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

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. 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.

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 heard our patrons’ preferences loud and clear! Our 21/22 season is designed to be a ramp out of COVID-19 impacts. It will follow our planned regular cadence of October – May inside the theatres (and streamed digitally); with many activities offered year-round, including community performances and events, Opera a la Cart, balcony concerts, collaborations, and educational programming.

We are currently planning the 22/23 season, and will continue to ramp out of COVID-19 impacts, while following the October – May performance cadence for mainstage productions. We plan to announce the 22/23 season in March of 2022, and there are some really exciting plans taking shape behind-the-scenes!

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 this 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.

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 our gross margin. As we plan for 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 this is going to be a great season!) and we recognize that we need to build back up, together.

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. 

Moving forward, we will continue to offer digital access for our mainstage productions. Tosca Onscreen will be available from mid-November until the end of the calendar year.

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.

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. We are currently implementing that software, and look forward to modernizing and streamlining our internal artistic and production communications as a result.

“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 has been such an exciting 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 truly excited to welcome Priti to our 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.

In August of 2021, we announced that Maestro George Manahan was stepping down as Music Director of Portland Opera, after 9 wonderful seasons. We will celebrate Maestro Manahan with a special concert in his honor in May of 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 prepare to launch our 21/22 season. Maestro Geter is already doing amazing work as an artist and leader in our community and field. In this role, his contributions will shine at Portland Opera in a new way—one that directly impacts our artistic goals for continued excellence as an ensemble.

More inclusive and community driven

Our Community Engagement Working Group, led by Portland Opera Board Member Hugh Harris, has been busy 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 our 21/22 Portland Opera to Go programming.

Earlier this year, 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, and how best to measure engagement over time.

This committee meets weekly with community members, artists, educators, and stakeholders to develop a meaningful civic, social, and artistic practice for Portland Opera’s future.

Current community partners in this working group include 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, Diana Harris, 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

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

    • The spirit of collaboration and sharing of resources as the hospitality and arts/culture sectors ramp out of COVID has presented unique opportunities for new types of meaningful partnerships.
    • In collaboration with our neighbors at OMSI, and our friends at OBT, we co-created the Jordan Schnitzer CARE Summerstage, bringing live and socially distanced outdoor productions to the SE waterfront. This production was made possible by Carol Franc Buck Foundation, Jordan Schnitzer & The Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), TriMet, and Orox Leather Co.
    • We've been proud to partner with some of Portland's most innovative arts organizations to create and plan for the Old Moody Stages at Zidell Yards in Portland's South Waterfront, helping to bring local and live performing arts experiences back this summer. 
    • We continue to share best practices, resources, and underscore the promotional activities of our peers around the region. We are working closely in arts and events forums to share and learn from insight, data, and trends in our field. 
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.

In the summer of 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 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.

It has been a busy summer, and a time of great growth for our community programming and partnerships. We continue to learn lessons about connecting with community in unexpected ways, and will not forget that these alternative performance opportunities were the main expression of our artistic life during pandemic closures. Each was rooted in partnership, serving the community, and collaborating with some of Portland’s best and brightest organizations.

“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 master 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.

  • 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, our bylaws, our donor benefits, our future season planning, and departmental activity across the organization.
    • Our ensemble is currently working to organize, activate, and refine 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.  
“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. We are currently developing Cultural Equity Plan for Portland Opera."
- 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 »