2 min read October 2022 — According to Steven Libman, the Jacksonville Symphony’s president and CEO, in the 2021/22 season the Symphony raised a total of $8.4 million in contributions. Of that total, $3.4 million has been received from 1,500 households for annual and special donations. Libman told Invest:, “that demonstrates how individuals in this community believe deeply in the performing arts and are committed to the future of the Symphony.”
What have been the highlights and milestones for the Symphony during the last year?
One of the biggest is that we were one of the only 10 orchestras in North America that stayed open during the pandemic for the 2020/21 season. We are incredibly proud of this. We were able to keep the Jacksonville Symphony moving forward and maintained our work under very strict health and safety guidelines. We were able to open Jacoby Symphony Hall at 33% capacity and sold 36,000 tickets. It was quite extraordinary that we were able to successfully work with our donors, musicians and staff to open safely.
Our latest season, 2021/22, concluded in June. We were able to come back with no physical distancing but maintained other health and safety protocols. We had some mask requirements, but we did not have any restrictions on the number of seats we could sell. We hosted 75 concerts and sold about 79,000 tickets. In addition, our education program reached over 34,000 students. So together, the Jacksonville Symphony contributed artistically to over 100,000 individuals in the community last season.
For the first time in Jacksonville’s history, the Symphony launched the Concert Organ Series. We hosted three major organ concerts in Jacoby Symphony Hall played on the historic and illustrious Bryan Concert Organ. We also held our first-ever Pride Night during the final Symphony in 60 concerts, which helped bring communities together for a night of inspiring music.
The Jacksonville Symphony received our first-ever grant from the League of American Orchestras’ Catalyst Fund, in partnership with the prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Foundation from New York City, to help us advance our innovative work with new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. After a gap of several years, we brought back opera with Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” to critical acclaim.
What was the key to making the public feel safe and confident in attending your events?
We are very transparent with our patrons and believe that you can’t over-communicate with them. During the height of the pandemic in the 2020/21 season, we created a very robust communication program through direct mail and e-mail, created and followed a list of safety procedures that followed the CDC guidelines, installed all new air filters in the building and placed all musicians six feet apart on stage. The fact that we were vigilant about safety protocols and maintained an open line of communication with our patrons is what led to our ability to keep performing the live symphonic music we all love.
What is your assessment of the arts and cultural sector now in Jacksonville?
It’s vibrant. The Jacksonville community loves the arts and actively shows their support for our beautiful museums, performing arts venues, art installations throughout the city, and of course, the Jacksonville Symphony. To help excite the community and keep them engaged, the Symphony has created a five-year program to commission at least five original works by some of today’s brightest composers. These commissions breathe new life into Jacksonville’s artistic scene and serve as a way to launch the next era of orchestral music in Jacoby Symphony Hall.
What sets Jacksonville apart from other markets?
In Jacksonville, the support that the arts community receives from the city of Jacksonville demonstrates how important a vibrant arts community is to a city. Another key difference is our community support. Last year, the Symphony received about $3.4 million in individual support from 1,500 households. That’s extraordinary, and I think that demonstrates how individuals in this community believe deeply in the performing arts.
What do you do to keep the younger generations engaged with the institution?
We are very proud of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras (JSYO) program. JSYO helps create a lifelong interest in music for young people, whether they go on to a career in the performing arts or not. What we impart to them is not only a love of music but life skills, such as collaboration, cooperation, self-esteem and discipline. Some JYSO students go on to pursue careers in music, and it’s extraordinary that we get to be part of their journey. But most importantly, we know that at the end of the day we’re offering them a top-quality musical education.
What marketing strategies were implemented last year to attract interest and elevate the Jacksonville Symphony brand?
Many traditional channels such as direct mail, broadcast television, etc. are still where many of our patrons like to be engaged. We also implemented a robust social media plan that includes both organic and paid tactics to reach the most relevant audiences possible. The other avenue to effectively reach our patrons is through our website. Most of our ticket sales are done through the website, but it also serves as a helpful resource to our patrons to learn more about upcoming concerts and the Symphony itself. We base a lot of our marketing decisions on multi-layered research that tells us what our patrons are interested in and the best ways to reach them.
What is your outlook and what are your priorities for your organization in the near term?
My outlook is very positive. I am blessed to work with an incredibly talented staff and the finest Board of Directors I have ever worked with. This community continues to show how much they love the diversity of what we present. I feel very optimistic that the Jacksonville Symphony will continue to grow and flourish in this market as music is important to us all on so many levels. I’m also confident that our original commissions will spark new interest and promote changes throughout the orchestral world.
We also recognize the challenges that the performing arts community continues to face. During COVID, we all became very comfortable sitting on our couches, watching Netflix and other platforms that spent a lot of money to hire the world’s best actors and cinematographers to create amazing content that we still watch. The challenge is to bring all those people back to live performances. Our patrons have been slow to return to their pre-concert attendance habits. However, we continue to put our best, most creative programs forward to welcome our patrons back to Jacoby Symphony Hall to once again experience the joy of live music.
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