Strategic Plan

Portland Opera | Five Year Strategic Plan 2020-2024

Last updated: July 20, 2020
Originally published: August 28, 2019

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.


“We announced the framework for our five year strategic plan nearly one year ago, in August of 2019.  Year One of the plan correlates with our 20/21 season, beginning in October of this year.

Even through we are launching into Year One in circumstances far different than the ones that we envisioned, the Portland Opera team remains committed to the pursuit of these strategies as a road map towards our future.

Below you will find an update on the work our team has been doing since our last update in April. Please reach out with your comments, questions, and feedback.”

– Sue Dixon, General Director | July, 2020

Progress report: July, 2020 updates are in purple and are italicized.



April 2020 and January, 2020 updates are also italicized below. If you have a question or any feedback please share it with our team. You can email feedback@portlandopera.org, or contact a member of our staff directly.


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.

    • July 2020 update: change is a constant during COVID-19
      • On May 7, 2020, we received formal guidance from Governor Kate Brown that further impacted our production schedule. Based on public health and safety mandates, on May 15 we announced the postponement of the first two productions of our 20/21 season; Frida and Tosca.
      • Our long-term plans remain steadfast about returning to our traditional schedule, but the return to normal will certainly have to wait until it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we continue to plan scenarios and possibilities, working with artists and musicians to navigate the changes. We will be ready to return when we are allowed to do so. 
    • April 2020 update: in process
      • On March 3, we announced our 20/21 season, which will open on September 11, 2020. You can learn more about the season lineup here.
      • In the 20/21 season we celebrate stories and songs of remembrance, resistance, and love. We honor the legacy of opera from three different centuries and continue to explore the beauty and breadth of opera from a community-connection standpoint.
      • We remain in close contact with the artists, musicians, and collaborators who bring our mission to life by sharing their brilliant work.  We continue, even in light of the COVID-19 cancellations, to honor and celebrate the artists and collaborators at the heart of our company. We can’t wait to share every moment and beautiful note with our patrons.
    • 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.

    • July 2020 update: ongoing
      • We are continuing to plan for an adjusted 20/21 season, as well as our 21/22 season. We cherish the fact that our three venues offer three scales of production, allowing for opera to be experienced three unique ways. We continue to work with our partners at Portland’5 Centers for the Arts to discuss how audiences can be welcomed to the Newmark Theatre and Keller Auditorium safely, understanding that we don’t yet know quite when that will be.
      • As we plan for future seasons, the need to establish fiscal health in terms of revenue and expenses remains our focus. The staff and board of directors are all committed to ensuring the sustainability of Portland Opera far into the future.
      • On July 14, members of Oregon’s Legislative Emergency Board approved more than $200 million from federal coronavirus relief for numerous programs and organization throughout the state. $50 million was allocated for arts and cultural organizations affected by the shutdowns from COVID-19. Portland Opera is among the recipients named in this legislation, with relief funding in the amount of $875,000.
      • You can learn more about how we’re navigating some of the operational and financial challenges from COVID-19 here. 
    • April 2020 update: ongoing
      • The world has changed with the outbreak of the coronavirus, and we are not exempt from facing new challenges.  When we talk about gross margins, it is about balancing the wellbeing of our company’s fiscal strength with our mission of sharing meaningful, high quality, and inspiring artistic work with the community.  The cancellation of our 19/20 means great financial losses for our company, from which we are trying to rebound. These losses don’t impact our commitment to sharing the art of opera in both grand and intimate performances, but they do present very real concerns for our board of directors and senior team to grapple with during this uncertain time.
    • 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.

  • July 2020 update: halfway there!
    • Our website is scheduled to launch in February of 2021; in tandem with our new ticketing system. Both systems are currently being tested and built, and we’ll be sharing information with ticket buyers, subscribers, and patrons about details for how these new systems will allow for more flexibility and integrated customer experiences.
    • Our new website will address concerns that have been shared with us regarding transparency, ease of information, and community resources.
  • April 2020 update: ongoing
    • We continue to work with the Tessitura implementation team to convert to an integrated revenue software for patron services. We are excited to implement this ticketing platform, designed by the Metropolitan Opera and used by opera companies across the country, which will ease online purchasing. The timeline and process listed above remains the same.
    • Over the past two months, we’ve begun the discovery process for a new website with our selected partner. Members of their team led workshops in February with our staff to begin site architecture and evaluate e-commerce paths. Our team, working remotely, is reinvigorated to make great progress with this project in the coming weeks.
  • January 2020 update: in process 
    • We’re implementing a new ticketing system. We will conclude our partnership with Ticketmaster in conjunction with the 21/22 season. 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. It will support and integrate with 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.
    • July 2020 update: in process/ongoing
      • We will be sharing public details of our Artistic Director search in the next couple of months; and have been making behind-the-scenes progress on the criteria for our ideal candidate.
    • April 2020 update: in process/ongoing
      • Our team continues to create plans and programming for the 21/22 season and beyond, as our plans for 20/21 come into focus.  Our interim artistic director, Daniel Biaggi, has been an instrumental part of our team and our artistic relations in the field.  Together, we are working with the Board of Directors to design the search process for a permanent Artistic Director.  By planning for future seasons while we implement this search, we are ensuring that Portland Opera’s legacy of artistic excellence remains seamlessly intact during these transitions, and that our artistic vision is part of mission as an ensemble.
    • 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.
    • July 2020 update: adjusting course, ongoing progress
      • Programming changes due to public health and safety concerns have impacted some of our near-term plans for community engagement surrounding productions, like Frida, which have been postponed.
      • We’ve continued to make adaptable plans for how and when we can return to classrooms and schools with our Portland Opera To Go programming; and how to continue Opera a la Cart performances in outdoor environments. In the meantime we are staying connected with community partners, like PHAME, digitally with video teaching and more.
      • We’ve also started a series of Portland Opera Moments, where singers and musicians serenade passersby from the balcony of the Hampton Opera Center; and launched a virtual recital series featuring and celebrating our 19/20 Portland Opera Resident Artists. We continue to explore technological solutions for community engagement and connections.
      • Members of the Portland Opera staff and Board of Directors have teamed up to create a working group for Community Engagement. Meeting every two weeks, this leadership group is developing a full engagement plan for the company – with near term and further reaching goals. To learn more contact Alexis Hamilton, ahamilton@portlandopera.org.
    • April 2020 update: in process/coming soon
      • Our education and engagement team has been busy planning for our 20/21 season, working with local arts partners to amplify storytelling surrounding Frida Kahlo’s life and work; working with artists and community partners to curate public celebrations, engaging programming, and more.
      • As we commit to community partnerships, we are also exploring longer-term plans for creative collaborations and co-creation. Our artistic and development teams are beginning to model paths forward for long-term planning.
    • 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.
    • July 2020 update: shifting course
      • The postponement of our 20/21 season impacted our ability to move forward with the Frida encore event as planned; and this public health crisis has pushed our team to seek new solutions. We’re modeling and planning virtual events, incorporating technology into our future seasons, and finding ways to adapt.
      • Our understanding of what the phrase “different opera experiences” encompasses has also grown and shifted as the result of a two-day staff learning lab about dismantling racism and privilege. As we work towards becoming an anti-racist multicultural organization, we will be sharing more information about what we will be doing in order to become a truly inclusive organization. You can learn more here.
    • April 2020 update: in progress

      • We’re excited that this season we will celebrate the Frida encore event – a community gathering of partners and artists, and a free concert performance of the opera.  Stay tuned as we will have more exciting details to announce about this event 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.

  • July 2020 update: in process 
    • The real estate development working group has held two meetings; and continues to explore preliminary ideas and inspirations about how Portland Opera can best utilize its property to advance the growth of our community spaces, and the company, in the SE Industrial Corridor. We continue to make connections and gather initial findings in order to develop a framework for next steps.
  • April 2020 update: beginning
    • The Board of Directors and General Director have had several exploratory meetings with developers, architects, and community leaders to discuss developing the site.  The President of the Board of Directors, Curtis T. Thompson, MD, has identified a key member of their board to lead this task force.
  • 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.J
    • July 2020 update: deepening our progress
      • Members of the Board of Directors and Portland Opera staff have formed a working group for community engagement, to articulate immediate, short-term and longer-term goals for community engagement and connections.
      • We continue to explore how technology can help us share our work safely, and how that impact our company and field in the future.
      • Our work in assessing the strength of our connection to community has been influenced by our deepened understanding of our past role as an elite and predominately white organization. As our work in creating a public, actionable, and accountable Cultural Equity plan comes into focus (see below), so too will our paths forward comes into focus for more meaningful community engagement, access, and activation.
    • April 2020 update: in process
      •  We’ve learned a lot from the outcomes and goals that were articulated during our full company retreat. Some of those outcomes are actionable immediately and will be experienced throughout our 20/21 season, other conversations are impacting our long-term plans for our company’s updated mission, vision and values.
      • General Director Sue Dixon and Interim Artistic Director Daniel Biaggi recently met with Portland State University to discuss collaborations between their voice students and Portland Opera. Examples of ways we plan to support PSU students include invitations to master classes and working rehearsals, mock auditions, and coaching sessions.
      • During this uncertain time, we continue to work to strengthen our connection to the community. We are meeting with organizations to see how we can support, collaborate, and partner with one another. This experience is about coming together as a community, and we continue to find ways to shine a spotlight on our partners, and are also seeking ways to use our resources for the greater good (including our costume shop’s recent work in building masks).
    • 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.
    • July, 2020: meaningful progress made
      • In the past couple of months we’ve transitioned from the discovery phase, and into a phase of articulating a refreshed mission, vision, and brand promise for internal review. We held a working staff lunch to dive into some of the initial findings and language; and will continue to develop this work through a workshop in mid-July. From there, we will expand the process (still behind the scenes) to develop drafts of these guiding principles with the Portland Opera Board of Directors, artists, and other allies and patrons.
    • April, 2020 update: in process
      • We’ve identified an external consultant to help us with articulating a renewed and updated mission, vision, values statement, and brand identity. In February we worked together to invite staff, artists, musicians, and some members of our board of directors to engage in discovery and brand definition workshops.  Our team is working to synthesize the information and ideas gathered thus far during the discovery phase, and we are excited to learn more from them soon.
    • 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 the 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.

    • July, 2020 update: still a long way to go, in process
      • Portland Opera closed our offices in observance of Juneteenth, and extended the closure into the next week for a mandatory all-staff two day workshop about what it means to become an anti-racist organization. This workshop was led by Keryl McCord, and the team at Equity Quotient, who continue to guide and advise our next steps.
      • As a result of the two-day learning sessions, the Portland Opera staff has adopted a set of meeting principles and guidelines that serve as a framework for our conversations as a team; as well as a list of immediate, near-term and long-term actions that can be taken towards becoming the Portland Opera of the future.
      • Our next step is a one-day retreat for Portland Opera’s Board of Directors, led by our partners at Equity Quotient. 
      • Following the Board of Directors retreat, staff and board members will begin operationalizing a Cultural Equity Plan for Portland Opera, which will be accomplished over the course of our 5-year strategic plan. This plan will be made public once these internal conversations have occurred.
      • We’ve launched a webpage for more information here. 
    • April, 2020 update: in process
      • Members of Portland Opera’s staff formed a task-force to begin planning for full company two-days workshops in mid-April; and a one-day Board workshop—both to be led by partners and experts to help guide our work. Unfortunately, due to the mandated closures, we had to postpone our two-day staff and one-day Board workshops; and are actively seeking dates in the future to reschedule. I am grateful to the staff members on the task force who are actively seeking solutions to keep this work progressing, and to the funders who make grant dollars available specifically for this type of important work.
    • 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.

ABOUT THIS PLAN

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.


ORIGINS: THE SUMMARY OF OUR PROCESS

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


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