Philadelphia Orchestra adopts aspects of consultant's report

The Philadelphia Orchestra plays the Mahler “Symphony No. 8" in a March 2016 performance with multiple choirs in Verizon Hall.

The Philadelphia Orchestra will program musicals.

It will set up new philanthropic councils made up from donors with special interests and, starting in 2018, from outside the city.

The orchestra is starting a series of master classes with guest artists.

And it will develop more ways to lure and keep younger donors.

These new initiatives and some others  culled from a report from a leading arts consultant — were approved Oct. 4 by the orchestra board after months of discussion.

Ideas tend to take money, and the board also approved one-year funding for these programs to the tune of $1.17 million, much of it already found via special fund-raising efforts. 

The report by Michael M. Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, was completed in spring after six months’ work interviewing funders, board members, musicians, staff, and others associated with the orchestra. His involvement came at the behest of the orchestra musicians during last year’s negotiation over a new labor contract as a way of diagnosing some of the organizational problems that have prevented the institution from raising enough money, and to suggest new ways of doing so.

In recent months and weeks, especially while negotiating for a new contract, musicians had pushed for Kaiser’s recommendations to be adopted by the orchestra board.

The board did approve it — at the same meeting at which they gave their nod to the new three-year musicians’ contract. A spokeswoman for management said plans were now in the works for a meeting with the full orchestra to review the boards Oct. 4 approval of the Kaiser initiatives. The orchestra’s appearance at Carnegie Hall and the Jewish holidays had created a delay, she said.

The orchestra has not retained Kaiser for the implementation phase of his ideas. Rather, existing and new staff will carry them out. But Kaiser said he was pleased to learn that the board and staff are acting.  “I am gratified that the majority of the recommendations are advancing to the next step, and look forward to seeing the results of the implementation,” he said.

 “It’s not very clear what it means,”  said cellist John Koen, who has just ended his time as chairman of the members committee, of the board action.  “It certainly does not encompass all of the recommendations by Michael Kaiser, and to the extent that there is picking and choosing done, you would expect not doing some of the suggestions would have a negative impact on finances or on our connection to the community.” 

Executive vice president for orchestra advancement Ryan Fleur said Kaisers estimated costs for the recommended additives to the orchestra’s existing programs would come to about an extra $1 million in the first year,  “so we’re in the ballpark”  of the first year’s $1.17 million cost, Fleur said.

The expense of commissioning the report — $150,000 — was paid for by the William Penn Foundation and the Neubauer Family Foundation, with each covering half.

The initiatives approved by the orchestra board are:

  • The addition of musicals and continuation of opera, continuation of commissions, and the establishment of a new series of master classes with guest artists to expand audience interest and cultivate donors. These will be paid for within the parameters of the regular budget.
  • Additional support for the orchestra’s education and outreach programs, including its work with Broad Street Ministry and All City Orchestra; expansion of the neighborhood and pop-up concerts; and a research program on mapping arts programs in the public school system. These initiatives are receiving a boost of $335,500.
  • Programs to encourage patron loyalty and the young friends’ group (ages 25-45), and to increase new subscriber and donor retention rates. These initiatives will be allotted $663,900.
  • Initiatives to increase contributed revenue, including the establishment of the artistic and collaborative learning councils (fund-raising bodies that will have no governance authority). An international support council is expected to launch later, in 2018.

The orchestra has been awarded $1.6 million over two years from the William Penn Foundation to boost its neighborhood concerts and other outreach initiatives such as its social-mission programs; to develop a feasibility study for creating a new mobile stage that would make it easier to visit neighborhoods; and to upgrade its LiveNote project, the program that allows listeners at some concerts to follow along, as the music is performed, by reading program notes and other information on cell phones and tablets. (This $1.6 million from the foundation covers a portion of the abovementioned $335,500 for outreach.)

Some of Kaiser’s recommendations coincided with programs the orchestra was already in the process of developing, while others were new, said Matthew Loden, the orchestra’s executive vice president for Institutional Advancement. Kaiser’s perspective  “was immensely important to prioritizing additive investments in 2017, 2018 and beyond,” he said.  “What was also particularly beneficial is that he underscored for us that we are well-poised to do more, engage new donors and younger patrons, deepen our service to the community, and have more fun.”