This summer, the big-game arts administrator Jeff Melanson left the Banff Centre (the cultural institution and performance place in Alberta), where he had been president for two years. This fall he took over as president and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a renowned but debt-ridden situation. We asked for a word with him; he gave us five, which covered the stages of his attempt to reinvigorate the orchestra.
Listen: "When I began with the TSO, I did 14 internal meetings, which involved sitting down with musicians, staff, our board members and our volunteers. It was a privileged opportunity for me to get to know the personality and the spirit of the people connected to the Toronto Symphony. On top of the internal sessions, I held 50 meetings with people in the philanthropic community, and with 100 or so artistic partners or potential artistic partners."
Learn: "I studied different orchestras all around the world. There were a lot of meetings with technologists as well, to think about how audiences are consuming artistic experiences. We're trying to figure out, given the use of mobile devices and so on, what that means for our content."
Inspire: "When you're in an economically challenged time, yes, you have to be mindful of how you spend money, but, much more importantly, we must recognize the moral and spiritual importance of institutions such as the TSO. It's about not giving in and not accepting a smaller ambition or aspiration."
Engage: "It's about getting out there and connecting, and getting some of our ideas out there and engaging a broader community in the discussion. For example, we met with the Regent Park School of Music. We also had a gathering of people who support the TSO. I was put up in front of them to talk about what we might do next and what the future might look like, and really hearing people's feedback on that. Sometimes the feedback was constructive. Other times it was abusive."
Deliver: "In my first month on the job, we secured about $2.8-million in supplemental philanthropic investment. Also, the stage at Roy Thomson Hall is flat. The musicians told me they preferred to play on risers. We haven't used them because we're a tenant at Roy Thomson, and there's a labour cost of installing and taking down the risers between concerts. But I said, 'Make it happen,' and we did it. It's a small win, but it sent a message to the musicians that, one, I'm listening to them. It also sent a signal to the audience, because the musicians play better and it also looks better when they're up there on risers."