Between Wednesday and Friday, I attended the opening session, closing session, four breakout sessions, and one special tour of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Milennium Park with the original acoustical engineer.
The theme for this year's conference was Creating the Greatest Impact, and the keynote addresses in full and the breakout sessions as well explored how the orchestra field, and by extrapolation much of the nonprofit arts sector in general, can be a positive presence in today's world.
The stage and lectern just before the opening session
The opening session featured a keynote address by Vijay Gupta, violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and founder of Street Symphony, also in Los Angeles. Gupta is a TED Senior Fellow, Senior Citizen Artist Fellow with the Kennedy Center, and self-described advocate for artistic voices in social issues. A few quotations from his address:
Why did we become musicians? "To connect with the world around us. To ask questions. And to tell stories."
"As artists and art leaders we must reclaim the conversation about why we became artists in the first place."
"This is our time to ask the usually inefficient and always uncomfortable questions."
"Our nation looks to us to make meaning for ourselves and the world around us. When we engage in this joyful work we assume our natural seat at the table as leaders of a vibrant national discourse."
"We only have one best practice. To show up. We have to show up."
"How radically do we welcome the communities on the margins into the center of the artistic process?"
"Sometimes all we can do is sit down and be humble."
"Our greatest impact is in how we listen. Our job is to listen louder than we sing, play, or speak."
Between the opening and closing I attended the following engaging breakout sessions:
Messages that Matter, a case study of what the Eugene (Oregon) Symphony did to listen to what their community wanted in their arts institutions and fold that into their offerings. A quotation: "Let's reframe the business model from 'presenting art' to 'making memories.'"
Building Your Next Gen Donor Pipeline, a look at how Millennials want to engage in philanthropy. Some quotations:
"They care more about results than they care about institutions."
"I think we're creating barriers that don't necessarily exist."
"We have to talk about the connections we make and the value we add."
"Your loyalty to them is more important than their loyalty to you."
"Listen more, talk less."
"Impact happens once, value is constant."
Beyond the Org Chart: Everyone Leads, defining leadership as "behavior that brings people together to move things forward" and discussing empathy in organizational settings.
The Post-Tax Reform Philanthropic Landscape, which rather than being the damage control session I think most of the 75 people in the room thought it would be, actually was an insightful look at some of the potential opportunities for philanthropic activity. The key, not surprisingly, was to "double down on donor relationships" and "tell your impact story."
And the closing session featured cellist (though of course he does so much more) Yo-Yo Ma, recipient of the League's Gold Baton for "distinguished service to America's orchestras." Some quotations from his address, "Why Culture Matters":
"Listen to what's around you.""Make sure every decision considers the other perspective.""Culture engages both our analytic and empathetic faculties, allowing us to make better decisions."
It was a most enriching and stimulating week and I am grateful to both Wheaton College and the CSO for supporting my attendance. And a lot of what I learned was relevant not only for my work with those to institutions but also for my work with Calvary Memorial Church. It was also really enjoyable to have the opportunity on breaks to meet and interact with delegates (as attendees at this conference are called) from orchestras and supporting organizations across the country, from Florida and Louisiana and Massachusetts and Minnesota and Oregon and more. I have only just started processing what I absorbed over the three days and am looking forward to sharing it with colleagues over the coming weeks.