Five Steps to Create a New Normal

Flywheel with the customer at the center and five parts surrounding it: experience, retention, representation, revenue bundle, vertical intergration
Flywheel with the customer at the center and five parts surrounding it: experience, retention, representation, revenue bundle, vertical intergration
Stanford Professor Jim Collins was the first to coin the word “flywheel” as a business term in “Good to Great,” published 20 years ago.

With a vaccine rollout underway, when fall of 2021 arrives orchestras will likely have an opportunity we won’t then have had for a year and a half: the opportunity to have a full live performance season. And while there is good reason to believe that there will be a spike in audience demand at first (get me out of my house, please!), after that initial surge in socially distanced, mask-wearing attendance, there is not good reason to believe the wave will continue without a change to the business model. Pre-pandemic, orchestra attendance was declining at an average rate of 2.8%…


Titles for Arts Administrators

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We have made it to the end of 2020. While this year is undeniably awful for so many reasons, the disruption it caused to literally everything made me all the more curious and eager to read and consume new ideas. The arts and culture sector was already ripe for change before the pandemic, and now we have an opportunity to do just that because we have no other choice but to innovate, adapt, and evolve.

The titles below helped me consider a future that looks renewed and healthier than our industry’s past, as well as helped me formulate business plans…


Guidelines for Safe Reopening Benefit All of Us

California state map with color-coded covid risk tier assignments for each county. Data as of December 1.
California state map with color-coded covid risk tier assignments for each county. Data as of December 1.
With a vaccine estimated to be fully distributed in Q3 or Q4 of 2021, the arts are only halfway or less through the pandemic crisis without restart guidelines allowing for safe operations sooner.

This post is in partnership with Californians for the Arts, the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, California Presenters, and the California Association of Museums.


Not a Zero-Sum Game, Part 3 of 3

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Small groups of artists and administrators across the orchestra and opera world openly discussed important questions outside the bargaining table in response to the accelerated rate of change around us. Facilitated by Aubrey Bergauer; Co-produced by Aleks Romano.

Every arts organization is at a crossroads now. Do we do everything we can to return to business as soon as possible, or do we double down on planning for a future that looks different than our past? Do we restore the way things were pre-covid or embrace the opportunity for change the pandemic has brought?

This post, part 3 of 3 in this series (here are parts one and two), summarizes a dialogue I had with a group of artists and administrators this summer. We vowed to openly discuss issues normally reserved for behind closed doors, private conversations, and…


Not a Zero-Sum Game, Part 2 of 3

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Small groups of artists and administrators across the orchestra and opera world openly discussed important questions outside the bargaining table in response to the accelerated rate of change around us. Thank you to the incredible panelists above. Hosted by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Center for Innovative Leadership; Facilitated by Aubrey Bergauer; Co-produced by Aleks Romano.

Beyond the pandemic fallout of ubiquitous concert cancellations, halt of ticket revenue, and loss of work for artists and administrators, the systemic issues within classical music that predate coronavirus have been amplified over the last several months. Part one of this series describes the need to recalibrate — or reframe — how we approach the false dichotomies in our work, and this post, part two of three, describes how we can work collaboratively to create stronger organizations than we had before.

We can reject the notions that we must debate digital offerings versus live performance as if the two are…


Not a Zero-Sum Game, Part 1 of 3

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Small groups of artists and administrators across the orchestra and opera world openly discussed important questions outside the bargaining table in response to the accelerated rate of change around us. Thank you to the incredible panelists above. Hosted by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Center for Innovative Leadership; Facilitated by Aubrey Bergauer; Co-Produced by Aleks Romano.

The pandemic isn’t solely responsible for upending classical music. Rather, the pandemic has exacerbated and exposed symptoms and problems that already existed: limited revenue streams, narrow customer base, inadequate cash reserves, and a lagging digital presence. As an industry and at our individual organizations, we have an opportunity before us to recalibrate how we view our work, to leverage this inflection point to build a future that looks different — fuller and more robust — than before.

To explore what this fuller future might look like, the setup was simple: invite accomplished artists and administrators to openly discuss issues normally…


Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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As I scrolled through social media this weekend, I wavered back and forth on wanting to add my voice to the outpouring of support (to be silent is to be complicit, right?), yet trying to reconcile the weight of coming up short (words fail right now, talk is cheap, and what’s one more white voice joining a chorus of people who are feeling a sadness that black Americans have been experiencing some version of their whole lives?). This is a turning point in our culture, I said to myself.


Books for Arts Administrators

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When people ask me where I draw inspiration, my answer is consistently from outside the arts. It’s our job in this field to not be insular, to force ourselves to look outside our industry and raise our eyes and ears to what’s working for leaders and innovators across all sectors. There’s a lot to learn about ourselves personally, as well as about how to better lead and serve our institutions. …


Impacting Every Facet of the Talent Pipeline

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San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s new Bowes Center building will be home of the Center for Innovative Leadership.

“Insane in the best way” is how I’ve responded to most people who have asked how it’s been going in the five months since I announced I’d be leaving the California Symphony. I told the world then that I wanted to have a greater impact beyond one organization, and over these last several months, non-profits of all budget sizes, across all artistic disciplines (as well as some non-arts orgs), in all corners of the U.S. and beyond have reached out, including several top tier organizations. Call it insane, call it exciting, or call it whatever — the point is people…


An Unpopular Opinion

outdoor free orchestra concert in the park
outdoor free orchestra concert in the park
Both management and musicians offer free concerts, always on different occasions but for mostly the same reasons, and in all cases, it’s an ineffective strategy.

I think offering free concerts is one of those things in arts and culture that’s been considered a generally accepted practice for years without much consideration as to why it’s considered that way. We just sort of do them and don’t really question that there may be a downside — or five downsides as I describe below. Here’s what I think is interesting though: both management and musicians offer free concerts, always on different occasions but for mostly the same reasons. For management, it’s often about providing access or community engagement in order to bring attention to who we are…

Aubrey Bergauer

Working to change the narrative for symphony orchestras.

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