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.
- 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.