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Orchestras in a Post-COVID-19 World

On May 25th, as part of our Re-launch online learning series, Orchestras Canada welcomed economist and futurist Linda Nazareth to reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on orchestras: now, in the mid-term, and into the future. In an idea-packed 45-minute talk, Linda gave a quick overview of social issues and economic factors that are currently affecting orchestras, and explored the evolution of the orchestra as a ‘workplace’. We encourage you to listen to the recording with the accompanying slide deck.

As well, we’d like to share five of our favourite learnings from Linda’s session to share with you.

1. This Pandemic Has Three Stages: you need a plan (or plans) for each

Linda spoke about the three key stages of the pandemic and how each of them will affect orchestras. The first (and current, as we write this) stage is the shutdown. While this phase is about staying visible and close to your audience, it’s also important to think about the monetization of content, so you can sustain the quantity and quality of your output.  The second stage will be the transition towards some resuming of activities. With people economically hard-hit by the pandemic, orchestras will need to pivot their activities, and craft a plan that will work in an economy where many are living with reduced means. Stage three is the post-vaccine future. This stage will not, in Linda’s view, be a “return to normal”. Success in stage three will require a thoroughly examination and renovation of existing business models and a genuine commitment to bringing value to the communities we serve.

2.It’s never too late

Linda emphasized the importance of not forgetting core audiences. While orchestras’ traditionally older audiences have been financially hit by the pandemic, the effects are being felt more strongly by younger Canadians. Canada’s aging population represents an opportunity to expand our core audiences. It’s not too late to connect with older people who have not historically supported orchestras: they may be prepared to shift their entertainment spending from bands and festivals to theatre and classical music events as they age.

3. Our position in society is ever-changing

Orchestras should consider how emerging gaps in traditional leisure activities might create opportunities, then pivot our programming and promotion to respond. Linda gave the example of orchestras and other cultural activities as potential alternatives to international travel. Orchestras create memorable and transformative experiences, close to home: can we take advantage of this at a time when travel will get more difficult?

4. We’re providing something that can’t be automated

Workers (including musicians and other artists) who can communicate, who possess distinctive and engaging perspectives, and who are embedded in their communities, are doing work that can’t be easily replaced or automated.

5. Disruption was here before COVID—and it will continue beyond this outbreak

Orchestras’ fragile business models make us uniquely vulnerable to adverse external events. Linda suggested that we use this time to remind ourselves of our core missions, then build resilience into our organizations: investing in our people, communicating ever-better with internal and external stakeholders, and being ready to innovate before events disrupt an unsatisfactory status quo.

OC would like to thank Linda for her informative and thought-provoking presentation. See Linda’s other work at relentlesseconomics.com or by listening to her podcast, Work and the Future.

Learn more about the for future Re-launch sessions we have planned, and register for events coming up in the next two weeks here.