Through the New California Arts Fund (NCAF), Pacific Symphony will deepen, strengthen, and enhance its commitment to the Chinese American communities of Orange County and the Los Angeles region.
For centuries, many American and European symphony orchestras have taken a hierarchical, top-down approach to decision making. In order for Pacific Symphony to lead a renaissance in the appreciation, accessibility, and impact of classical music in Orange County, they believed they needed to decentralize this traditional approach. As Pacific Symphony has made a shift toward co-creation, they are bringing partners in earlier into conversations about programming opportunities, making more space for artists to advise and shape decisions, and creating more cross-departmental collaborative teams.
Through demographic research early in their NCAF work, Pacific Symphony realized there were widely-held misconceptions about their local community of Orange County. More than 35% of Orange County residents are Hispanic, 20% are Asian American, and 30% of residents are foreign born nationals.
Understanding those demographic trends set Pacific Symphony on a path to investing more resources on engagement programming that is more responsive and adaptive to those communities.
January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2019
Pacific Symphony is now working to embed themselves in the Chinese American community of Orange County, in partnership with residents and other community service organizations. They are evolving alongside this community and making a serious commitment to be responsive to, and inclusive of, the community via the Symphony’s board of directors, staff, artistic work, and internal processes.
In the first phase of NCAF, Pacific Symphony added five new Chinese American members to their board of directors, developed a Chinese Leadership Community Council, launched the Jade Society to continue building philanthropic capacity in the community, and made diversity and inclusion a central tenet of their strategic plan.
A key partner to Pacific Symphony’s community engagement work has been the South Coast Chinese Cultural Association/Irvine Chinese School. After an inaugural lantern festival event to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year unexpectedly brought more than 4,000 multi-cultural residents to the Symphony, this partnership with the Irvine Chinese School has deepened and expanded to include multi-generational programs, more events on the Symphony’s home stage, and an increased involvement with Symphony musicians.
In 2017, the Symphony relocated their corporate headquarters to the city of Irvine, created a teaching and learning center in the building, provided room for a volunteer hub, workstations, and meeting space, and invited a Chinese dance company and Arts Orange County to also make their home in the new building. The adjacency of new cultural partners has been an opportunity to build collaborative programming, create an open-house and build brand identity.
In the coming years, Pacific Symphony plans to partner with new community organizations to expand programs to local Asian American senior centers, including those with limited English language capabilities. Learning how to engage deeply with the Chinese American community is also helping inform their approach to engaging the Latino community and other, non ethnically specific communities.
Charlie Zhang, Executive Vice Chair of the Board of Directors
Pacific Symphony has long maintained a small volunteer base to assist with educational programming. As community engagement efforts expanded in the Chinese American community, Pacific Symphony began to see volunteers who were representative of the Chinese American community as increasingly central to the long-term viability of the Symphony’s work.
The Symphony is now prioritizing the recruitment and training of a diverse volunteer corps of ambassadors, leveraging their capabilities, insights, and cultural aptitude, in turn building trust and enhancing the Symphony’s understanding of the community. Going forward, this corps of 100 volunteers will participate in more active roles, acting as cultural hosts and interpreters, and providing friendly, unique access to artistic events.
During the initial phase of their NCAF work, Pacific Symphony invested in new hires to their marketing team who could focus on more effectively capturing patron data, tracking participant lifecycles, and creating programming aligned with trends in the data. That investment has allowed the Symphony to build capacity around evaluation and analysis, better align programming with trends from the data, and ultimately expand their base of participants.
During the second phase of NCAF work, the Symphony began convening a multi-department team that meets regularly to monitor key performance indicators, trends, and research to create a more agile and integrated system of communication and decision-making across the organization. They are hoping to share the impact of this collaborative learning culture with the rest of the orchestra field through public research, helping to shape a conversation about the place of the American orchestra in an increasingly diverse society.