Orchestras Canada’s COVID-19 Response and Services

A letter from our Executive Director, Katherine Carleton

Dear members,

In the last four weeks a wave of cancellations has spread across the country in the wake of lockdown measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Every one of our approximately 130 member orchestras has been affected.

It has been nothing short of inspirational to see the adaptability of Canadian orchestras who are now creating more online content than ever. Orchestras Canada has also increased our level of online activity to support our members going through these unprecedented challenges. We know that orchestras are stronger together than they are alone, and we have been expanding and adapting our four mission pillars to help orchestras respond to the current crisis.

Convening

Over the last month OC has convened online meetings with a number of stakeholder groups to exchange information, ideas and to design collective responses to the current shutdown. We have held meetings with orchestra CEOs, youth orchestra leaders, personnel managers, and with groups of marketing and education staff. We’re making plans to continue and expand these meetings. Let us know what you need.

Advocacy

Our advocacy committee has been hard at work assessing the best way to approach federal government decision-makers and make them aware of orchestras’ needs. We’ve written a letter to several government ministers, and are encouraging our members to share the letter with their local MPs. For obvious reasons, we’ve focused on emergency short term measures. We’ll continue this, even as we consult with you to develop re-launch and resilience strategies for Canadian orchestras.

Knowledge-sharing

We are issuing frequent updates to our members with news that directly affects the arts sector, as well as resources and tools to equip you to respond to the current situation. We’re also happy to share your initiatives and triumphs. You can read these updates on our COVID-19 page, or by signing up to our email list.

Research

So far we have run two surveys that have measured the immediate impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns on our members, and have reported back with some initial insights from our statistician, Steve Smith. This data collection is an ongoing process: while we’re aware that you’re being approached we’ll be collecting and analyzing further data.

I encourage you to take a look at what we’ve been up to, and encourage you to get in touch with us to share resources, brainstorm ideas, or just to check in. Take care,

Katherine Carleton C.M.
Executive Director
Orchestras Canada/Orchestres Canada

Trust, Transparency and Truth

Marion Newman

The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report and its calls to action destabilized many common assumptions about relationships between Indigenous and settler communities in Canada. In response to the report, many orchestras and other cultural institutions began to examine how we engage with our communities, and to rethink the ways in which we collaborate and partner with Indigenous nations, Indigenous people and Indigenous organizations.

Following the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Council at the Regina Symphony Orchestra in 2017, a lot of work has been done to grow this relationship. We spoke with the RSO’s music director, Gordon Gerrard, and mezzo-soprano and Indigenous Advisory Council member, Marion Newman, to learn more about this initiative.

How it started
Gordon Gerrard

The establishment of the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) at the RSO started with the appointment of a new board member, Audra Young, a member of the Cowessess First Nation. Its formalization came as a result of the consultation required for a substantial outreach project with Buffy Sainte-Marie, and one of the first projects that followed was the newly created Forward Currents Festival. Initially the IAC was made up of 12 members who met monthly, principally to advise the newly arrived Music Director, Gordon Gerrard and then-Executive Director Tanya Derksen on elements of Indigenous programming in the orchestras season. “There’s no rulebook for this kind of thing,” Gordon says, “but we wanted to make sure that this was a lasting beneficial relationship to both parties, rather than a one-off exchange.”

Through a desire to allow the time needed for these conversations, the IAC now meets less frequently, but advises on many more aspects of the RSO’s activities. Everything is interconnected. Other orchestras are following this model; the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for example, has established its own Indigenous Council.

Risks and True Consultation

While there was some nervousness about the path on which the orchestra and the IAC were embarking, there was an understanding in the importance and openness of this work. Mezzo-soprano and IAC member Marion Newman cites an established relationship and trust with Gordon as a primary reason for her willingness to join. “We get asked to consult on projects all the time,” Marion said. “It’s less often that the organization actually listens. Because I already trusted Gordon, I knew the orchestra would actually listen to what we had to say. “

Both Marion and Gordon agreed that this is long, sustained and slow work. It required a transparency from the orchestra, sharing things that they weren’t used to sharing with outside groups. “We’re still in the truth part of Truth & Reconciliation,” Marion says. This is uncomfortable, but necessary work to do if true consultation and partnership is the genuine goal. Ultimately this has been a positive experience for the RSO, and advice from the IAC now affects every aspect of their work, such as land acknowledgments, clarifying what true consultation is and guiding all of its stakeholders in developing their own ways to engage in this work.

The Forward Currents Festival

The first project the IAC consulted on was the newly created Forward Currents Festival. “Each year the festival focuses on an issue that is socially relevant to our community here in Regina”, says Gordon. The first edition in 2018 focused on Truth and Reconciliation, and the 2019 edition focused on mental health awareness.

“It’s a very direct way to connect with people who believe that the orchestra isn’t for them,” says Gordon. By taking the orchestra outside of the traditional concert hall, the festival reached a whole new audience who may never have considered attending a traditional orchestral concert. Marion recalls being greatly touched at the first edition of the festival. “It was incredible to see Indigenous people in the audience being moved by the orchestra collaboratively telling their stories, and for these same people to see non-Indigenous audience members moved by Indigenous stories.”

Next Steps

The IAC is now starting to look forward to future seasons in terms of what is programmed and how partnerships are approached. They are also looking into how this work can have a lasting impact on the RSO. Cultural competency training is key, and they hope to soon establish a set path whereby new musicians, staff and board members at the orchestra will receive appropriate training to equip them to work in respectful collaboration with the IAC and other outside communities the RSO may partner with.

This is difficult work and it takes time. Strong individual relationships, trust and transparency need to be at its heart.

Ontario Arts Council and COVID-19

The Ontario Arts Council has changed some of its grant program deadlines for this spring, and you can click through to details from this page. The OAC also has useful and regularly-updated COVID-19 FAQs on its website, here.

Minister’s Town Hall Meeting

This morning, March 26, Lisa Macleod (Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries) held a telephone town hall meeting with over 1250 stakeholders from across Ontario.  Referencing both the province’s identification of essential services (on Monday evening) and the Economic Statement (issued on Wednesday), Minister Macleod outlined a number of measures that the Government of Ontario is taking to assist with relief and recovery of the sectors associated with the Ministry, as follows:

  • The commitment to keep money flowing quickly through existing Operational Service Agencies such as the Ontario Arts Council, Celebrate Ontario, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund. The Minister did not reference any increases to funding: OC has asked the Ontario Arts Council for more information as it becomes available.
  • The impending launch of a new Ontario Live online portal, where musicians, artists, libraries, museums and others can share their work with Ontarians. This is a partnership between the government and an array of artists, arts organizations, and such industry titans as Universal Music and Shopify.
  • The re-tooling of the Ontario Music Fund to get funding into the hands of emerging artists quickly.
  • Additional funding allocated to Tourism Development programs, which will be expanded to include Tourism Relief initiatives.
  • Additional funding allocated to Destination Ontario to help rebuild tourism, once recovery commences.
  • Permission granted to restaurants and bars to sell and deliver unopened packages of liquor in their stock.
  • Funding for Ontario hotels to serve as overflow space for health care workers, those in quarantine, and people in need of shelter (whether because they are not securely housed, or other reasons).
  • The extension of film and television tax credit to ensure that freelance workers in the industry have access to income during a period of time when production has ceased.
  • The commitment to work with provincial sport organizations and athletes to ensure that athlete development efforts are not damaged by the cancellation of major amateur sports events in the province and around the world.
  • The commitment to support existing Operational Enterprise Agencies (including the Royal Ontario Museum, Science North, etcetera) through the recovery period.

Remuneration Information on the Job Board

As of April 13th, 2020, jobs posted on Orchestras Canada’s job board will require remuneration information. This could take the form of:

  • an annual salary (or salary range)
  • an hourly rate (or range)
  • a per service rate
  • a total amount, for contract work or an RFP for example

Pro-bono jobs or professional development opportunities will be marked as such. Many of the jobs posted on our job board are for positions in unionized orchestras, where pay is defined in a collective agreement. We want to make the terms of pay as clear as possible to the musicians applying for these jobs. Likewise, we want to make salary details as clear as possible up front for administrative jobs as well.

Mandatory salary disclosure is fast becoming standard in the arts and non-profit industries. Practices such as this promote pay equity, help to reduce the gender and colour wage gaps, and are win-win for employers and job-seekers for a number of reasons.

For employers

  • It saves time when hiring. You’ll get fewer candidates who are overqualified or underqualified. Waiting until the end of the hiring process to discuss salary expectations means you could interview several candidates before finding someone who will agree with your terms.
  • It reduces staff turnover. Disclosing salary expectations early on minimizes the difference between a job seeker’s expectations and their reality. It starts out the employer-employee relationship as one of trust.
  • It’s fast becoming industry-standard. Other arts and non-profit job services following these practices are Work In Culture, the Professional Alliance for Canadian Theatres, the Ontario Non-Profit Network, the BC Alliance for Arts and Culture, and many more. Some people simply do not apply for jobs that don’t include salary information. Hiding this may be driving away good candidates.

For job-seekers

  • It saves time when job searching. Salary ranges are often a good indicator of the level of experience and qualifications you might need for a job. It means you won’t spend all day writing a cover letter for a job for which you’re woefully underqualified.
  • It acknowledges that people need to support themselves. You can make an informed decision about whether the particular job is an appropriate fit in your current financial or family situation.
  • It helps to reduce the gender and colour wage gaps. Salary posting at the outset ensures that all candidates are starting from a level playing field.

COVID-19 Resources

If you are experiencing difficulties, the Google Doc below can also be accessed here. You can contribute resources to the document here.

Four questions to ask before starting any digital project

Blog post by Nick Walshe, Orchestras Canada

Last month, I attended the Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) second Digital Stage Symposium. The Digital Stage is a collaborative project between the COC, the National Ballet of Canada, and Sheridan College’s Screen Industries Research and Training Centre, and is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts. It is designed to explore and embrace new technology in the arts, equipping arts organizations with what they need to thrive in a constantly changing digital landscape. From apps designed to help audience members engage with the works presented at a concert (last year we wrote about the Winnipeg Symphony’s adventures with an audience engagement app), to ‘smart’ wearable items designed to help performers and artists monitor their bodies, the Symposium presented a wide range of cutting-edge digital technology. More information on these technologies and others can be found in their initial Digital Horizon Scan.

Download the Horizon Scan here.

Unsurprisingly, there was no single technology that stood out as a game-changer for orchestras. The question of how we engage with our audience digitally or live is complex, and only complicated further by the wide range of sizes of Canadian orchestras and the diversity of the communities they serve. I came away from the day with more questions than answers and felt that rather than providing a list of new technology to explore, it could be more useful to share a list of questions I kept coming back to when looking at how orchestras might engage more deeply with digital technology. This non-exhaustive list of four questions is designed to spark discussion and thought before starting any digital project.

What problem are you trying to solve by undertaking this project?

As they say, “every solution has a problem”. It’s important to look at what problems we’re trying to solve with technology, and what other solutions may exist to the same problem. Our audiences can feel when the use of tech becomes ‘gimmicky’. Considering how stretched resources are at arts organizations, it’s important that our investment in technology aligns with our organization’s goals. Are we trying to educate the audience? Increase audience numbers? Deepen their engagement by livestreaming or creating ways for them to participate digitally?

Has it been done before, and did it work?

While Canadian orchestras operate in diverse communities with different tastes, strengths and demographics, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel with every digital project. It’s worth exploring who is using the new technology being considered and seeing what they learned from implementing it. These examples may not come from the orchestra world; we have much to learn from other art forms’ use of digital technology, from dance to theatre to visual arts.

What does this do to the live product?

Or perhaps, what IS the live product? Every exploration into the digital realm has the potential to make us more aware of the live product we present. We often talk about the live experience as one of the most important aspects of what we do as orchestras. Can we bring this experience to more people? Do the forms of digital technology we plan to use enhance or detract from the experience of our live audience? In a digitally connected world, it’s important that we acknowledge online forms of engagement for people that are unable to get to the concert hall for a variety of reasons.

What resources are we lacking in order to get there?

With many arts organizations running at (and pushing) the limit of which they are capable, it’s important to have a plan to bridge any knowledge or resources gaps. Issues of time, money and the knowledge of people within the organization are critical. Is an outside consultant needed, and how much of their time can we afford? Are there additional funding streams we can apply to for this project?

These questions are designed as a starting point for discussion before embarking on a digital project; there will no doubt be other important conversations to be had. We’re excited at the possibilities that new technology will bring to the orchestral sector and the arts world, but acknowledge that this is fast-moving and requires a smart investment of time and resources from decision-makers at our orchestras.

The Canadian Opera Company’s Digital Stage project is ongoing and scheduled for completion in June 2020. Learn more at https://coc.ca/digitalstage.

Guest Blog: Music for All Abilities in Canada’s Capital

Child trying out a flute at a Music Circle event In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in recognition of the need for access to the arts and music for the special needs community. Music is part of the human experience and all people have a right to be a part of that. Yet, traditional concert events have barriers that are difficult to overcome: bright lights, loud sounds, high cost, and the expectation of proper concert etiquette and behaviour can make attending orchestral concerts impossible for many with special needs. Arts education opportunities that are truly accessible are also few and far between. Physical accessibility is only part of the equation; true accessibility involves removing all barriers, which requires creative thinking on the part of arts organizations.

Child with earmuffs trying a horn at a Music Circle eventThe benefits of taking part in accessible music making and concerts goes beyond just the music (which is a great incentive in itself!). Participating in an accessible adapted music program can facilitate social skill development through encouraging turn taking and engaging with peers. The sensory stimulation provided by making and listening to music in a controlled environment can aid with self-regulation and promote well-being. For parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to engage with the arts in a way that is comfortable for their child is priceless.

The National Arts Centre in Ottawa has taken up this cause with dedication to creating a welcoming and adapted environment for the special needs community. Since 2012, the NAC has offered their groundbreaking Music Circle program. This hybrid music education and concert experience is designed to meet the needs of special needs patrons. Small groups participate in a series of hands-on workshops featuring an instrumental family (brass, woodwinds, strings or percussion), followed by a sensory-friendly concert featuring those same instruments. The environment is comfortable, with various seating options, space to move, and a quiet area for breaks as needed. The workshop material is developed to meet the needs of each participant and allow them to interact with the instruments and each other in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for them. The concert is carefully planned to prevent sensory overstimulation. For many, participation in this program has also served as a bridge to attending regular orchestral concerts, and the NAC has facilitated this by offering sensory-friendly pre-concert activities at family concerts. Through the Music Circle program, hundreds of patrons of all ages with special needs have come to learn about the orchestra and have attended concerts designed to meet their needs. As a result, a love of music has been sparked in many, and they feel welcomed and comfortable at the National Arts Centre.

Thank you to Erin Parkes from the Lotus Centre for Special Music Education for writing this guest blog. Erin will be at our national conference talking about orchestras and social inclusion with other experts in the field including Ian Ritchie (Setúbal Music Festival), Faith Scholfield (Windsor Symphony Orchestra), and Elizabeth Simpson (NAC Orchestra).

From Development to Engagement

Donna Walker-KuhneAs part of OC’s National Conference, in Ottawa this June 11-14, we will be welcoming Donna Walker-Kuhne as one of our keynote speakers. Donna is currently Senior Advisor of Community Engagement at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre (NJPAC). Started four years ago by Donna, the NJPAC community engagement department is small (with a staff of three), but is seeing some stunning results. With over 200 events, and some 30,000 people through their doors each year, the NJPAC is actively working to bring the arts to a more diverse audience, and engaging them in many different ways.

Successfully engaging community

Early in their community engagement work, Donna and her department decided to more extensively activate the advisory council of community members already in place at NJPAC to help guide their work. “We have an amazing advisory council that creates events that they find are of interest to their community, that introduce the arts, engage people in the arts, and educate people about the arts,” she says. The joint work of the community engagement department and the advisory council has changed the way that the NJPAC operates. “It’s had significant impact, not just in the audiences, but also in the opportunities we can present to our corporate funders. Because we are able to give them a footprint in the community, they are allocating additional dollars, and in certain instances exclusively funding our department.”

Measuring success

It can be challenging to measure the impact of this work on communities. Donna spoke about measuring success at NJPAC through the actions of their partner community organizations and associations. “Buying a ticket is not one of our measurements. We are not a sales entity,” she says. Rather, they look at how deeply they are engaging with the organizations they serve, on something of a ‘ladder of engagement’ that shows different kinds of interactions with NJPAC events:

  1. Attending free events
  2. Promoting NJPAC events (taking fliers, sending e-blasts, helping NJPAC reach people that they might not otherwise be able to)
  3. Bringing groups to events
  4. Volunteering at events

Once organizations are doing three of these four things, they are described as engaged partners, and tracking these is a key measure of success. NJPAC currently has 122 engaged partners.

Audience Development and Community Engagement

Photo of NJPAC with a packed crowd outsideHow has this work changed over time? “It’s an evolution. I’ve been involved in this work since 1982,” Donna says. “At that time we didn’t have any terminology for the lack of diversity in audiences, but there was a conversation.” It took a while for organizations to move on what they heard. In the 1990s, people started using the term audience development, and some foundations started putting funds towards this. Over time, audience development became to be seen as a term more concerned with sales, i.e. developing an audience to purchase tickets. The term community engagement represented the next step. “First we have to cultivate the community to be interested in what we’re doing,” Donna says.

While the terminology has changed, the desire to become more deeply engaged with our communities is still strongly felt in orchestras and arts organizations. However, building this work into long-term plans is challenging. We need to allocate time and money from within our organization to make it happen. “It has to be a priority,” Donna says. “It has to be something that the board and senior leadership have embraced.” It’s important to have ways to measure success, and to be cultivating connections that last longer than one particular project or staff member. It’s not easy work, but it opens up our orchestras to all kinds of interesting, rewarding and long-lasting relationships with our communities.

At our National Conference, Donna will be giving a keynote address and leading a workshop that will explore best practices in the field of community engagement, present success metrics for these programs, and look at how to build and expand multicultural arts audiences. Visit the Conference area of our website for more information.

Building a Digital Organization

The word Digital invokes a wide spectrum of reactions from arts administrators, from screams of delight to… just screams. Whether capital ‘D’ digital is something that is embedded into your organization’s DNA, or just something that you think the staff millennial does, orchestras are engaging with their audiences on digital platforms in ways that are new, exciting, and scary. In preparation for our National Conference, taking place this June, we sat down (digitally, naturally) with Fiona Morris of The Space to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of  embracing digital technologies in the arts.

Fiona is the Chief Executive and Creative Director with The Space, a UK-based commissioning and development organization that works with artists to create new projects in the arts, and supports other arts organizations in their digital strategy work through mentoring, training and consultancy. Along with her colleague John White, Fiona will be running a pre-conference workshop on building a sound digital strategy.

So why Digital and why right now?

Photo: People discussing around laptopsAlthough conversations about integrating digital technologies into our arts organizations are nothing new, the way we speak about it needs to change. “The term Digital is one of those zeitgeist-y terms,” Fiona says. “It’s a disastrous term that makes people feel inadequate. It’s okay not to know what that word means, because it doesn’t really mean anything.” We tend to use the term as a catch-all for being active online, but don’t always know what this looks like. Orchestras want to be digitally active, but it’s not as simple as just livestreaming everything we do. We need to strategically choose what we present online in order to get the most impact from our limited time and money.

Digital isn’t something that we need to ‘do more of’. Fiona explains this term as “a way of connecting and communicating with audiences that is utterly revolutionary.” The increasing number of digital tools available to arts organizations and their audiences is game-changing, and means that our audiences can be thousands of miles away, or as close as our front door; an exciting and unsettling combination of the hyper-local and the global.

Opportunities and Challenges

As we know here at Orchestras Canada, arts organizations have concerns about how to properly start using digital technologies with limited time and money to put into them (check out the results from this survey we ran last fall on digital strategy at our member orchestras).

This is a great time for cultural organizations. We can engage with our audience in ways we never have before. “For cultural and creative organizations, the opportunity to talk to audiences in detail, and get immediate feedback from them is extraordinary,” Fiona says. Interestingly, it’s a relationship where the audience has all the power. Our audiences consume an overwhelming amount of digital content every day, and they increasingly have the power to decide what they consume and what they ignore. We need to do be purposeful in why we’re asking our audience to engage with us digitally.

Often arts organizations turn to digital platforms (where they have little familiarity) to try and attract younger audiences (with whom they have little experience in communicating). Fiona encourages us to do one or the other of these things well first, before venturing into doubly unfamiliar territory. We need to be very clear and consistent in what our message is to our digital audience, who they are, and why they want to hear it.

Approaching and Integrating Digital

We asked Fiona for some examples of traits that show up in organizations that have successfully transformed their digital work. She mentioned that these organizations all have clarity in their messaging, and gave a series of questions that digitally literate organizations have strong answers to including:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Where is the audience?
  • What conversations are they having?
  • Why should they come to us? (i.e. What makes our orchestra’s podcast/livestream any different than anyone else’s?)

Fiona also emphasizes that a digital strategy needs to have roots in every aspect of your organization. “Most arts organizations are very siloed; the Marketing people don’t talk to the Creative people, who don’t talk to the Fundraising people. Digital means that everything is integrated and everything is moving towards one goal.”

Fiona and John from The Space will be leading a pre-conference workshop on how to integrate your strategic and business plans with a digital strategy. Visit the Conference area of our website for more information.

Guest Blog: A Benefit for Kerry Stratton

Guest blog post by Catriona Delaney at the Italian Canadian Symphony Orchestra

Maestro Kerry Stratton is our friend and a friend to classical music lovers across the nation, and internationally due to his incredible career. He is a household name in Toronto; in addition to being an extraordinary conductor, Kerry has been a broadcaster for three decades at the New Classical FM. For the last five years, Maestro Kerry has energetically lead the Symphony in the Gardens at Casa Loma every Tuesday night of the spring, summer, and early fall, playing to an audience of thousands each week, many of whom had never experienced the wonder of an orchestral performance. Kerry’s conducting is magnetic, energetic, fun, impassioned, and vigorous…the perfect foil to lure in unsuspecting and budding classical music lovers and they return, in droves.

In January 2018, Kerry slipped on the ice and broke his wrist. It didn’t heal, so tests followed. This was the slippery slope to a harrowing diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  There is no cure; eighty percent of people with ALS succumb to the disease within two to five years. Despite this, Maestro Kerry, continued to conduct an entire season, adapting as ALS crept through his body and stripped him of the vigor we know so well.

In the course of his international career, Stratton has conducted orchestras in Europe, North America and Asia. In 2001, he became the first Canadian to conduct the St. Petersburg Camerata in the Hermitage Theatre at the Winter Palace.  In 2004 he debuted with the Beijing Symphony at the Forbidden City. There is so much more to tell of his dedication to classical music. Kerry has regularly toured and guest conducted for orchestras internationally and speaks to wall-to-wall crowds because he has been gifted with the delightful ability to make the stories behind the music you love as entertaining as the music itself.

The real magic in Kerry lies in his witty, wickedly, knowledgeable mind, which ALS cannot affect. And so in his third iteration, Maestro Kerry, Artistic Director, will continue to program beautiful entertainment for as long as he is able.

Kerry is a devoted husband and father of three and this beautiful family needs quality time together. The Maestro’s Gala is a benefit concert at Casa Loma with such musical guests as Tenor, John McDermott. It will be an extraordinary event and we will surprise Maestro Kerry with some favorite pieces in a gorgeous, intimate setting while providing much needed support.

I am hurt but I am not slain.
I’ll lay me down and bleed awhile,
Then I’ll rise and fight again.

Kerry Stratton, final broadcast The Oasis, The New Classical FM.