Small Budget Orchestra Day: National Conference 2019

We’re delighted to announce that, as part of our National Conference in Ottawa this June, we will be running a full-day small-budget orchestra session on Thursday, June 13th.

Date & Time: Thursday, June 13, 9am-5:30
Location: Canada’s National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON
Cost: $100 + HST

Be sure to select the ‘Small Budget Orchestra Day’ pricing option when registering.


9am-10am: Coffee, check-in

10am-12pm: Peer group meeting with invited guests. Topics on the agenda include:

  1. Perspectives on accessing funding for smaller budget orchestras: What makes a funding request successful? How do we find likely prospects?
  2. Doing great work on a shoestring: Identifying, attracting and retaining great board members and volunteers
  3. Building and maintaining a strong community orchestra: How do we attract skilled volunteer musicians, and keep them happy? What role does programming play? How do we balance “curb appeal” for the audience with the interests of the players? What role do we want and need our music director to play? How do we find the right music director?
  4. Growing audiences: How can we broaden, deepen, diversify our audiences? What’s working? What role does programming play?

12pm-1pm: Group lunch

1pm-2pm: Peer group meeting continues

2pm-4pm: Choice of conference breakout sessions, focusing on ways that orchestras can engage with increasingly diverse populations, however they define diversity in their communities. Choose one of four options:

  1. The Creative Case for Social Inclusion: what orchestras are doing to engage more community members
  2. Orchestral training and career paths: short term “hacks” and long-term changes to diversify orchestras
  3. Fundraising (panel discussion)
  4. Resilience and Business models, a workshop with Patrick Towell of Golant Media Ventures, co-author of What is Resilience Anyway?

4pm-4:30pm: Coffee break with other conference delegates

4:30pm-5:30pm: Panel presentation: arts data you can use! Canada Council’s recent research on orchestras, on the demographics of institutions funded through the Engage and Sustain, and on intrinsic arts impact.

5:30pm: Full day program is done. Those wanting to continue the experience can participate in the following evening activities at their own expense. Please register here your interest here, by June 1st.

  1. Indigenous Walking Tour of Parliament Hill (cost is $15-20 per person depending on the size of the group)
  2. OrKidstra’s season closing concert (tickets are free but will need to be booked in advance)
  3. Prix fixe dinner at Le Café ($50 plus tax, tip, and any beverages)

Full Conference

Should any smaller budget groups wish to join us for the full three-day conference, you’d be more than welcome. Information on this can be found in the National Conference area of our website.

Thank you, Micheline McKay, and welcome Éric Dubeau!

A message from our Executive Director, Katherine Carleton

Micheline McKaySince 2013, Orchestras Canada has been privileged to work with Micheline McKay as our government relations consultant. Micheline has served as trusted advisor, analyst and reliable source of information and feedback to the OC staff, board and Advocacy Committee. Her good sense, high ethical standards, discretion, hard work, and political insights have inspired us all. On a personal note, she’s the best and most patient co-writer I’ve ever worked with, handling my relentless editing and wild spins on things with great aplomb. I also recall with great admiration the role she played in our Orchestras on the Hill day in early 2018: the passionate tributes that Minister of Canadian Heritage and the chairs and vice chairs of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage paid to orchestras that day came about because of Micheline’s tact and effective organization.

In the fall of 2018, Micheline let us know that she was closing her government relations practice to focus on other things. We bade her a fond farewell in early March, and thanked her on behalf of the entire OC community. She has done exceptional work with us over the last five and a half years and we are grateful.

Éric DubeauStarting April 1, we’ll be welcoming Éric Dubeau as OC’s new government relations advisor. Éric, based just outside Montreal, has many years of experience as an arts advocate, political staffer on Parliament Hill, policy wonk, association leader, granting officer, arts consultant, and award-winning singer-songwriter. His unique skills and collaborative, informed approach make him an ideal successor to Micheline, and we can’t wait to get started!

Our thoughts on the Federal Budget 2019

Map of CanadaThe federal budget, announced on March 19, is the last before this fall’s general election. The budget document included acknowledgment of the importance of the cultural sector, stating:

Across the country, Canada’s artists and their supporters bring people together, to appreciate and celebrate the diversity and creativity that Canadians are known for the world over. Our cultural industries are also an important source of jobs—employing more than 650,000 Canadians—and are a key contributor to our economy, worth nearly $54 billion each year.

To continue advancing the cultural sector, Budget 2019 announced:

$20 million over two years, starting in 2019–20, to the Canada Music Fund.
The Canada Music Fund (CMF) helps the Canadian music industry meet new challenges. A wide range of musicians and entrepreneurs who create, produce and market original and diverse Canadian music are eligible to apply. The CMF is the primary tool implementing the three major objectives of the Canadian Sound Recording Policy, From Creators to Audience, which are: to enhance access to a diverse range of Canadian music choices through existing and emerging media; to increase the opportunities available for Canadian music artists and entrepreneurs to make a significant and lasting contribution to Canadian cultural expression; and to ensure that Canadian music artists and entrepreneurs have the skills, know-how and tools to succeed in a global and digital environment.)

$16 million over two years, starting in 2019–20, to the Canada Arts Presentation Fund.
The Canada Arts Presentation Fund (CAPF) provides financial assistance to organizations that professionally present arts festivals or performing arts series (arts presenters) and organizations that offer support to arts presenters. Through the CAPF, Canadians have access to a variety of professional artistic experiences in their communities. Each year, the CAPF supports approximately 600 professional arts festivals and performing arts series, as well as other activities related to art presentation, in more than 250 cities or communities across Canada. The CAPF has two main components – Programming and Development. The CAPF Programming component has two streams: Professional Arts Festivals and Performing Arts Series Presenters; and Presenter Support Organizations.)

$24 million over two years, starting in 2019–20, to the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage Program, the Celebration Program, and the Commemoration Program
The Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage program was created to help you celebrate your community – both its past and its present. This program increases opportunities for local artists, artisans, heritage performers or specialists to be involved in their community through festivals, events and projects. It also allows local groups to commemorate their local history and heritage.

Celebrate Canada provides funding for activities organized on National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21); Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24); Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27); and Canada Day (July 1).

The Commemorate Canada program provides funding to initiatives that commemorate and celebrate historical figures, places, events and accomplishments of national significance. The program favours commemorations and celebrations marking 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th anniversaries and subsequent anniversaries in increments of 25 years.

In addition, support of $1 million is being provided over two years to Canadian Heritage’s efforts to integrate Gender-based Analysis plus (GBA+) in program design.

More broadly—but still of potential value in the arts and culture sector—the budget includes provision for a doubling of work placements for youth through the Canada Summer Jobs program in 2019–20, and new funding to modernize the Youth Employment Strategy.

Budget 2019 continues measures already announced in previous budgets, including staged funding increases to the Canada Council for the Arts, which will double the Council’s parliamentary appropriation (from a 2016 base) by 2021.

What this means for orchestras

The budget’s positive references to the social and economic impact of the arts represent good news for the arts and culture sector. Further, the continued, sustained increase to the Canada Council for the Arts was Orchestras Canada’s number one priority, as put forward in our 2019 pre-budget submission. This looks to have been achieved. Each of the other program increases that we’ve cited may – in very different ways – offer opportunities for Canadian orchestras, and Orchestras Canada will be keeping you apprised of what we learn in the coming weeks.

Next steps
  • Orchestras Canada will review the detailed spending estimates when they’re made available, to better understand the fine details of the budget’s impact.
  • We will reach out to partner umbrella organizations to learn more about the potential impact of these new investments on orchestras.
  • We will continue to press for enhanced investment in the Endowment Incentives program.
  • We will monitor changes to the Youth Employment Strategy, with a focus on enhanced opportunities for the arts sector.
  • And, of course, we’ll share what we’re learning with you.

Three reasons to be at the National Conference

Registration is now open for Orchestras Canada’s National Conference! This year, we’ve introduced new price points to ensure that the conference is as accessible as we can make it – and we’re beyond excited about the program, too! Take advantage of the early-bird discount by registering before the April 26th deadline.

1. Connect with learnings from innovative and engaging speakers

We’re thrilled to welcome speakers who are leading change in the arts industry. Among others, we’re delighted to introduce:

  • Nina Simon, will explore the risks and rewards of engaging more closely with our communities, and will arm you with the tools to talk to your board and colleagues about opportunities for community involvement that will strengthen the impact of your organization.
  • Donna Walker-Kuhne will share best practices and success metrics for community engagement programs and will present strategies on ways to expand and diversify your audience.
  • As part of our pre-conference digital workshop on June 11th, Fiona Morris and John White from The Space will look at how to integrate your strategic and business plans with your digital strategy.
  • Dylan Robinson will help us better understand and respectfully navigate issues of cultural appropriation through a workshop and panel discussion.

2. Become part of the conversation on designing the 21st-century orchestra

Attend expert-led, peer-driven breakout sessions that connect you to vital conversations about how orchestras are adapting for the 21st century. With sessions running simultaneously on subjects such as governance, marketing, fundraising, community engagement, and orchestral training systems, these conversations will challenge us to consider the transformations we can make in our own organizations.

3. Meet your peers from orchestras large and small across the country

Whether over a cup of coffee before starting the day, during structured peer group meetings, or at a social event, the National Conference is an important reminder that you’re not alone. The conference includes dedicated time with peers who do similar work to you, to discuss the most pressing issues you face, and to brainstorm solutions.

Results from OC’s Member Satisfaction Survey

The survey was distributed to one contact at each orchestra (usually the CEO, or a board member). Of the 125 organizations approached, 49 responded to the survey; this is slightly down from the 55 who responded to the 2016 edition. However, geographically, the 2018 edition is more representative of OC’s membership, with Québec and Ontario slightly over-represented, and other provinces slightly under-represented as a result, most notably British Columbia.

In both 2016 and 2018, larger budget organizations were noticeably over-represented in the survey. Organizations in the $1 Million to $5 Million category were the highest responders, with 15 of the 18 member organizations in this category responding in 2018.

Next Steps

Some of the improvements suggested can be addressed by technical fixes and are achievable within our current means. The issue of long load times on our website has been addressed in our recent website rebuild. You also called for more frequent reminders of OC programs and services, and we can commit to this. Also achievable: commitment to commissioning or curating, then sharing, authoritative resources via our website.

We acknowledge that some things will take more time and resources to accomplish, especially our commitment to enable more and better connection between peers (whether online or in-person).  As well, we were intrigued by the suggestion that we do more to foster mentoring networks among OC members, to ensure better transmission of knowledge between current and future leaders, and help build a sectoral succession plan. While we can’t commit to starting this work today, you’ve inspired us to think more deeply about how and when it might happen.

Programs and Services

These questions looked to understand the value that our members place on certain OC programs and services (whether or not they’ve taken part in them). In general, our members are expecting more of OC in 2018 than they were in 2016.

wdt_ID Program/Service 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Job Board 3.63 3.93
2 Inventory of Orchestra Music Libraries 3.71 3.56
3 Webinars for professional development 3.24 3.5
4 Email discussion groups 3.08 3.17
5 Ongoing advocacy with government 4.35 4.48
6 Advocacy template letters to government 3.32 3.69
7 Comparative Report 3.9 4.06
8 HR templates (contracts, handbooks, etc) 3.28 3.58
9 Monthly newsletter 3.06 3.47
10 Conferences and workshops 3.41 3.34 (Workshops); 3.56 (Regional Meetings); 3.83 (National Conference)

We also asked about the level of satisfaction with the programs that our members have taken part in. With the exception of the two insurance programs, those who have taken part in our programs have a higher level of satisfaction now than two years ago.

wdt_ID Program/Service 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Job Board 3.76 4.23
2 Inventory of Orchestra Music Libraries 3.55 3.56
3 Webinars for professional development 3.71 3.76
4 Email discussion groups 3.18 3.61
5 Ongoing advocacy with government 3.8 3.91
6 Advocacy template letters to government 3.58 3.91
7 Comparative Report 4.18 4.28
8 HR templates (contracts, handbooks, etc) 3.6 3.78
9 Monthly newsletter 3.37 3.93
10 Conferences and workshops 4 3.75 (Workshops); 3.88 (Regional Meetings); 4.35 (National Conference)

Our members value most highly OC’s advocacy work, the national conference, and the comparative report. The comments for this section saw a strong desire for strengthening connections among members (through online and in-person exchanges), and for even more advocacy work. In terms of the low ratings on the insurance programs, we plan to start conversations with our members who have used these to look deeper into this.


There is a notable level of improvement in the level of satisfaction regarding our communications. The level of people who are not engaging with us on any particular platform has also decreased.

wdt_ID Platform 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating 2016 N/A Response 2018 N/A Response
1 OC Website 3.31 3.61 11% 6.38%
2 Email Communications 3.61 3.96 11% 0%
3 Social Media Communications 3.1 3.82 38% 27.66%

Respondents commented in both 2016 and 2018 that they would like to see more frequent and easily accessible communication of summary lists of OC programs and services. In both surveys, there was also a strong desire in the comments for more connecting of staff across member organizations (particularly below senior management level).


There is improvement with regards to the extent that respondents felt they had developed professional peer relationships through OC. However, with the exception of senior management, almost all other areas of staff were still reported as having relationships below “somewhat developed”.

wdt_ID Staff 2016 Average Rating 2018 Average Rating
1 Senior Management 2.85 3.9
2 Communications & Marketing 2.16 3.16
3 Subscription & Patron Relations 1.92 2.68
4 Artistic Directors 2.12 2.71
5 Fundraising & Development 1.96 2.85
6 Finance 2.02 2.13
7 Production 1.83 3.14
8 Programming 2.24 3.26

These questions were new in 2018 and tracked where our members go to for information, resources, advice and perspectives, as well as asking which knowledge gaps they’d like OC to fill. The option of a national mentoring or exchange program came up multiple times as something that our members would value as an added program.

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility Declaration

These questions were also new in 2018. 41 respondents (83.67%) were aware of the IDEA declaration, with 20 orchestras having adopted this at their organizations, and another seven commenting that it is in progress of being discussed. Of these orchestras, one is in British Columbia, one in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan, one in Manitoba, ten in Ontario, four in Québec, and one in Nova Scotia. Most (16/20) are organizations with budgets over $1 Million. 40 respondents (85.1%) found this work to be “Important” or “Very Important”.


Orchestras Canada’s mission is: Orchestras Canada helps orchestras achieve together what they cannot accomplish alone, serving Canadian orchestras in both official languages, through research, knowledge-sharing, convening, and advocacy. Respondents believed that OC was succeeding in its mission more strongly in 2018 than in 2016, with the average response on the 5-pont scale moving from 4.13 to 4.3.

2019 Gift-Matching Campaign

Orchestras Canada’s board and staff are collaborating on an end-of-year challenge: we’ve collectively increased our giving in order to create a matching fund. For every dollar that we raise from donors before March 31, to a maximum of $3,000, our board and staff will match the gift, dollar for dollar! Whether you give $25 or $500, you’ll have the joy of knowing that your investment will have twice the impact…but only if you donate before March 31, 2019.

We invite you to make a tax-receiptable donation today through the CanadaHelps form on our donation page. Thank you so much!

Orchestras Canada Digital Strategy Survey Results

Last fall, Orchestras Canada, led by our Digital Strategy Task Force, asked leaders of orchestras across the country to tell us about their use of digital tools and the state of digital strategy at their organizations

General Information

This survey was distributed to Orchestras Canada’s primary contact at each orchestra, usually the CEO/Executive Director for orchestras that have professional management, and a board member at orchestras who don’t. Youth orchestras were not included in this survey. Of the 105 contacts, 60 responded; 22 at orchestras with annual revenues over $1,000,000 (hereafter referred to as larger organizations), and 38 at orchestras with annual revenues of under $1,000,000 (hereafter referred to as smaller organizations). The two groups mostly responded to the same questions, but there were several differences which will be discussed below.

Themes and Trends

The survey responses demonstrated a level of excitement in the opportunities that digital technologies presented, but also strong concerns about the challenges in integrating these into an organization. There was less of a difference between the larger and smaller organizations than one may have thought; many organizations of all budget sizes are stressed about the money, risk, time and people involved in integrating new digital technologies in their organizations.

In terms of opportunities, respondents acknowledged that digital might allow them to tell their story better, and to better identify, reach and enhance the experience of their audience. Respondents also identified the opportunity for better operational efficiency, the ability to segment and personalize their operations, and to better measure the impact they have.

Participants also identified many challenges in integrating more digital technologies at their organizations, with many being skeptical of the value of digital technology when compared to the cost, time and effort. There was a feeling of having to acquire a lot of knowledge quickly in order to be where we should in terms of digital literacy.

Participants also identified strong needs in beginning a digital transformation; many wanted to know best practices, and what audiences expected from orchestras in terms of their digital engagement. Many times it came down to needing more money to invest in these tools. There was a strong sense of frustration: people can see and feel potential and pressure to engage, but are challenged to prioritize then start. Responses often felt opportunistic rather than strategic. Participants would spend the money if it came to them, but haven’t prioritized this in their long-term planning.

Finer Detail
Basic Information on Digital Technologies

The survey’s opening questions focused on the level of familiarity with digital tools and initiatives in the respondent’s organization. The majority of respondents (68% of larger organizations and 79% of smaller organizations) felt their organization had “some familiarity”, but not a strong familiarity with digital technologies.

The financial investment in digital activity had generally increased, with 45% of larger organizations (but only 26% of smaller organizations) saying their investment had significantly increased. No one in either group was actively reducing their investment in digital technology.

82 % of larger organizations and 66% of smaller organizations said that digital was a priority for their orchestra, though it was explicitly mentioned in only 50% of the larger orchestras’ strategic plans and 44% of the smaller groups’: more on this later. Many of the comments in this section cited digital technologies as a way of reaching new and diverse audiences and better relating to their community, as well as increasing administrative efficiency among orchestra management. Organizations who said that digital was not a priority often explained that this was due to a lack of time and funds, or because of a cynicism in its effectiveness.

Digital Technologies and Long-term Strategic Planning

Of the orchestras who had a current strategic plan (all of the larger organizations, and 42% of the smaller organizations), there was an exactly even split between those whose plans explicitly addressed digital opportunities, and those whose did not.

We asked respondents about what they’d do if they were suddenly given a pile of cash for new digital initiatives. 59% of larger and 68% of smaller organizations had “a few ideas” about what they would do with this money; another 27% of larger and 5% of smaller organizations had these ideas specifically written into their strategic plans. Very few respondents (no larger, and seven smaller organizations) had no idea what they would do with this hypothetical cash influx.

Digital Literacy

The majority of respondents (77%) self-identified as digitally literate, with similar results seen in both versions of the survey. Larger organizations were asked about where they acquired this expertise; there was a wide variety of responses, with learning in both formal (courses and seminars) and informal (trial and error) settings cited.

For smaller organizations, there is no clear trend as to whether digital literacy is made a priority when recruiting or hiring new staff or volunteers, with a 50/50 split between those who were looking for this and those who didn’t explicitly address it. At the larger organizations, digital literacy was given more priority in the hiring process, with 41% saying that this is a priority, and 59% saying that this depends on the employee’s role.

Larger organizations were asked an additional question about how they supported developing digital literacy for their staff. 15 of the 22 organizations (68%) had some kind of professional development funding available, with two of these organizations having this done in-house.

In a similar vein, smaller organizations were asked if they had identified a ‘digital champion’ in their organization recently. This was again split evenly with no clear trend; 17 of these organizations had, and 18 had not.

Learning and Successes

Survey participants were asked what would be useful to them in shaping their orchestra’s digital work. Responses were varied, with responses ranging from things that would give our member organizations basic digital literacy, to how to begin more complex projects such as live-streaming and reaching new audiences with digital tools. The question of how to apply for funding for all of this was also brought up. Participants responded to this question in particular both in terms of what digital might mean for their organizations artistically, but also in terms of marketing and in the day to day management of their orchestras.

We also asked who else’s digital work participants admired. Particularly notable among the smaller organizations was the consistent mention of other Canadian orchestras such as Tafelmusik, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The larger organizations tended to look further outward to arts organizations such as the Berlin Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and also to non-arts organizations entities as varied as Apple, YouTubers, and WestJet.

National Conference: Designing the 21st Century Orchestra

Designing the 21st Century Orchestra: Embedding Canadian Orchestras in Canadian Communities

We are excited to announce the theme and two of the keynote speakers for our 2019 National Conference, happening in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, from June 12th – 14th. Information for Designing the 21st Century Orchestra is now live on our website. You can register, benefit from discounted hotel and travel rates, and apply for bursaries (for member organizations with annual revenues under $2 Million, or larger organizations looking to send additional staff; applications due on February 28th). To whet your appetite, here’s a quick introduction to two of our keynote speakers:

Nina SimonNina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and founder of the OF/BY/FOR ALL movement. Nina will give both a keynote talk and a workshop, focusing on the risks and rewards of engaging our communities more closely with our institutions, and introducing OF/BY/FOR ALL, a new “global movement and a set of tools to help your organization become of, by, and for your community.” In her workshop, she’ll help you explore the communities you currently serve and those you wish to involve, and offer take-home tools you can use to talk with your board and colleagues about new opportunities for community involvement that can strengthen your organization’s impact.

Donna Walker-KuhneDonna Walker-Kuhne, Senior Advisor, Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and founder of Walker International Communications Group. Donna will share best practices in the field of community engagement, discuss success metrics for community engagement programs, and give guidance on advancing in diversity, equity and inclusion work. She will also present tangible strategies on ways to build and expand multicultural audiences for the arts, and will look at national trends on engaging diverse communities, the impact of immigration, and the impact of press, publicity and advertising.

Nominations Open for the Betty Webster Prize 2019

Orchestras Canada has just opened nominations for the 2019 Orchestras Canada Betty Webster Award, our way of recognizing outstanding contributions to the Canadian orchestral community. This annual prize celebrates those who have made outstanding contributions to Canadian orchestras, and provides us with an opportunity to champion the accomplishments of our colleagues. Established in 2002 to honour OC’s founding Executive Director, the Award pays tribute to the late Betty Webster’s accomplishments in her advancement of Orchestras Canada and its members. In particular, sustained and significant contributions in the areas of leadership, education and volunteerism are honoured. Click here for more information, on the nomination process.

Katherine Carleton appointed to the Order of Canada

Katherine Carleton, C.M.. with Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada,Katherine Carleton, Orchestras Canada’s executive director, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada.  A respected arts manager and an accomplished musician, she has been at the helm of Orchestras Canada since 2005.  Before coming to Orchestras Canada, Ms. Carleton was executive director of the Kingston Symphony, the Nova Scotia Symphony and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. A passionate arts advocate, Katherine Carleton has garnered the respect of the orchestra industry across Canada and abroad.

With a degree in clarinet performance, Ms. Carleton has in the past worked as a musician, teacher, grants officer, and arts administrator. She still finds time to perform in small ensembles in Peterborough and Toronto. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (Music) and McGill University (management).

“The Canadian orchestra community is proud of Katherine. The Order of Canada is a well-deserved recognition of the immense work she has done in defending, promoting and advocating for the arts and for orchestras from coast to coast,” said Gilles Choquet, president of the Board of Orchestras Canada / Orchestres Canada and executive director of l’Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil.