Are Community Orchestra Programs The New Low Hanging Fruit?

There was an intriguing article by Mark Stryker in the 12/3/2016 edition of the Detroit Free Press that examines the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s community orchestra program. The article focuses primarily on the benefits related to buzzwords like outreach and relevancy but the really interesting aspect of these programs that doesn’t garner as much attention is the revenue potential.

Adaptistration People 121For the past decade, professional orchestras have discovered the financial benefits of running branded youth ensemble programs. For some, the revenue stream is large enough to make the effort a fundamental element of their annual operations.

As a result, it isn’t unusual to see professional organizations absorb established youth orchestras using a process where even though the lion’s share may be rooted in genuine partnership motivation, that doesn’t mean the financial benefit was a “surprise.”

Nonetheless, it is still comparatively rare to see professional orchestras adopt a similar approach toward community orchestras.

Granted, the very definition of what constitutes a community orchestra is murky, and that makes apples to apples comparisons with youth ensemble programs tricky, but Detroit is the latest group to begin moving into this territory so there’s clearly momentum. It will be interesting to see how these programs develop and whether more groups continue to follow suit.

What do you think, when does it make sense for a professional orchestra to branch out into this territory?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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