MIAMI — A new publication of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation offers an inside look at the foundation’s decade-long symphony orchestra initiative, the Magic of Music, which inspired frank and open discussions about the financial and attendance crises faced by American orchestras and explored ways to help solve them.
“The Search for Shining Eyes,” by arts consultant Thomas Wolf, assesses the foundation’s experience supporting 15 American orchestras from 1994 to 2004 and examines lessons learned from its $13 million investment in orchestra programs, research, experimentation and organizational development.
Among those lessons is the importance of the relationship between orchestras and their communities. “Regardless of aspirations for excellence and prestige nationally and internationally,” Wolf writes, “orchestras must be relevant and of service to their communities and to the people who live there if they hope to find the resources to survive.”
Wolf also stresses the crucial interaction of all members of the orchestra family — music director, musicians, administration, and volunteer leadership and trustees — in efforts to achieve transformational change.
“The Magic of Music was unquestionably among the most significant initiatives in Knight Foundation’s 56-year history,” said Mike Maidenberg, Knight’s vice president and chief program officer. He said the initiative drew much of its inspiration from Creed C. Black, Knight’s former president and CEO, and Penelope McPhee, Knight’s former vice president and chief program officer and now president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
“The initiative came at exactly the right time, when the orchestra field was in turmoil and other funders were pulling back,” he said. “We think the impact of the Magic of Music will continue to be felt in the orchestra field for years to come.”
Working with an advisory committee of respected orchestra professionals, Knight Foundation launched the initiative with the goal of strengthening the bond between musicians and audiences and helping reverse the decline in orchestras’ audience base.
The name of the initiative — and the new publication — came from an early comment by conductor Benjamin Zander, a Magic of Music advisory committee member.
“When I look out and see all those shining eyes in the audience, I know we’ve created the magic,” Zander said.
During the first five years of the initiative, the foundation awarded $5.4 million in grants supporting innovative, multiyear projects in 10 orchestras – two from Knight communities and eight from other cities. A second phase awarded more than $7 million in new grants to 13 orchestras, including some institutions from the first phase as well as additional orchestras from Knight communities.
In 2000, Knight commissioned a classical music consumer segmentation study, “How Americans Relate to Classical Music and Their Local Orchestras.” Conducted by the cultural research firm Audience Insight LLC, the study involved more than 25,000 people in 15 markets and was the largest discipline-specific study of arts consumers ever undertaken in the United States.
Among many surprises revealed by the research was the remarkably broad scope of Americans’ interest in classical music, yet a sharp disconnect between the high level of interest and patterns of attendance at local symphony concerts.
“The problems of orchestras stem not from the music they play but from the delivery systems they employ,” Wolf indicated in the final report. A large percentage of Americans listen to classical music at home and in their cars – but not in concert halls. The Magic of Music encouraged orchestra professionals to examine reasons for these patterns and to seek better ways to attract audiences to concert performances.
The Magic of Music initiative also included in-depth evaluation of orchestras’ grant activities, annual gatherings of participating orchestra representatives, creation of working consortia of orchestras, and a series of publications to document and disseminate key issues related to change in the symphony field.
“Many people have told us that, in the end, the legacy of these contributions may be as valuable as the grant dollars,” Maidenberg said.
“One of the major lessons learned is that achieving transformational change requires an investment of time and dollars commensurate with the scale of the field. And what we’ve learned from this initiative is relevant not only to the orchestra field but to the full range of the performing arts,” he said.
Wolf is a veteran arts strategist whose firm, Wolf, Keens & Co., has advised numerous cultural institutions and leaders of a number of major cities on strengthening their institutions and creating a more vibrant cultural life for local audiences. He is the author of “Managing a Nonprofit Organization in the 21st Century.” Wolf’s involvement in the Magic of Music spanned the full decade of the initiative, from its inception to its end.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. It recently announced a major grant in support of the Knight Concert Hall in Miami’s new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
For more details about lessons learned from the Magic of Music visit: www.knightfdn.org/music.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.