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December 4, 2020: Quarterly Update

I am pleased to write to you with my quarterly update as we conclude the fall 2020 semester.  With the election in the rearview mirror and vaccines for COVID-19 on the near horizon, I believe there is both room and need for optimism – tempered by interesting challenges facing the performing arts – as we look to the future.

Spring Semester

As announced earlier this fall, we are planning for a hybrid return to campus for the spring semester that will include bringing as much of the performance-related activities back to campus as possible, even as classroom-based courses remain online in order to ensure the community’s safety through de-densifying the campus.  Of course, all programs will be available online for students unable to return to campus.  While we are planning to begin hybrid activities at the start of the semester (January 25th), by necessity we leave open the option to ramp up on-campus activities in the first month of the semester for a “soft” opening.  As we plan, we are of course tracking closely the concerning trajectory of the virus today and expected over the next four to six weeks.  Again, we will make a final determination about campus activities by early January.

FY21 Financial Update

As you are aware, Peabody has been on a five-year financial track to make important programmatic investments in new initiatives, from new programs to new scholarships and more, as we work to strengthen the financial underpinning of the Institute.  Following multiple years of significant progress towards our financial goals and a steady decline in a long-standing structural deficit, inevitably COVID-19 has temporarily slowed that progress.  However, we remain determined to be back on track by the end of this current fiscal year, despite our FY21 budget revision to accommodate a ten percent one-time tuition reduction for the fall 2020 semester to assist our students and families during difficult times.  Through a strong enrollment this year, new fundraising initiatives, and continued discipline in expense management – including the employment and compensation austerity measures – we expect to hold our losses to a minimum.

Regarding fundraising, I would be remiss to not mention the extraordinary $1.25 million gift by Johns Hopkins University Trustee William H. Miller III to support Peabody’s Tuned-In program, which through the Preparatory identifies and recruits gifted pre-college underserved students and provides them with free lessons and classes.  With nearly 100 students now enrolled in Tuned-In, and with a track record of all its graduates going on to college (including Peabody and other major music programs), Bill’s gift goes a long way to strengthening the future of this important program and, by extension, the future of classical music and the performing arts.

2021-22 Academic Year Admissions

As always, December 1st is our application deadline for Conservatory admissions for the next academic year.  Enrollment in the current academic year far exceeded our revised expectations, which were based on the expected impact of the pandemic, and that now puts us in the position of enrolling a smaller class for fall 2021.  With that backdrop, completed applications as of December 2 totaled 1,981, up 3 percent from last year, which includes a 4 percent increase in underrepresented minority applicants, continuing a multi-year trend.  Undergraduate and graduate applications increased 1.5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively.  There will be more to say about final results once we get closer to auditions in February (all virtual this year) but we can surmise we are in a strong position for all programs, despite the continued challenges presented by COVID-19.

Peabody Conservatory Post-COVID Think Tank

Some weeks ago, I announced the formation of the Peabody Conservatory Post-COVID Think Tank.  The impetus for this was a study published by the Brookings Institution in August documenting the unprecedented short-term damage of COVID-19 on the arts and culture industry in the United States.  As we think about the long-term impact of this pandemic in the context of challenging audience trends for classical music over the past several decades, coupled with demographic changes that will require a new approach to developing audiences in the future, there is a critical opportunity for Peabody to ask important questions about that future through the Think Tank, charged as follows:

  • With the development of the Breakthrough Curriculum and the launch of new programs of study at Peabody, the Conservatory has staked out a distinct position around creating highly trained, flexible, adaptable musicians and dancers for a constantly changing environment that characterizes the 21st Century.
  • Now, with the impact of COVID-19 and its devastating short-term impact on already fragile arts institutions and artists, and with the expected residual impact likely to be felt for years to come, it is reasonable to see the impact of the pandemic not as a temporary interruption but rather as an acceleration of trends already underway prior to the pandemic.
  • Within this framework, Peabody will again examine its mode of training and challenge itself as to whether we are being bold enough in how we think about training artists now in a post-COVID, 21st-century environment.  The Peabody Conservatory Post-COVID Think Tank will devote itself to these questions and issues, with the intention of making broad recommendations for further changes to the Peabody curriculum to be delivered by May 2021.

While the Think Tank is focused internally on how Peabody’s performing arts training will evolve in the future, as a direct pathway to the professional world we are keen to play a leadership role in helping the industry address these challenges.  On February 10, 2021, Peabody will host a day-long symposium with executive leadership from leading arts service organizations and presenters around the country, performing artists, funders, and other guests.  We look forward to announcing specific details soon.

Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Work in the critical area of Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) has continued at Peabody throughout the fall.  The ADEI Steering Committee has convened a series of conversations to engage all members of the Peabody community in thoughtful and important discussion.  Special guests in these conversations have included Katrina Caldwell, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer of Johns Hopkins University; and Shanon Shumpert, Vice Provost for Institutional Equity.  More broadly, the Steering Committee is fleshing out a detailed plan to support the goals around diversity identified in the Breakthrough Plan 2024 and will be publishing their first quarterly progress report later this month.  On a parallel track, the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Task Force is continuing its work to identify how to broaden the musical and artistic heritages and voices found in our curriculum today.  Peabody remains fully committed to building on the progress we have made in recent years, recognizing that this important work has really just begun.

Distinguished Artist Faculty

Peabody has a long and distinguished tradition in its piano program.  In fact, it was a running joke for many years that the “P” in Peabody stood for Piano.  It is not difficult to see how this was the case when one considers the tremendously gifted faculty who have taught piano at Peabody over the years.  Of course, at the pinnacle for many years, and indeed a star in Peabody’s firmament, was Leon Fleisher.  With the loss of Leon last summer, a void was inevitable.  And while we all recognize that Leon was and is irreplaceable, when it came time to plant another flag in the long and remarkable history of the piano program, for me, there has been only one person who I could imagine that to be.

For that reason, I was so thrilled for us to announce very recently the full-time appointment of Richard Goode as Distinguished Artist Faculty at Peabody.  Richard enjoys a stellar career as a solo performer, giving countless recitals and orchestra appearances around the world in the greatest halls and collaborating with the world’s greatest orchestras.  As we have also learned through his annual master class at Peabody, Richard is an extraordinary teacher.  Beginning in fall 2021, Richard will have a small, select studio in the piano program and conduct a regular series of master classes at Peabody.  We are delighted to be welcoming such an extraordinary artist as Richard Goode to the Peabody family.

Wrapping Up

It has been a challenging year, to say the least, but Peabody remains strong thanks in large part to the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students.  I look forward to further updates in the New Year.  For now, I want to wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.