Five Year Strategic Plan 2020 – 2024

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“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. And, in the middle of this plan, we faced a global pandemic that continues to impact our trajectory.

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, 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 pandemic cancellations, 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, following a the fall - spring timeline. 

Our 22/23 season followed the traditional cadence of fall to spring for our season in the theater—but we stay busy in the summer months too, offering Portland Opera a la Cart, partner performances, balcony concerts, and much more. 

Venue Mix & Various Scales of Production

Varying the scale and venue mix of our season is part of our strategic planning toolkit for financial sustainability. Of course, these strategies surrounding venue mix and scales of production impact our work artistically, too.

On the artistic side, we always want to 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 believe that opera can thrive in unexpected places, too, and continue to work with community partners and our arts ecosystem to plan for operatic activations off and on the traditional performance stages. Our production and artistic teams consider various scale of production and venue options/artistic partners as we plan for future seasons, and future community partnerships.

On the financial side, various scales of production impact our costs and our revenue potential, and so finding the right "mix" has been part of our planning for sustainability. Opera is expensive to produce! 

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 audience trends and increasing costs, and to discover a post-COVID fiscally responsible sustainable model for our future. Tickets sales do not cover the costs of producing opera, so we rely on the generosity and support of our donors to make the art of opera come alive on our stage. 

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, in the areas of venue mix and scales of production. The result of these conversations is a ramp that we’ve identified in order to grow back from these closures. In September of 2022, we held another Board retreat, with our partners and friends at the Met Group, to discuss our strategic plan today, and to share key accomplishments while grappling with the challenges that impact our company.

In January 2024, we announced a decision from Portland Opera's Board of Directors to sell The Hampton Opera Center, and its adjacent property, and look for a new artistic headquarters for our beloved organization in Portland.

This change presents opportunities for our next chapter too. Together, our staff and board is actively engaged in identifying solutions to support our continued progress to achieve our vision for the future of Portland Opera. We continue to seek a long-term sustainable path forward for our company, and in the spirit of our values of entrepreneurialism and innovation, we are actively working with community partners to explore new business models and opportunities to achieve our long-term vision.

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, and price optimization, as well as systems for company functionality and best practices.

We did that! 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 forums, special events, 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. In June, we completed the implementation phase of a new software that streamlines and modernizes our artistic and production communications and project management. Throughout the 22/23 season, we saw these new systems impact and streamline our production workflows as we held rehearsals and performances, and continue operations and planning.

Redesign and transition digital services

Yes we did! In March of 2021, we launched a new website designed to share more company information for transparency (like this page!), 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.

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.

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. We are committed to creating and presenting works of art that actively dismantle the operatic norms, while reimagining the traditional canon through an equity lens. We challenge our audiences and the industry by creating opportunities for authentic storytelling which inspire and lift the human spirit, while celebrating the human voice.

More inclusive and community driven

During the pandemic, our Community Engagement Working Group, led by Portland Opera Board Member Hugh Harris, helped transform the way we work, building connections and stronger communities as our region reopens from COVID-19 closures. The working group included Jenny Stadler of PHAME Academy, Jonathan Garcia of Portland Public Schools, and Dr. Leroy Bynum of Portland State University, as well as members of the Portland Opera Board of Directors, and Portland Opera staff. Today, the staff of Portland Opera continues to build upon these foundational changes and insights brought forward from the community working group. 

The board and staff of Portland Opera has 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.

This summer, we've toured the region with our award-winning Opera a la Cart pop-up performance venue, sharing more than 30 community performances at street fairs, parks, partner locations, and festivals. This year Opera a la Cart returned with a series of performances at Pioneer Courthouse Square, our HQ at the Hampton Opera Center, and with Portland Parks Lunch & Play to bring bring Opera Elements to families at select city parks. We performed with our wine partners and added to the celebration with some new appearances at Happy Valley Library, Oregon City Library, and wrap up the tour with two unique performances of Romeo & Juliet that combine spoken word and Gounod's music in last August and early September.

We recently announced the 2023/2024 Portland Opera Resident Artists: soprano Judy Yannini, tenor Antonio Domino, tenor Roland Hawkins II, baritone Sankara Harouna, and resident pianist Edward Forstman. We are delighted to be able to extend this program back to its 8-month cycle, for the first time since pandemic cancellations, and to expand the program to include a resident pianist. Learn about these amazing artists here.

This year we continue our newly-established Ensemble Leaders Fellowship (ELF) program. The ELF program aims to move the art form forward by providing career advancement opportunities for individuals who have been historically underrepresented in the world of opera, in both administrative and artistic roles. Our first ELF was Jasmine Johnson, who helped define the program and recently joined our company as a member of External Affairs. This past September we welcomed our second ELF to the program for a residency that spans the 2023/24 season, Alexis Walker. Learn more about Alexis and how our fellowship is evolving here.

Our work in education and community continues as we plan for the season ahead, and continue social listening to refine our programs, partnership opportunities, and offerings. 

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.

    • We're thrilled to be involved in a co-production of The Factotum. During the 23/24 season, we will hold a workshop with the creative team to continue to develop this exciting and wonderful new opera. Look for additional information in the coming months. 

    • Our path to commissioning new work has been unfolding, and has been a deliberate process. 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 fall of 2022, we shared the world premiere of Beatrice, 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 youth 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. Beatrice toured throughout the region this fall, and we were honored to share this music and story with the community. This opera is part of a multiyear commitment to sharing the stories of unsung heroes from Oregon's past, called Our Oregon.
    • Next up we're thrilled to bring the story of Shizue Iwatsuki to life in our second commissioned Portland Opera to Go production of the Our Oregon series. We look forward to work-shopping this beautiful story of resilience in spring 2023 and can't wait to share Shizue: An American Story with audiences this fall.
    • 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 the 22/23 season, partnered artistically and strategically with community and peer organizations and artists. You can read about our artistic collaboration with Shaun Keylock Company during When the Sun Comes Out; and we were thrilled to continue the collaboration in to our 22/23 season, working together for our recent production of Rusalka. For our 22/23 production of Thumbprint, we collaborated with artist/scholar Sabina Haque to engage in audience and company conversations to bring more context and understanding to the story of Mukhtar Mai. We also worked with choreographer Subashini Ganesan-Forbes, to share the physical and emotional life of this powerful opera. 

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. We continue our 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 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. It is one way that we have activated our commitment to inclusion and accessibility in welcoming opera audience members. 

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 live-streamed 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. Throughout the 22/23 season, we continued special guest lectures and masterclasses, and are continuing to expand those commitments through the 23/24 season. 

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. 

We invite you to learn more about the future district and our partners. 

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, was 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 continue to make great progress in achieving our company's vision with these articulations as our North Star. 

Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion

Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion to transform our company:

  • 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 recent focus areas 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 created 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.
      • Their highlights to date as a working group include creating audience support pathways, fostering open forum discussions for all staff members to share reflections, challenges, and honest feedback, and more. 
    • In January, 2023, we held a 2-day all-staff learning lab and retreat with Equity Quotient, to assess our progress and refine our next goals. This includes ways that we ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion as key competencies for everyone at Portland Opera. 
Strengthen our connection to the community.

In the research that led to our strategic plan, we heard loud and clear that there are many opportunities for Portland Opera to strengthen our connection to the community. We do, of course, have community engagement and education programming (like Opera a la Cart and Portland Opera to Go) but in addition to those programs, we've reflected on ways that we can make a bigger impact in our shared civic life. Here are some of the ways we are starting to refocus our energy towards that goal:

  • Showing up for other organizations and conversations. Our team is stepping up our volunteerism and civic engagement. Sue Dixon is a member of the Board of Directors and Governance Chair for the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon, as well as the PDX Recovery & Action Committee for the Mayor's Office. Andrea Tichy (Marketing) joined the Portland Business Alliance's 2023 Cohort for the Leadership Portland program, and serves as the Chair of the Cultural Coalition for Washington County Board of Directors (the regranting arm of the Oregon Cultural Trust in Washington County), Chris Kim in Patron Services is also a board member. April Bridges (Development) has joined the board of directors of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and Richard Seals (CFO) has joined Sue Dixon in the OMSI Redevelopment Committee. Christine Richardson (Costume Director) is a member of the City of Vancouver's Culture, Art & Heritage Commission. Staff members are increasing their volunteerism for the Junior League, Blanchett House, and many other organizations around town, which is one way that we are changing company culture to make community engagement a part of all departments. 
  • Bringing opera experiences deeper into the community. Our programs on and off of the stage have allowed us to reach schools, educators, groups, and community members in new and changing ways. This, in tandem with community ticketing partner expansions for our main stage productions,  represent some of the ways that we are cultivating deeper community and audience engagement. 

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 »