League Activity Report January 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020

The League of American Orchestras’ activities in 2020 reflect its vital role as catalyst, convener, and source of knowledge for the orchestra field and respond to the unprecedented challenges faced by the orchestra field, country, and global community over the past year. The following is an overview of some of the League’s important work in 2020.

Response to the Pandemic

In addition to the work mentioned below, the League dramatically increased the number and frequency of constituency peer meetings, offered bi-weekly webinars to deliver important information on the pandemic, and conducted a COVID-19 impact survey. Additionally, we curated a dedicated webpage with resources on dealing with the virus, covering topics such as legal assistance, fundraising and marketing, international artists and travel by orchestras, business continuity, infectious disease planning for events, and more.

The League also told the stories of how our field experienced the pandemic, disseminating hundreds of updates on orchestras’ closings, activities, and socially distant concerts through its online news aggregator, The Hub, and publishing eight pandemic-related articles, such as “Flex Seasons,” between the summer and fall issues of Symphony magazine.

Strengthening Leadership

National Conference

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the League’s 75th National Conference pivoted from a three-day in-person convening to a six-week virtual gathering. Nearly 4,000 registrants were able to attend nearly 40 hours of keynote addresses, elective sessions, and sponsored programming that highlighted the current challenges and opportunities facing orchestras; the need to continue committing to equity, diversity, and inclusion; and the digital evolution of artistic work in a changing world.

Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, shared his musical artistry with delegates at the opening session of the League's online conference. Screenshot of Zoom video.

Highlights included:

  • a thought-provoking conversation with Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic; Deborah Borda, New York Philharmonic President and CEO; and Henry Timms, Lincoln Center President, on opportunities and inspiration that could help orchestras navigate these unprecedented times, and
  • an inspiring address by Nina Simon, a museum director turned community activist who founded OF/BY/FOR ALL, on how orchestras can turn their aims around inclusion and relevance into actions.
I am so grateful to be attending the League's virtual conference this year. After just three sessions, I am uplifted and feeling more positive and directed. Thanks for having orchestras' backs!

~ Pamela Hahn, Executive Director, Chandler Symphony Orchestra

Emerging Leaders Program (ELP)

Despite the pandemic, the 2019–2020 ELP class had a successful year. The 12-person cohort strongly emphasized the significance of leadership self-awareness in supporting team management and collaboration. Notably, at least two graduates have received promotions during and after the program.

In March, the program, which usually blends in-person and virtual learning, pivoted to transform its final in-person convening into a series of facilitated virtual discussions that provided vital support for the cohort during this time of unprecedented pressure and change. The peer support system that the cohort had built over the previous months proved invaluable, as each member responded to the challenges of the pandemic.

Noteboom Governance Center

2020 proved to be another strong year for the Noteboom Governance Center. Despite the coronavirus, the League continued to increase the efficacy of its governance work through broadening and deepening engagement with orchestra board members.

In addition to dedicated webinars, publications, a governance column in the League’s Symphony magazine, and meetings at Conference, the League’s Noteboom Governance Center held three meetings for board chairs (Board Chair Roundtables). These Roundtables, held on Zoom, were peer-to-peer facilitated discussions on matters of orchestra governance.

The League also held quarterly online constituency meetings with topics including:

  • the board's role in confronting the pandemic,
  • financial scenario planning,
  • the board/executive partnership, and
  • the board member's role in supporting equity.

American Orchestras' Futures Fund

In 2020, the Futures Fund, a partnership with the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, provided two-year grants of $30,000 to eighteen U.S. orchestras to support innovation and organizational learning. For this fourth funding cycle, recipient orchestras were selected based on criteria including the organization’s capacity to respond and adapt to opportunities and changed circumstances and the potential demonstrated by the project for field-wide impact.

To help orchestras manage the extraordinary challenges presented by the global pandemic, the League gave Futures Fund grantees the option to convert all or a part of their grant to general operating support. The majority of orchestras chose to pursue their proposed projects in a modified form, focusing on ways to engage more members of their communities; the effects of music learning on the social, emotional, and neural development of children; how collaborating with a tech company might enhance the experience of attending an orchestral performance; and ways to build effective and meaningful partnerships with key stakeholders to create new musical experiences.

The 2020 Futures Fund Forum, facilitated in collaboration with EmcArts and held in conjunction with the League’s National Conference, was as an open session for all Conference attendees to learn more about how to apply adaptive thinking practices to work at their own orchestras.

Advocacy and Government

Heather Noonan (left), the League's Vice President for Advocacy and 2020 recipient of the Sydney Yates award, Jesse Rosen (center), former President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, and Mario Garcia Durham (right), former president of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

The work of the League’s advocacy department is a prime example of our unique capacity to serve orchestras nationwide. In partnership with our members, we can combine a powerful constituent voice with a coordinated national strategy. We work with Congress, federal agencies, and the White House, doing what no single orchestra can do on its own. In 2020 this meant advocating day and night for federal assistance from the beginning of the pandemic and helping orchestras to understand and access various forms of relief as it became available. Through the League’s online advocacy campaign dedicated to federal COVID-19 relief, orchestras reached all U.S. senators and 358 Representatives in the House to request new and expanded COVID-19 assistance.

The League’s leadership in national arts and nonprofit coalition efforts resulted in new legislative proposals that were approved during year-end negotiations. Additionally, the League has weighed in with the U.S Department of Treasury and Small Business Administration to improve the fine print on implementation of federal relief programs. Through our dedicated Federal Assistance Resource Page and webinars the League guided orchestras to access provisions of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act as well aiding them with Paycheck Protection Program applications and the loan forgiveness process.

The League has also remained focused on addressing ongoing policy priorities like equitable access to arts education, federal funding for the arts, visa policies for engaging international guest artists, and tax reform. Already, the League has begun engaging the new Administration and the new Congress as we continue to represent the unique role and needs of orchestras throughout the country.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

League Statement on Racial Discrimination

As the League works to ensure that America’s orchestras remain vibrant and vital for generations to come, we have continued to use every available channel to elevate the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) to the highest priority.

In August 2020, the League shared a Statement on Racial Discrimination that expressed how the League is coming to grips with its history of racism, reflecting on the impact of racism within the League and the wider community of orchestras, and committing to sustained action. Drafting began in December 2019 by our Board Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee; following many conversations and iterations, the full Board adopted it on June 25, 2020.

As a complement to this statement, the League commissioned an article in Symphony magazine chronicling the history of persistent discrimination across centuries, “Anti-Black Discrimination in American Orchestras,” by Dr. Aaron Flagg. To further support the field’s engagement with and understanding of the statement and article, the League provided FAQs and a resource guide. These materials built on the League’s learning, programs, and convenings over the last several years.

Furthermore, the League hosted two online forums in August and September to engage around these issues. The first was for all League members and facilitated by our Board and staff members. The second, focused for orchestra trustees, featured BoardSource Board Chair Cathy Trower leading a discussion on the role of boards in addressing racial equity.

National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS)

In the spring of 2018, the League, along with its partners, The Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, created this unparalleled national initiative, offering Black and Latinx musicians a customized combination of mentoring, audition preparation, financial support, and audition previews. NAAS believes that this integrated and artist-informed approach, based on the individual needs of the artists, can serve as an effective point of intervention that will increase inclusion of underrepresented classical musicians within orchestras.

In 2020, NAAS awarded 35 grants to musicians to help offset costs associated with attending professional orchestra auditions, and one NAAS-supported musician won positions.

The Catalyst Fund

Launched in January 2019 with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, The Catalyst Fund was developed in response to a comprehensive field-wide EDI listening, learning, and planning process conducted by the League the prior year. We found that the most common obstacle or challenge around our member orchestras’ EDI work was a lack of staff time, capacity, and funding, and that meaningful EDI work is not “one size fits all.”

This three-year pilot program awards annual grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to member orchestras to increase their understanding of EDI principles and encourage more effective EDI practices. These grants support work with EDI consultants to strengthen organizational knowledge of the issues pertaining to EDI and to create strategies relevant to orchestras’ home communities. In 2020, the League awarded $515,000 to 28 orchestras, allowing them, in collaboration with their EDI consultants, to complete activities including anti-bias trainings, institutional audits, the creation of formal EDI plans, and working to build consensus and integrating EDI into their mission statements and culture.

Grantee orchestras convened online for The Catalyst Fund Forum, held in conjunction with the League’s 2020 National Conference; 50 representatives from the orchestras attended.

Artistic Vitality

The Ford Musician Impact Fund

This new $25,000 re-granting program, funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund, launched in November 2020. The Fund was created to assist musicians in need of hardware and accessories to make their digital presence stronger, giving them the professional tools needed to deliver at the highest level in our current reality – recording “at home” performances and creating virtual programming in support of their organizations. As of December 31, 2020, over 150 musicians received micro-grants through this program.

Ford Impact Fund grant recipient, Tyler Sieh, prepares to perform live from his home studio.

Women Composers Readings and Commissions Program

Since the program’s inception in 2014, sixteen composers have received $15,000 orchestral commissions thanks to the support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. In July 2020, the League announced its most recent cohort of commissioned composers – Niloufar Iravani, Leanna Primiani, and Hilary Purrington. Due to the pandemic, all scheduled performances of Toulmin-commissioned works for the 2020 and 2021 seasons were postponed. To date, the Women Composers Readings and Commissions Program has resulted in eight world premieres.

In the fall 2020 issue of Symphony magazine, several Toulmin composers were featured in the article Hearing Her Voice, which highlighted the program’s demonstrable impact on the career training and development of emerging women composers.

“I think that programs like the Toulmin Commissions are very important because when things are imbalanced, you have to find a way to address it.”

~ Courtney Bryan (Toulmin commissioned composer)

Strengthening Artistic Constituencies

The League used the barrierless format of the 2020 Conference as way to reach and engage with more artistic partners. Attendance at the Conductor Constituency Meeting grew threefold. The meeting consisted of a robust conversation around the changing role of artistic leadership, socially distanced concerts, and virtual storytelling. Joining the discussion were music directors Helen Cha-Pyo, David Miller, Julius Williams, and Diane Wittry.

For the first time in a decade, the Artistic Administrators Constituency formally met. Jennifer Barlament moderated a broad discussion about current events: COVID-19, social justice, a return to the concert hall, etc. Also, we hosted a dedicated Musician Constituency Meeting for the first time in years. This session, moderated by Alex Laing and featuring League Board members Jenny Koh, Anthony McGill, Daniel Bernard Roumain, as well as Rochelle Skolnick (AFM) and Kari Giles (Charlotte Symphony), asked participants to reflect on how they are finding meaning during these unprecedented times.

In addition to these constituency activities, the League focused on artists throughout the Conference. Highlights included composer Valerie Coleman’s keynote address, which featured a showing of her commission Seven O'Clock Shout for The Philadelphia Orchestra, and Outside the Box: An Unconventional Orchestra Musician’s Perspective, a webinar moderated by Alex Laing and featuring musicians Jessica McJunkins, Tia Allen, and Stephanie Matthews.

Symphony Spot

In an initiative to support the artistic work of orchestras during the pandemic, the League introduced a new microsite called Symphony Spot (www.symphonyspot.org). As of the end of 2020, Symphony Spot had aggregated close to 300 member orchestras’ online offerings and attracted over 7,000 visitors from around the world. Orchestras have also used the site as a way to source inspiring programming ideas from their peers.


Violins by musik-tonger; Heather Noonan, Jesse Rosen, and Mario Garcia Durham by Adam Kissick (APAP); NAAS Audition Intensive courtesy of the Sphinx Organization.