Five Year Strategic Plan 2020 – 2024

“We are committed to the pursuit of these strategies as a road map towards Portland Opera’s bright future. We invite you to join us on this journey: explore our activations, inquire about our progress, and let us know what you think.” - Sue Dixon, General Director

In 2018 and 2019, Portland Opera's 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, and our progress in accomplishing these goals to date. 

Please keep in mind that this is a living and changing plan—it is a roadmap. While we embark on this work, we will continue to listen, and to work with, our team and community—so that we can live our way into an evidence-based achievement of these goals and strategies, and adjust course for COVID-19 impacts. 

If you would like more information, or have feedback to share with our team please email feedback@portlandopera.org, or contact a member of our staff directly.


Strategy One

Immediate Impact: Patron Experience & Technology

Our first category contains 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 include:

Return to the fall/winter season

We originally intended to make this shift back to the rainy months with the 20/21 season, based on patron feedback. As season planning became complicated with COVID-19 impacts, our ability to produce live opera was paused, then channeled into digital presentations. We presented our first "ramp out of COVID-19" season in 21/22, during the fall - spring timeline. 

Our 22/23 season will also follow the traditional cadence of September - May; which we will continue to repeat as we ramp out of COVID-19 impacts and right-size our budget. Don't worry though: we'll also stay busy in the summer months too, offering Portland Opera a la Cart, partner performances, balcony concerts, and much more. 

Venue Mix

We will always adopt a venue mix that reflects the desire for both grand and intimate opera experiences, and continue to present repertoire that balances classic and contemporary work.

We learned a lot last summer from our partnership with OMSI and OBT to create the Jordan Schnitzer CARE Summerstage—and continue to be curious about bringing opera experiences to unique and unexpected places in the community and region. We were honored to be part of creating Old Moody Stages at Zidell Yards in summer of 2021, and to work with peers in the community in sharing an outdoor venue that pools resources for the community of performing arts organizations. Out of those collaborations, we made new artistic connections, like our work with Shaun Keylock Company in our recent production of When the Sun Comes Out in January 2022.

We'll continue to explore scale of production and venue options/artistic partners as we plan for future seasons, and future community partnerships. 

Present various scales of production

Opera is expensive to produce! We remain committed to presenting classic and contemporary work in various scales of production. Ramping out of the multi-year COVID-19 financial impacts will take time, and we are working with our board of directors and staff to plan responsibly for costs, audience trends, and increasing costs. As we head into the 22/23 season, we will continue to refine our rhythm of performances in various venues, while keeping our breadth of scale in a fiscally responsible model.

We recognize that we still don’t yet know the full impact of COVID-19. In February of 2021, we held a Board retreat and discussed plans for shifting some of the financial and artistic milestones as outlined in the strategic plan due to the pandemic. The result of these conversations is a ramp that we’ve identified in order to grow back from these closures.

The 21/22 "three production model" is not our vision for future seasons (though it is a great season!) and we recognize that we are not alone in facing lasting challenges and impacts from the COVID-19 closures and disruptions, at a time where costs continue to rise. As our hospitality and restaurant partners continue their ramp as well, we hope to play a healing role and deepen civic engagement in our community, our city, and our region. 

Best practices: Invest in technology and systems

A core piece of our first strategy is to invest in technology and systems to build clearer paths for ticketing and donation operations, as well as systems for company functionality and best practices.

During the pandemic, our team pivoted to utilize technology in ways that we hadn’t in the past. We modernized our processes and paper usage as we learned to operate remotely. We broadcast live digital performances; captured socially distant and safe recordings of our full chorus and orchestra for editing; and established Portland Opera Onscreen, a digital on-demand channel. We shared remote learning activities and programming through Opera Elements, and held virtual community forum, special event, and panel discussions. 

We've also used this time to modernize and streamline our many of our business practices and policies internally, especially in the area of finance and admin. 

Moving forward, we continue to offer digital access for our main stage productions. 

Redesign and transition digital services

In March of 2021, we launched a new website designed to share more transparency, community information, and artistic insight with visitors. We also successfully transitioned our ticketing and patron services database and systems to Tessitura, a platform that better serves our audiences and patrons, based on their feedback and preferences.

We continue to let data chart our path to success. With quantitative data and trend reporting; combined with social listening, we continue to center our patrons and community members at the core of our company; and as the reason why we do what we do. 

Artistic Administration management system

As we continue to modernize the way we work to adopt best practices, our Artistic Administration has also identified a management system that will enhance our workflows. As of June, 2022, we have completed the implementation phase of a new software that streamlines and modernizes our artistic and production communications and project management.

“As Portland Opera continues to evolve, we are looking to dig deeper into our community to inform our perspectives. The Community Engagement Working Group is about connection and building stronger communities for all. Together, with our growing group of partners (which includes civic, community, and organizational leaders) we are finding new and innovative ways to support our neighbors in the region, and each other.” - Hugh Harris, Board Member

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

One of our key goals in the strategic plan is to 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.

On July 21, 2021, Portland Opera announced that Priti Gandhi has joined the company as our Artistic Director. Priti then joined the team full time in early September, and is a vital additional leader for our organization.

The search for our Artistic Director included a diverse pool of local, national, and international candidates. Our process included input from every department and level within the company, Portland Opera Board members, union artists and musicians, community leaders, patrons, and peers. We are so grateful for the time and consideration that each participant and candidate brought to this search process, and delighted to be able to welcome Priti to the community. 

With Priti’s leadership, and in partnership with general director Sue Dixon, and our artistic advisors Karen Slack and Damien Geter (both of whom joined in 2020) we are transforming the process of artistic planning and leadership at Portland Opera, while expanding our workflows to be more inclusive and community driven. The result of this collaboration will be seen in the 22/23 season, and beyond. 

In August of 2021, we announced that Maestro George Manahan was stepping down as Music Director of Portland Opera, after 9 wonderful seasons. We celebrated Maestro Manahan with a special concert in his honor in May, 2022, and we are so grateful for his legacy of excellence at Portland Opera.

In late September, artistic advisor Damien Geter was named interim Music Director for Portland Opera, as we prepared to launch our 21/22 season. Maestro Geter's contributions continue to shine at Portland Opera in a new way—one that directly impacts our artistic goals for continued excellence as an ensemble. As of June, 2022, we do not yet have public details about the search for a permanent music director. 

As our artistic ensemble continues their collaborative planning, we remain committed to a Portland Opera that expands the repertoire of opera: balancing cultural touchstones and anchor operas with new work, lesser known work, or company debuts. Our artistic ambitions are difficult to balance with our small post-COVID season of three or four productions; but we remain committed to growing this art form as we grow our company for sustainability. 

More inclusive and community driven

Our Community Engagement Working Group, led by Portland Opera Board Member Hugh Harris, transformed the way we work during the 20/21 season, building connections and stronger communities as our region reopens from COVID-19 closures.

In a time when families, teachers, and students were adapting to online learning and restrictions for gathering—Portland Opera partnered closely with Portland Public Schools to produce our Opera Elements program and curriculum. Designed to be a joyful celebration of our art form and empower students to express themselves through song and storytelling, Opera Elements included all of the components of synchronous and asynchronous learning and leveraged technology to deliver our school programming when we could not be there in person. Since that time, we have continued to develop our educational offerings, working with the Portland Parks Lunch and Play program to bring Opera Elements to children and families; and applying our lessons learned towards planning for future Portland Opera to Go programming.

In 2021, the Community Engagement committee spearheaded the planning and facilitation of special digital events in conjunction with our production of Journeys to Justice. Then, in spring and early summer, Portland Opera collaborated with Prosper Portland, Latino Network, IdeAL PDX, City Repair, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation to bring a colorful, vibrant, and very beautiful street mural to life in the cul-de-sac in front of the Hampton Opera Center and the Eastbank Esplanade entrance. The artwork was designed by IdeAL PDX (Yathzi Turcot, Jessica Lagunas, Daniel Santollo "TEKPATL," Alex Valle, José Solis, and William Hernandez). Special events and activations on the Plaza occurred throughout the summer months, including weekly Opera a la Cart performances.

While these wonderful partnerships come to life, the committee and staff of Portland Opera have also been in conversations about strategic goals for ongoing programs, how best to measure engagement over time, and how to work with stakeholders and community members to develop a meaningful civic, social, and artistic practice for Portland Opera’s future.

The working group includes Jenny Stadler of PHAME Academy, Jonathan Garcia of Portland Public Schools, and Dr. Leroy Bynum of Portland State University. In addition, the working group is comprised of Portland Opera Board members Curtis T. Thompson, MD, Linda Brown, Hugh Harris, Christine Lewis, Carole Morse, and Greg Tibbles; as well as staff members  Sue Dixon, Alexis Hamilton, and Tracy Wenckus

Harness the creativity and spirit unique to this place

Strategic Goal: curate collaborations or commissions that harness the creativity and spirit that is unique to this place.

    • Our path to commissioning new work has been unfolding, and we're thrilled for what is next. With both When the Sun Comes Out and The Central Park Five in the 21/22 season, we presented the second professional production of both of these new operas. Doing so allowed us to stretch the artistic muscles that help us tackle new work, new work development, and ultimately pave the way for our next step: creating new work. 

    • In March of 2022, we announced the exciting news that we've commissioned a new opera for the Portland Opera To Go 22/23 educational tour. Composed by Dave Ragland with a libretto by Mary McCallum, our new opera Beatrice is a 50-minute piece inspired by the life and story of Beatrice Morrow Cannady, a prominent leader in Oregon's cultural community and civil rights movement of the early 1900s. In April of 2022, we held a workshop with members of the community to share, listen, and sing the first iteration of Beatrice's story. Based on the feedback that we received in April, the team is making some adjustments in preparing for the world premiere and educational/community tour this fall. You can read more about this exciting project here.

    • On June 1, 2022, we announced the commission of a new opera, Jubilee, by composer Damien Geter (who is also Portland Opera's interim Music Director and co-Artistic Advisor) and Librettist Lorene Cary. Connecting the heroic story of the original Fisk University Jubilee Singers with their current Grammy-winning descendants, Jubilee investigates Black legacy, love, death, trauma, and joy. Jubilee will be written for 8 operatic soloists and a 15-piece orchestra. It will be workshopped in the springs of 2024 and 2025 and have its world premiere at the Newmark Theatre in March 2026. You can learn more about the project here.
Explore opera experiences that serve audiences in new ways

One of our strategic goals is to 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.

Throughout our 21/22 season, we continued to partner artistically and strategically with community and peer organizations. You can read about our artistic collaboration with Shaun Keylock Company during When the Sun Comes Out; and in addition to this type of local collaboration, we've forged ahead with national partners as we continue to share best practices for inclusion in our field.

In April of 2021, we announced a collaboration with Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Omaha, Opera Columbus, and the producing team of Up Until Now Collective to bring a short video series titled, "Soul (Signs): An Opera Playlist" to Boston Lyric Opera's digital streaming channel operabox.tv. This video series is a collaboration between deaf and hearing artists combining vivid cinematography, American Sign Language, captions, and singing to create a rich opera experience. 

In March of 2022, we partnered with The American Opera Projects and The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of NYC to commemorate International Transgender Day of Visibility as part of an ensemble of opera companies who have presented the opera As One. The one-day concert and panel discussion, titled "AS ONE: THE WORK CONTINUES..." featured cast members from Portland Opera's 2018 production, and was livestreamed for free (taped in front of a live audience) around the world. 

Outside of these formal partnerships, we continue to partner with area universities and colleges to increase the frequency of artist connections through master class work, onsite internships, and mentorship. In February and March of 2022, the External Affairs team welcomed an intern from University of Portland to join the company and front of house team for When the Sun Comes Out and The Central Park Five.

And we continue to build on the lessons we learned during the pandemic. In 2021, we held over 50 public events and performances; and none of these were in a traditional “operatic setting” on stage. We joined in activating downtown Portland with Pioneer Courthouse Square's Polka Dot Downtown concerts at numerous locations. We brought our Opera a la Cart to Hoyt Arboretum, Shute Park, Cartlandia, the SE waterfront, and all around the region. We partnered with Oregon Symphony to celebrate the return of the Waterfront Concert, with featured singers from Portland Opera. We created a venue for our outdoor production of Frida; and shared Songs for the Summer at Old Moody Stages. We teamed up with the Rose City Rollers to create unique live opera roller-skating events with Skatemobile. We created a special Opera a la Cart Lunch & Play event at city parks around town, in partnership with the Portland Parks Lunch and Play program to build Opera Elements to children and families.

“We are moving our strategic plan forward. The Real Estate Working Group is made up of staff, board members and a few interested stakeholders. Over this past year we've been meeting once a month by Zoom to start brainstorming our shared vision for a new venue on our site. Realizing this vision will be a long-term process but we've started building momentum in order to get there.” - Nicolai Kruger, Board Member.

Central Eastside Waterfront

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 help Portland Opera, other arts organizations, and the entire community.

In July 2021, we announced that Portland Opera had joined with our neighbors at OMSI and Portland Community College (PCC) to engage in master planning for our shared district. This collaboration creates new opportunities to align visioning for the future with our neighbors, through coordinated development and processes. 

This process continues, and we are so excited for the next steps.

Learn about the plan and our process. 

The Real Estate Working group, led by Portland Opera Board Member Nicolai Kruger, is focused on learning about long-term planning opportunities. Committee members include Portland Opera staff members Sue Dixon, Richard Seals, Laura Hassell; Portland Opera Board of Directors members Bill Sweat, Nicolai Kruger, Matt Essieh, and Curtis T. Thompson; as well as Eric Friedenwald-Fishman (Metropolitan Group), Guy Benn (TriMet), Suzanne Nance (All Classical Portland), and Scott Showalter (Oregon Symphony).


Strategy Three
Fundamental Progress

The final set of strategies are intricately 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:

Update our mission, vision, values and brand

A core outcome of our strategic plan, and one which impacts all of our work as a company in the community, is to update Portland Opera’s mission, vision, values and brand identity to better reflect the work of the entire organization.

In 2020, we embarked on an exciting process to update our vision, mission, values and brand identity with our partners at Karma Agency. This included an audit of our current brand platform, a review of insights identified by Metropolitan Group, and more. We held more working sessions, Town Hall conversations, surveys, and key stakeholder interviews. Led by our consultants, the process involved the full Portland Opera Board of Directors, all staff, members of our chorus and orchestra, artists, partners in the community, and peers. After further brand equity review and community feedback, the staff voted to adopt our reenergized mission, vision, and values in December of 2020. You can learn more about them here.

We are energized by our new mission, vision, and values; and are beginning to navigate our work with these articulations as our North Star. 

Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion

Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion—in order to create the opera, and the Portland Opera, of the future.

  • Beginning in 2019, we activated an organizational-wide commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and the transformation of our company. You can learn more about our journey thus far here.
  • Key highlights since our most recent strategic planning progress report include:
    • The application and use of our Equity, Financial and Strategic lens through which the Board of Directors and staff of Portland Opera make decisions regarding policy and program decisions. Today, the EFS lens has informed changes to our company in HR and hiring practices, our bylaws, our gift acceptance policy, our public programming, our commissions and future, and departmental activity across the organization.
    • In July of 2022, our staff is creating a working accountability group to chart, promote, and adjust the 85 commitments and recommendations for transformation put forward by the Cultural Equity Planning Taskforce (comprised on staff and board members) for key areas of cultural equity impact across all departments and segments of the organization.
    • In June of 2021, we announced the creation of the Ensemble Leaders Fellowship Program, and named Jasmine Johnson as Portland Opera's first Ensemble Leaders Fellow. This new course of professional development opportunities for emerging opera administrators focuses on artistic operations, production, and community engagement. The goal of this program is to focus on delivering meaningful career advancement experiences for emerging professionals who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color.  We expect to be able to announce the next phase of this program in the coming weeks. 
“Portland Opera's Equity Task Force strives to create a culture for the staff, Board, artists, collaborators, patrons, and community members that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive."
- David Salerno Owens, Board Member

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 have been as an organization, and where we are headed.

Learn more about how our plan came together »