Outreach Or Pandering?

One of the more sensitive yet pressing topics inside the field is how orchestras should go about creating stronger ties with their community and what does and does not constitute meaningful outreach.

Adaptistration People 086To better understand, let’s look at what might be best defined as one of the least effective examples where an orchestra will run an event in what they define as an “underserved” community or neighborhood. That’s usually code for areas populated by individuals and families in lower economic tiers and/or comprised of minority residents.

Certainly, this is not a universal truth but if you take the time to talk to musicians and staffers involved with the event, it doesn’t take long to get a sense that the event feels more like grant pandering than trying to accomplish anything meaningful.

This is one of the reasons a recent article by Mark McNamara in the 1/10/2017 edition of the San Francisco Classical Voice is intriguing. In the article, McNamara examines some outreach oriented ideas Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams is looking to implement such as touring the state with a dozen or so musicians, albeit not necessarily those from his orchestra, for a series of short concerts and talk-back sessions.

Abrams has yet to finalize details or find funding for his idea but if it moves forward, it will be interesting to see if it includes some sort of public examination element. Will everyone on the outside looking in be able to learn about what happens at the events and hear from those who attend?

I’m curious to know what you think’ not only about Abrams’ idea, but the broader topic. Do you know of examples where orchestras are making genuine strides in meaningful outreach? For that matter, what do you think constitutes meaningful outreach? Have you participated in something that felt more like grant-pandering? Leave a comment below and share.

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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