While planning for this year’s annual Opera Conference, something unexpected happened — the economy turned upside down. The next few months brought news of closing companies, reductions in productions, staff layoffs and a swath of other issues. Prior to this, OPERA America had chosen the theme Making Opera Matter, which was fitting and helped respond to the field.
As early as the opening session, the conference looked to focus on opera’s place both globally and within individual communities. In a time when opera and all performing arts must demonstrate their value, relevance in the community is imperative. This theme resonated with attendees, and there was no better place to see opera’s living significance than in Houston, especially with Houston Grand Opera’s initiative, HGOco. The focus was particularly validating for those of us in education, because our time is spent both informing audiences and communities, and providing them with a positive experience.
In the first education session, “(Re)Defining Education at your Company,” panelists from Houston Grand Opera and Los Angeles Opera discussed how programs at their companies have gone beyond traditional education to connect with their communities. Interestingly, education staff from opera companies represented only a modicum of attendees at this session. The majority of attendees were from universities, development departments, boards and even individual artists with an affinity for community programs were in attendance. The array of attendees confirmed that interest in community work extends far beyond education departments. OPERA America also announced that its education network will now be called the network for education and community service, reflecting the growing role of the network.
The session, “Understanding Both Sides of Copyright and Fair Use,” focused on the rights and use of materials, and the frequency with which artists and administrators misunderstand the law. Panelist Phillip Edward Page, from the South Texas College of Law, led an insightful conversation that walked attendees through best practices for both obtaining rights and for protecting their own intellectual property. Again, the audience consisted of artists, entrepreneurs and varied company staff, helping to build a useful, diverse rights discussion.
At the close of the conference, attendees joined HGOco on site at the Dow School to see how Houston Grand Opera makes opera matter in their community. This visit began with a panel discussion between HGO’s general director, Anthony Freud, OPERA America’s president/CEO, Marc A. Scorca and other members of the Houston community. Their conversation shed light on how, through education and community service, HGO made their long-lasting mark in Houston. Proof of this was also found earlier in the conference, when Houston’s mayor, Bill White, spoke at the opening session. The afternoon at the Dow School was comprised of open dialogues in breakout sessions, during which members were heard talking about how, in making opera matter, it was important to consider not just a return on investment, but a return on insight.
For more specific information about the programs discussed during the 2009 Opera Conference, please visit operaamerica.org/conference or e-mail Education@operaamerica.org. Opera Conference 2010 will take place in Los Angeles, CA, with our host company, Los Angeles Opera.