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August 19, 2021: Quarterly Update

As I write to you today, I know we are all excited to be back in full swing on the Mt. Vernon campus for the 2021-22 Academic Year. What a time this has been! As we go forward, we will, of course, continue to operate within state and local safety parameters and advisories regarding COVID, and in accordance with overall university protocols as things continue to evolve.  

Staff Return

As we return to in-person instruction and performances, we also are cognizant of leveraging the positive elements of our collective work experiences over the last 18 months. As in other divisions across the university, and in many workplaces, this means that some staff will be continuing in some limited form of hybrid work. Of course, those staff that are front-facing with students and faculty will remain fully on campus. I expect we’ll continue to learn from and refine our work scenarios going forward.

I want to again thank the staff and faculty for the significant efforts over the past 18 months under difficult circumstances to ensure that we were able to continue a quality education for our students safely and effectively. Every member of our community was called upon to find new ways to teach and support Peabody’s academic mission through difficult times. I am truly grateful. 

Emerging Financially from COVID

Peabody has emerged from last year better than we could have hoped for, completing FY21 on track with our financial plan thanks to strong enrollment and record fundraising, and most important, on track with our academic programs. It is in this context that we begin this year fresh and looking to the future. 

As part of our multi-year financial plan that supports the Breakthrough Plan 2024, over the last five years we have made investments in new programs, faculty, and staff. This has all been with an eye toward strengthening the financial underpinning of the school, including the elimination of historical structural deficits. These investments have been funded with institutional reserves, which we expect to replace as programs grow. Overall, we have been on track with our financial plan. FY21 results included a deficit well under the budgeted shortfall. 

Consistent with our financial plan, the FY22 approved budget projects the smallest operating gap since beginning this plan, within one-half percent of balanced, as we look to turn the corner to surpluses in FY23 and going forward. This does assume that there is no additional material financial impact from the virus. There will be more on this to report as we move through the fiscal year.

Fundraising in FY21

With the close of the fiscal year at the end of June, the Peabody Development and Alumni Relations team completed the Institute’s most successful fundraising year to date. For FY21, the Institute raised $9,737,273 in support of our students, faculty, and programs, surpassing the FY21 fundraising goal by nearly 26 percent. This represents a 60 percent increase over prior year fundraising. This year’s results included securing Peabody’s third endowed professorship in just two years which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by an anonymous donor. The $1.25M gift commitment from Sandra Levi Gerstung and the Hecht-Levi Foundation will establish the Levi Distinguished Chair of Dance, joining two chairs established by Advisory Board member Marc von May last year, in vocal studies and professional studies. Indispensable in assisting with these gifts was our Peabody Advisory Board Chair Emeritus, Taylor Hanex. 

An important strategic focus for future fundraising, philanthropic support for Preparatory programs also increased by 16% in FY21  We celebrated a $1.25M gift to Tuned-In from JHU trustee Wiliam H. Miller earlier in the year, and recently announced a $150,000 gift from first-time donor Dr. Robert Misbin, which along with his $1 million bequest intention, will fund the inaugural Tuned-In string ensemble, named the Misbin Tuned-In String Congregation. 

These outstanding fundraising results are due to the work of our Development and Alumni Relations team as well as our great volunteers. We thank Dr. Jill E. McGovern for her two years of outstanding leadership as Chair of the Peabody Institute Advisory Board. In a pure act of generosity, Jill has made a $1M commitment to Peabody, including multi-year current-use gifts to support The Annual Concert in Memory of Steven Muller and The Jill E. McGovern and Steven Muller Scholarship at Peabody. She has enhanced these current-use commitments with a bequest intention that will endow both funds in perpetuity. We thank Jill for her service and welcome Dr. Nancy Grasmick as our next Chair of the Board.

Admissions for FY22

Conservatory enrollment is projected to be strong for Fall at approximately 765 full time students, on track with our FY22 budgeted enrollment and keeping pace with our strategic planned growth trajectory, slated to reach a maximum of 800 students on campus by 2024. We are thrilled to be welcoming such a large group of students back to full in-person activity after a year of remote and hybrid study. We continue to make progress in enrolling a more diverse student cohort, and are projecting that 17%-18% of students this year will be underrepresented persons. This progress is in part due to fostering partnerships through the Blue Ribbon Scholarship program and El Sistema USA, making Peabody a leader in recruiting and matriculating a more diverse student population. We also continue to make important investments in financial aid in order to make Peabody as affordable as possible, especially in light of continued economic conditions stemming from COVID. Our Student Affairs team is hard at work building an orientation experience for our new students that will set the stage for success here at Peabody, and our enrollment management team and faculty are gearing up for another recruitment cycle with a gradual return to in-person recruitment activities while continuing many of the innovative virtual recruitment events that were so successful during the last 18 months. I want to congratulate admissions, financial aid, student affairs, and academic affairs who work together to attract, enroll, support, and retain a talented student body here at Peabody.

Welcoming New Faculty

As many faculty have retired, a significant portion of our faculty now are new to Peabody in the last five years, representing a generational shift, in addition to new faculty supporting new and expanded programs. This year that trend continues. We are delighted to welcome to our Dance Department: Brinae Ali, Jess Beach, Kelly Hirina, and Sorah Yang; to the Music Engineering Technology Department: Norah Lorway, Ian McLane, Owen Peterson, Sam Pluta, and Valerie Rennoll; to Musicology: Anna Celenza, Christopher DeLaurenti, and Donnie Scally; to Composition: Katherine Balch and Sky Macklay; to Vocal Studies: Lester Green and Alison Moritz; to Liberal Arts: Ahlam Musa; to Jazz Studies: Shacara West; to Winds, Brass, Percussion Department: William Gerlach; to Music Theory: Paula Maust; and to Piano: Yoshi Nagai. 

We are also delighted to welcome renowned critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Tim Page as Distinguished Visiting Professor, and world-renowned pianist Richard Goode as Distinguished Artist Faculty.   

Looking and Leading Beyond COVID

As challenging as the pandemic has made the last 18 months, it has not been without its silver lining. As you would expect from Peabody, we have been thinking about how to leverage the challenges and opportunities that COVID presented, and perhaps most important, to understand its short and longer-term impact on the arts.

Last year we established the Peabody Conservatory Post-COVID Think Tank to ask these questions internally, and we asked similar questions of the field at large in hosting The Next Normal:  Arts Innovation and Resilience in a Post-COVID World

Important outcomes of the Think Tank include delving further into the uses of technology in our field, spurred on by the experiences of the last 18 months. Even as we continue to explore the integration of technology and performance on the cutting edge through programs like Music for New Media (which will graduate its first class this year, along with our first Dance BFA class), we have just announced the launch of new low-residency master’s degree programs that will expand the Peabody footprint virtually. Also emerging from the Think Tank was a robust conversation around Peabody’s role in American music, how that dovetails with diversifying our curriculum to be more expansive and inclusive through the ongoing work of the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Task Force, and to better leverage our Baltimore roots. 

The Next Normal day-long Symposium convened by Peabody had several critical themes that emerged from the more than 1,300 participants, nationally and internationally. One headline focused on the importance of arts institutions, and by implication, artists, to develop greater flexibility, adaptability, and nimbleness. This is something that Peabody has been emphasizing well before COVID through its Breakthrough Curriculum and LAUNCHPad. Its focal point at the symposium is confirmation of the importance of urging new ways of thinking for arts institutions, especially given the disruptive environment which characterizes our world today.

Similarly, an intensified focus on anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion is more critical than ever for the performing arts, nowhere more so than in the world of classical music. Classical music’s history of exclusion, challenging audience trends, and changing demographics are all conspiring to finally force our field to understand ADEI as an existential question and a driver not just for equality and access, but for the survival of our field, a field that will require more diversity in its audiences than it has historically enjoyed. That will only be possible if we increase diversity in our artists, programming, and institutions writ large.

Peabody will be following up on The Next Normal this year by convening two symposiums focused on those key points of institutional adaptability and building diversity. More to come on that. As you can see, Peabody is taking advantage of the challenges and the learnings that came out of COVID, and will continue to take a leadership role in conversations across the performing arts.

Refocusing on our Campus

Of course, we’ll continue to focus on our strategic Breakthrough Plan 2024 which includes the all-important work of developing a new campus masterplan to ensure that Peabody’s facilities can support the programmatic and academic growth that we have realized in the last five years, and to ensure that our facilities as well as our curriculum meet the needs of Peabody faculty and students in the decades to come. With a pre-study now complete, and a formal study being undertaken, we’ll have much more detail to share about this major initiative in the coming months. 

For now, again, we’re thrilled to be back, and I look forward to seeing you on campus!