kennedy Center’s Dept of Education (with hopes of linking it to the Smithsonian), and established the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, among other notable achievements.

He was particularly interested in regional, or state, culture.  “Bit by bit” the Folklife Festival came together, making its official debut in 1967.  The festival went for four days and drew what turned out to be the most attended event in Smithsonian history to date.  Despite the prevalence of “high art” in America, Jim took interest in “popular culture,” which was the “orphan of the cultural world” at the time.  After a while, he said, “people came to realize the importance of pop music, musical theatre, etc. in tradition.”

He vehemently pursued his interest in jazz, working to incorporate this truly American genre into the musical and educational offerings of the Smithsonian.  His desire to include a genre of music dominated by African-American artists, however, was faced with great resistance – during a time when racial tensions remained high in America – but he never backed down.  Jim eventually decided that he needed to create a product and a plan.  Jim raised money for the project himself and came to his supervisors with a plan.  The project was reluctantly approved, allowing only 500 recordings of jazz to be made.  Public response was enormous, proving to be a tremendously popular endeavor.  Jim had packaged the orders by hand at first, but the level of sophistication in operations grew to accommodate the demand for the “milestone Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz of 1973.”


Millennials are experiencing a great deal of change due to the evolution of technology and influence of a rather volatile economy.  Job seekers in the 21st century can no longer wait to be approached by someone with a job, we must show our passion, enthusiasm, and desire, just as Jim did and continued to do throughout his career.  Technology can and should be used strategically in the arts, allowing arts managers and artists to better demonstrate the value of their work, to build connections, and realize the impact of the arts on the well-being of the community.

I highlight the nature the Millennial generation in recent posts, as well as their apparent role in nonprofit fundraising for the arts. The TweetChat #MillennialDonorsAU revealed these compelling themes – Millennials are eager and underrepresented.  Millennials are having an impact and it would be unfortunate and unwise for nonprofits to ignore the creative, technological, enthusiastic energies of this empowered generation.

You may be wondering, what does the Smithsonian Impresario have to do with Millennials?

As an emerging arts leader and Millennial in DC, I am inspired by the Smithsonian Impresario’s emphasis on cultural inclusion, sense of enthusiasm, and passion for the arts. What are the barriers to Millennial involvement in the arts, not only as donors, but also as audience members and employees?  How can nonprofit organizations take advantage of this enthusiastic generation, clearly eager to get involved and make a difference in others’ lives?  Many arts organizations are faced with aging and declining audiences, affecting their ability to navigate confidently in a difficult economy (symphony orchestras appear to be ubiquitous in this respect, evidenced by the musician strikes, contract negotiations, and leadership resignations littering arts & culture headlines across the country and abroad). How can we begin to shift our mindset and adapt to the demands of society?

In order to make change in the 21st century, I think it is important that we reflect on the past to inform our futures and also work to adjust to and incorporate what is currently going on around us.  Tap into your inner impresario – be creative, be willing to adapt, and always pursue your life’s work with passion!

*You can grab a copy of his new book for all the amazing stories and wisdom of the Smithsonian Impresario.

A Memoire by James Morris