Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Portland Opera charts a new course

From the company's website:

During the 18/19 season, the Portland Opera Board of Directors and Metropolitan Group led the company through a strategic planning initiative, resulting in an exciting set of ideas for Portland Opera’s next chapter. On this page, we invite you to learn more about the three interrelated strategies at the core of the plan.
Please keep in mind that this is a living and changing plan—it is a roadmap, not a finished product. While we’ve already begun some of this work, the next phases will be spent continuing to listen to, and work with, our team and community to figure out exactly how to achieve these goals and strategies.


In September 2018, Metropolitan Group was contracted to develop a strategic plan for Portland Opera. Portland Opera has been part of the community since its founding in 1964. It has seen many ups and downs, and changes, and remains a cornerstone of the arts and cultural landscape in Oregon. We learned that the organization has faced operating shortfalls for the past several years. Cumulative operating cash flow losses since the FY 2015–16 change to a summer season could result in the opera drawing down its endowment completely in seven years if decisive action is not taken now.
We also discovered multifaceted solutions and organization-wide strategies to make improvements.
Staff and Board members felt strongly that their voices needed to be heard throughout this process. We designed an approach to give adequate space for this while seeking new ideas and perspectives. Following a review of existing research, reports, literature, and assessments from Portland Opera, we implemented a research phase that engaged internal and external stakeholders, including subscribers, funders, partners, businesses, and other admired arts organizations in Portland and other markets across the country, to solicit their input on the areas of opportunity they felt that Portland Opera should pursue. We also engaged with OPERA America (the national opera service organization) to provide a larger regional perspective.
We presented our research findings and recommendations to the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee and executive staff over the course of the 18/19 season. Our thinking and strategies reflect input from the strategic planning committee, as well as Portland Opera staff and other local and national experts. This plan includes three interrelated strategies, starting with the concepts that will have the fastest impact. Metropolitan Group believes that if Portland Opera just implemented strategies one and three, Portland Opera could extend its financial viability by a number of years. However, the ceiling to truly grow and serve the community will be limited, and the ability to create a sustainable operating model and the size and diversity of a support-base needed is less likely without strategy two. Strategy two includes larger longer-term strategies (beyond the five-year duration of this plan), that could catapult Portland Opera into a new level of community connection and leadership. Patience, flexibility, collaboration, and shared determinations will be vital to achieving the fullest potential of this plan.
–Metropolitan Group


Strategy One: Immediate Impact – Patron Experience
Our first category contains relatively short-term actions that Portland Opera can take to align more closely with patron and community feedback, and impact revenue. Specific actions to take in this strategy:
  • Move back to a fall–spring primary schedule, starting with the 20/21 season, in response to overwhelming community, audience, and patron feedback; collaborate with chorus and orchestra members to determine how this will work.
  • Adopt a venue mix that reflects the desire for both grand and intimate experiences while improving the annual performance gross margin, and continue to present repertoire that balances classic and contemporary work.
  • Invest in technology and systems in order to build clearer paths for ticketing and donation operations and company functionality.
Strategy Two: Positioning Portland Opera for the Future
The next strategy in this plan is part of a vision down payment for the future. The first set of actions is around amplifying the Portland in Portland Opera:
  • Transform and define an artistic point of view that is a reflection of community, through production and ancillary programming choices that celebrate classic and contemporary works.
  • Curate collaborations or commissions that harness the creativity and spirit that is unique to this place.
  • Explore different opera experiences that may serve new and existing audiences in new ways, while continuing to honor the traditional repertoire that our art form is built upon.
The second big strategy in this section is exploring a longer term vision and feasibility to redevelop the Central Eastside waterfront property that Portland Opera owns, through opportunities that could mutually benefit Portland Opera, other arts organizations, and the entire community.
Strategy Three: Fundamental Progress
The final set of strategies are closely linked to the success of the first two strategies, and strengthen the organization by building on our existing efforts to connect with the community and deepening these relationships. Specific steps in this category include:
  • Strengthen connection to the community. This might mean:
    • Developing new methods of volunteerism, and sharing a more active role in support of other community organizations and causes.
    • Bringing opera experiences into unexpected places to meet people where they are, and continuing to break down barriers to experiencing the beauty and breadth of the art of opera—and its power to inspire our imaginations and change our lives.
    • Exploring enhanced civic, social, and artistic practices.
  • Update Portland Opera’s mission, vision, values and brand identity to better reflect the work of the entire organization.
  • Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion—in order to create the opera, and the Portland Opera, of the future.


Metropolitan Group believes that these three interrelated strategies will lead Portland Opera down a path of growth, service to the community, national prominence, and enhanced financial stability.  The elements of each strategy will require time, effort, collaboration, and investment to evaluate and pursue, and the details of the strategies should be modified over time as progress towards their goals is measured. Growth will require ongoing attention, but Metropolitan Group believes if these strategies are followed, Portland Opera will be a major artistic leader for the community for many years to come.
The leadership team of Portland Opera is so grateful to the board members, staff members, artists, musicians, community members, patrons, movers and shakers, and everyone who shared feedback about where we’ve been as an organization, and where we’re headed.  Our plan is to build upon the successes that we’ve already created together, while adjusting course to align with patron and stakeholder feedback. We are inspired by the exciting thinking and ideas that forged this plan. We look forward to creating a more sustainable financial path forward so that we can continue to serve the community for decades to come.
Portland Opera’s commitment while we embark on this work is simple: we will continue to listen to the community and artistic voices that remain at the heart of our future. We are a company that belongs to this amazing community, and we intend to grow.

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