November 29, 2021: Quarterly Update

When I last wrote to you in this forum at the start of the academic year we were excited about the return to campus as e emerged from COVID, and at the same time, unsure exactly how everything would play out throughout the fall.  I am very pleased to be able to report that we have successfully returned this fall with all our faculty and staff here supporting some 733 fulltime students. Thanks to successful safety protocols and the outstanding compliance of our community members, Peabody–like the rest of the university–has seen only a handful of positive test results and no evidence of community spread. And as we’ve been able to move forward successfully, we are able to begin to further relax stringent COVID protocols as we did only last week when we eliminated masking for our singers, winds and brass players in lessons, ensembles and performances. Of course, the overall mask mandate will continue in place for the foreseeable future, especially important given the threat of new variants.

What is most important is that our students have been able to successfully return to campus and pursue their educational and artistic objectives mostly unencumbered, eager, and excited to be back.

While this has been a difficult and uneven road over the last 18 months, we are emerging as well as we might ever have hoped for. For that I am so grateful to all members of our community for your patience and perseverance.

Building Greater Sustainability

Peabody’s multi-year financial plan undertaken in 2017 included important and substantive investments in new academic degree programs such as dance and new media; the addition of outstanding new faculty; the building of innovative curriculum in the form of the Breakthrough Curriculum; a robust commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; substantively increased scholarship support for our students (especially important in the landscape of historically escalating educational costs); and raising our fundraising sights and objectives to historic highs, setting a benchmark high in FY21.

Underlying these mission-driven objectives was the need to eliminate longstanding structural deficits with the new revenues generated by our academic investments. As these programs have grown, so have the deficits been substantively reduced. The reductions have continued despite the interruption and challenges brought on by COVID, such that while we expect the FY22 deficit to be slightly higher than originally planned – largely the result of some last minute COVID-related enrollment attrition and higher testing costs – it will be the lowest deficit in years for Peabody, currently projected to be just one percent of our overall budget. In addition, we continue to plan for a fully balanced position in FY23.

A Big Anniversary

Whenever I have the opportunity, I enjoy telling people that Peabody’s composition program is by anyone’s measure among the very best of its kind today, nationally and internationally. Boasting two Pulitzer Prize winning composers, Guggenheim winners, and claiming virtually every compositional honor possible, the faculty at Peabody today is second to none. But this strength in composition at Peabody didn’t just happen. We celebrate the 150th anniversary of Peabody composition during this 2021-22 academic year with a history that is chock full of important and indeed ground-breaking compositional figures. Figures like Henry Cowell, Nadia Boulanger, George Walker, and Nicholas Maw – to name only a few – are the history on which today’s great strengths are built. Those strengths have also encompassed the world of computer music, where Peabody established one of the first programs of its kind, and has just celebrated fifty years. Peabody continues to innovate in this space right up to and including the launch of our Music for New Media program led by Thomas Dolby, which will graduate its first cohort this year, and where students today are working truly at the frontier of music and technology.

As part of the 150th Anniversary, recently the Peabody Symphony Orchestra performed the works of five outstanding student composers – the program boasts more than 50 majors this year –conducted by students from the graduate conducting program led by Marin Alsop. This is one of the most unique things about Peabody’s composition and conducting programs. In addition to the obvious strengths of the faculty, the chance for students to garner serious and high-level performances of their work here at Peabody is so valuable, in much the same way that conductors get podium time in front of an orchestra. To me, this concert not only showed off what is wonderful about Peabody’s composition and conducting programs, but speaks to the school’s unique ability to innovate in the context of deep and long-standing musical traditions.

I know you’ll join me in celebrating the great history of composition at Peabody, and the knowledge that the next 150 years will have a lot to live up to!

DEI Ongoing Work

As I have noted before, the work that Peabody is doing through the efforts of our Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee, and across all areas of our community, is existential for the field of the performing arts. This is a unique and pivotal moment in time to which we must continue to respond boldly: there is a national focus around critical issues of inclusion and equity, a historic lack of attention to them in our industry, and evolving demographic changes that require our attention to create a more diverse performing arts world.

Peabody continues to make progress in our commitment to diversifying our community with now, as of this fall, 15 percent of our faculty and 17 percent of our students comprised of underrepresented individuals. While we know this represents substantive change over five years, we must now challenge ourselves to do even better. We must continue to diversify our faculty. We must see the progress we’ve made in our student population expand into the graduate realm, and in particular our terminal degree population. And we must now, especially with the inspiration of the second Johns Hopkins Roadmap being adopted across the university, commit to seeing similar progress with our staff.

We also have challenged our community to envision how we can bring this spirit of diversity and inclusion to our curriculum itself, expanding the range of creative, diverse voices in the actual material we expect our students to learn. The Culturally Responsive Curriculum Task Force, so important to this work, is expected to deliver recommendations in February.

Finally, we will shortly be releasing the results of a bias survey undertaken on behalf of Peabody by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion led by Dr. Katrina Caldwell, along with a set of recommendations. We know that it is not enough to create a more diverse community. In order to ensure that all members of our community can thrive and reach their full potential, we must ensure that we are striving for a culture that is welcoming, supportive, and responsive to all members of our community irrespective of race, ethnicity, orientation, or gender. Our commitment to this work continues.

The Next Normal 2.0: Flexibility is the Future

Peabody recently convened and hosted The Next Normal 2.0: Flexibility is the Future, a direct outgrowth of The Next Normal: Arts Innovation and Resilience in a Post-COVID World, a symposium convened and hosted by Peabody last February that included discussions with thought leaders from the artistic, administrative, and funding communities across the performing arts world. The program included seven brief TED-type talks by presenters, and two different panels to respond to those talks and share their own expertise and experiences.  It was a deep, substantive, and thoughtful conversation around the challenging questions of flexibility, adaptability, and nimbleness for arts institutions and all those who work in the sector, beginning with the artists.

While it would be impossible to capture in a few sentences all that was said or reflected back, key themes included embracing discomfort; a willingness to make mistakes and fail if necessary; the need for a freedom to explore and broaden curiosity; and the need to invest in ideas and to challenge the “sacred cows” that limit institutional creativity, relevance to new and different communities, and the performing arts’ competitiveness in an increasingly fragmented and digitally focused world.

Peabody has taken the position that we should take a leadership role in the field in addressing these, and other critical issues. And so, through these events specifically, we are. We are now already planning a follow up symposium in 2022 focused on the importance of urgent, strategic work where DEI meets the classical performing arts, and look forward to sharing more about those plans soon.

Summing Up

As you can see, Peabody is fully engaged not just in our own work and the education of our students, but in growing an ever-stronger Peabody and driving change and innovation for the classical arts, and all the performing arts. As always, I look forward to keeping you fully updated on these and other activities.

For now, I want to wish you and your families a happy, healthy and safe holiday season.