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. 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 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. 

We'll always consider 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, and to discover a post-COVID fiscally responsible sustainable model for our future. 

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.

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. 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.  

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.

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. 

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

Redesign and transition digital services

Yes we did! 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. In 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 of September, 2022, we are seeing these new systems impact and streamline our production workflows as we head into rehearsals and production scheduling to begin the season of mainstage performances. 

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.

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 experienced throughout 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 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

Throughout 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, as of September 2022, 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.

Between June and September, 2022, we also made progress with some key community engagement activities. We toured the region with our award-winning Opera a la Cart pop-up performance venue, sharing more than 40 community performances at street fairs, parks, partner locations, and festivals. This year Opera a la Cart joined the return of Sunday Parkways in Portland neighborhoods, added to the celebration at the Oregon City Festival of the Arts, sang at Pioneer Courthouse Square, Cartlandia, the Vancouver Arts Walk, La Strada Chalk Festival in Hillsboro, and much more! In addition to the cart performances, we also partnered with Portland Parks Lunch & Play program once again to bring Opera Elements to children and families in select city parks. This summer, we also joined more than 10,000 people at Pioneer Courthouse Square in celebrating India Day, and began planning for the season ahead: laying the groundwork for new collaborations with Lincoln High Schools Cardinal Choir, Portland State University masterclasses, and more.

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 September 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 is touring the region this fall, and we are honored to share this music and story. 

    • 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 last 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.

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. 

The OMSI District comes from a collaboration of local, Tribal and regional government entities, Indigenous groups, nonprofits and businesses. This neighborhood will be built together so we can thrive together.

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

Learn about the plan and our process. 

Our Real Estate Working group 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, Matt Essieh, and Curtis T. Thompson; as well as Eric Friedenwald-Fishman (Metropolitan Group), Nicolai Kruger (Architect and former Portland Opera Board of Directors Member), 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 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 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 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. 
    • As of September, 2022, we continue to work with our partners at Equity Quotient to plan for ongoing professional development for equity, diversity, and inclusion as key competencies for everyone at Portland Opera. This includes upcoming workshops with our chorus and orchestra; as well as ongoing staff activations. 

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 »