The leaders of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra created a thriving organization in their community by re-imagining the traditional model. They offer lessons that could apply to any community organization.
In their journey to bring a symphony orchestra back to Tulsa, Tulsa Symphony Orchestra staff and board members discovered that a viable community arts organization requires more than just creating beautiful music. Here are a few lessons they learned along the way.
Get involved in the community. There is more competition than ever for people’s time, attention and dollars. In order to support an organization, potential donors must see that the organization cares about and is involved in the community. TSO thus gets involved with as many community organizations as possible.
“We’re supporting their efforts, and they, in turn, support ours,” TSO Executive Director Ron Predl said. “As a community service group, everyone is connected. Service connects all of us. So the more we work together and the more we coordinate our efforts, it’s an overall better contribution to the community.”
Give members a voice. TSO has thrived by involving its musicians in all aspects of organizational decision making, from developing operating rules to programming concerts, though the extent of the involvement is up to the individual.
Listen to your audience. TSO circulates questionnaires and distributes online surveys to determine what audiences want to hear. And community members are involved in the board of directors and committees to ensure that their voices are represented.
“We always do listen, and we listen in as many different ways as we can,” Predl said.
Ask the experts. When TSO was developing its governance model, founder Frank Letcher invited symphony experts from around the country to get involved and share their input, resulting in partnerships with national leaders in the field. This helped the organization draw upon the wisdom of others.
Cultivate youth. Audience cultivation starts in childhood. TSO works with elementary schools to teach strings programs and introduce children to classical music, and conducts programs in secondary schools. TSO values its educational offerings as highly as its concert performances.
“We see [educational programs] as critical to audience development, to student leadership development, and helping [students] do better in school,” said Ken Busby, TSO board president.
Be accessible. To make its concerts more accessible to families, younger adults and other community members, TSO offers $7 single-concert balcony tickets.
“We want it to be accessible, and the great thing about the [Tulsa Performing Arts Center] is those balcony seats offer fantastic sound,” Busby said. “You’re really getting great music.”
Make yourself well-known. Awareness is a critical component of organizational success. Like other institutions, arts organizations must remain in the public’s consciousness, whether through traditional media, social media or community involvement.
“I think awareness is what symphonies have to do a better job of across the country,” Busby said. “And being involved in the community is a way to do that.”