Executive Director Ellen Fenner believes it is her job “to connect and encourage the community to be part of the Minot Symphony Orchestra’s performances through education and opportunity.” To learn new ideas on how to achieve her mission, she attended the League of American Orchestras 77th National Conference in Los Angeles, CA. The trip was funded in part by a Professional Development Grant from NDCA.
During the June 2022 conference, Fenner had the opportunity to network with a variety of orchestral professionals. She participated in focus group discussions to share ideas, challenges, and successes. When she returned, Fenner made plans to implement many of the ideas and suggestions she noted at the conference. Her three main takeaways were, 1) be more involved and present in the community, 2) use creative marketing, and 3) educate the public.
To begin, Fenner plans to meet with representatives from Minot Community Endowment, the Visitor’s Center, and the Chamber of Commerce to help her understand where and how to connect with a more diverse population. She or members of the Symphony can present informal presentations or set up a booth at suggested events to share their presence and welcome everyone to their concerts. Fenner reiterated, “To diversify our audience, we need to go to them if we want them to come to us. <We need to> be more present and visible in the community by participating and being at events of the arts and business community.”
During the conference, Fenner attended sessions that taught her new ways to make symphony performances more attractive to a diverse audience. She thinks the symphony could focus on Gen X as they are the up-and-coming patrons. This new audience wants to be surrounded by an experience that includes interactive programming with visual elements, which goes above and beyond a standard production.
Next, Fenner would like the symphony to be more creative with their marketing strategy. Instead of focusing on the repertoire, materials should highlight local musicians as a way to connect with the community on a more personal level. In addition, the advertising materials might explain the length of the concert and that there is no dress code requirement, both of which will also encourage more diverse audiences. The marketing plan itself can be more diverse by including digital ad sponsorships and other new modern ad buy options.
Finally, Fenner emphasized the importance of educating the public about the Minot Symphony Orchestra. She wants to break the negative stereotypes that often exist in this industry. Symphony musicians, conductors, administrators, etc., are just like everyone else, but with a passion for a certain kind of music and they want to share it with the world - without judgement, limitations or barriers. Although education is the third and final part to Fenner’s plan, it is intertwined throughout.
To summarize her experience, Fenner wrote, “These new ways of looking at our organization and ideas that came from the conference can help us expand our organization so our community will have a better understanding and experience through live symphony performances.”
“Music is for everyone, and unless they have experienced a live symphony performance, they have no reason to say, ‘It is not for me.' We offer a diverse program from classical to pops and contemporary. There is something for everyone in every season. That is the message we need to get to our patrons and potential patrons.”