Strategic Plan

Portland Opera | Five Year Strategic Plan 2020-2024
Last updated: January 6, 2020
Originally published: August 28, 2019

“We are looking forward to a busy and exciting year ahead! I hope that you’ll explore our strategic planning progress report below, and check back soon for more updates. With each challenge that we tackle as part of this process, we realize new opportunities on our path of growth as an organization. We have a renewed commitment to accomplish this work with joy, as we build upon our artistic legacy. The act of listening is central to this process, and so please don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions, comments or feedback.” – Sue Dixon, General Director | January, 2020

If you have a question or feedback please share it with our team. You can email feedback@portlandopera.org, or contact a member of our staff directly.

Progress report: January, 2020 updates are italicized and in teal below. 

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.


SUMMARY

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


STRATEGIES

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.
    • January, 2020 update: in process
      • We are busy planning our 20/21 season, which will launch in September of 2020, and close in May of 2021. Look for a season announcement in late February! This decision was based on feedback from patrons and community members, and we are so excited to return to this traditional schedule. Thank you to everyone who shared your thoughts with us about this change. 
  • 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.
    • January, 2020 update: ongoing
      • In selecting the 20/21 season, we have remained committed to presenting both traditional and contemporary work in grand and intimate venues, in order to build upon our artistic legacy. 
  • Invest in technology and systems in order to build clearer paths for ticketing and donation operations and company functionality.
    • January 2020 update: in process
      • We’ve heard feedback and frustrations about ticketing and finding information on our website.  In response, we’re investing in technology to modernize our processes. 
        • We’re implementing a new ticketing system. We will conclude our partnership with Ticketmaster in conjunction with the 21/22 season. 
          • It will take us time to accomplish this, but please know that your patron information is safe during the transition. We know that for many of our subscribers, your seats are a legacy: please know that your seats will come with you into the new system. 
          • For the remainder of the 19/20 season, as well as the upcoming 20/21 season, we will continue to operate with Ticketmaster and Account Manager.  It will be in ticketing the 21/22 season that you will notice some changes. 
          • When those change occur, there will be fewer online ticketing fees and some changes to the way that things are structured. We’ll continue to share updates as our project and conversion progresses. 
          • This will NOT impact the Broadway in Portland series, or Broadway subscriptions. These are separate systems. 
        • We’re designing and building a new website, scheduled to launch in 2021. 
          • We’ve gotten consistent feedback about the difficulty of navigating our current site, and the new design will make finding information and details much easier. It will also support the new ticketing systems and options. 
          • We recently went through an RFP process to find the right partner for this project. Out of a pool of excellent finalists, we’ve made our selection and are beginning this work in January of 2020. 
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.
    • January 2020 update: in process/ongoing
      • Sue Dixon, our general director, has been working with the board of directors to create an organizational structure for the company that positions us to achieve our goals. With the creation of the Artistic Director position, currently held by interim Daniel Biaggi, we’ve renewed our commitment to build upon our artistic legacy as a company. Our search for a permanent artistic director will begin in the coming months, and we will continue to share information about that process. 
      • The selection process for the 20/21 season included opportunities for all departments to collaborate in a new way, and we will continue to refine the way we work together. 
  • Curate collaborations or commissions that harness the creativity and spirit that is unique to this place.
    • January, 2020 update: coming soon
      • We continue to learn from our partners in the community, with collaborators like PHAME, Portland Baroque Orchestra, and others. 
  • 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.
    • January, 2020 update: coming soon

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.

  • January, 2020 update: coming soon
    • This is not something that can be accomplished quickly, but we are starting to explore how we can make use of our physical space as a resource, in order to be better partners to the community and our peer organizations. This fall we were able to host many community events and offer a performance space to Artists Repertory Theatre during their time of transition—all of these experiences help shape this strategy. 
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.
    • January, 2020 update: coming soon
      • On January 3, our staff held a full day retreat to identify actionable paths to achieve a stronger connection to our community We will be able to share more soon.
  • Update Portland Opera’s mission, vision, values and brand identity to better reflect the work of the entire organization.
    • January, 2020 update: in process
      • We continue to evaluate patron, stakeholder, and staff feedback, and we have identified a partner to help us articulate a renewed and updated mission, vision, values statement, and brand identity based on that input. We expect to complete this work by spring of 2021, and hope that you will be part of the process.
  • Activate an organizational commitment to equity, diversity & inclusion—in order to create the opera, and the Portland Opera, of the future.
    • January, 2020 update: coming soon
      • We are identifying partners and experts to help us embed and integrate a lens of equity and inclusion at every level of our organization—with outcomes that will transform the way we work, the contributions we can make to the field, and our public commitment to community. We expect to be able to report back about the first phases of this work within the next 6 months. 

CONCLUSION

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.


Thank you for your interest in the next chapter for Portland Opera. Please check back soon for updates and reports about our team’s progress with these strategies.

In the meantime, feel free to share any questions or comments with us by emailing feedback@portlandopera.org or patronservices@portlandopera.org