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February 12, 2020: Quarterly Update

I am pleased to write with an update having turned the corner on the 2019-20 academic year at Peabody.   

Financial Update

Over the last several years, Peabody has gauged its financial progress based on a 5-year business plan that was put in place in 2018. This plan first and foremost is designed to support Peabody’s academic mission and vision.  Our current fiscal year, FY2020, represents the third year in this 5-year “rolling” outlook. We are budgeted to continue to reduce Peabody’s operating gap and build sustainability, and we are on track to meet our overall budget target for FY2020. We are a little more than halfway through our fiscal year, and success now depends on meeting fundraising targets and continuing to make investments in our programs while maximizing efficiencies. As always, it is important to stay on plan. Over the past two years we were able to deliver better financial results than planned, knowing well that these next few years would be challenging as we bring the budget into balance by realizing the benefits of the new programs we have recently launched. 

Audition Week

Next week we will welcome applicants to Peabody for auditions that will yield our next class. Approximately 1,350 students from 30 countries will come to take another step toward realizing their personal artistic visions and dreams. Audition Week is always a hectic, intense, and exhilarating time as we meet potential Peabody students, many of whom will help shape the life of our campus in the coming years. I look forward to sharing more about the outcome of the 2020 auditions later this spring.

Artistic Observations

With so much focus on the launch of new programs and strategies, we can sometimes lose sight of what’s immediately in front of us: the nearly 1,000 programs and concerts that take place annually at Peabody. I was reminded of how wonderful these seemingly everyday events can be when the Peabody Symphony Orchestra recently performed a remarkable program under the leadership Marin Alsop, director of graduate conducting at Peabody, music director of the BSO, and recently named chief conductor of the Ravinia Festival. It is always special when Marin is on the podium, but this program – consisting of Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 – was especially noteworthy. The Bartok, notoriously difficult for both the soloist and the ensemble, got a brilliant performance from Chengcheng Yao. The PSO shined similarly in the Shostakovich. As I listened, I was reminded of the incredible talent that Peabody attracts and nurtures. After the concert, Bob Pierce (who was the Peabody Institute’s director for 12 years and served as Principal Horn for the Baltimore Symphony for 25) pulled me aside and said simply that it was the best he had ever heard the orchestra play at Peabody. Bob knows a great orchestra performance when he hears it. This evening was a proud moment for all of us, made even more special in that it was also the 7th annual concert honoring the memory of Dr. Steven Muller, who served as president of Johns Hopkins University from 1972 to 1990 and was responsible for the merger that brought the Peabody Institute into the Johns Hopkins family.

Fueling Diversity

I have often used this space to talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion at Peabody. For that reason I am especially pleased that in December 2019, the Mellon Foundation awarded Peabody a multi-year grant of $1 million to support Peabody’s role in the inaugural Baltimore-Washington Musical Pathways (BWMP) collaborative initiative which seeks to diversify the landscape of the American classical music field. A total of $3 million was awarded to BWMP partner institutions – cultural anchors in Baltimore and Washington, DC, including Peabody, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and other affiliated partners – to work to improve pathways for student musicians in grades 8 through 12 from historically underrepresented communities, building on and expanding existing programs including Peabody’s Tuned In program.

Diversity is one of Peabody’s Five Pillars. We believe that the need to increase diversity in America’s orchestras and across classical music is an existential imperative. Changing demographics and the need to attract more diverse audiences in the future make increased diversity on our stages as fundamental to classical music’s survival as the creation of new work. This new partnership will allow us to build exponentially on our individual ongoing efforts by tackling this critical area as a group of institutions committed to this cause in two cities, Baltimore and Washington, both rich with diversity. We want to make real change where it’s most needed – providing access and opportunity to a pool of diverse young musicians early on. I am proud that Peabody is a major partner in this exciting project.

Breakthrough Plan 2024

As I reported in my November newsletter, this year Peabody is doing a deep dive on its Breakthrough Plan – the roadmap that has guided Peabody’s progress over the last four years. We are taking a fresh look, updating where needed, and making sure we are as crystal clear in our direction over the next five years as we have been in the plan’s first phase. The process has entailed 10 work groups, comprised of 90 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and advisory board members, who worked for most of the fall and have delivered their recommended strategic goals and action steps. The work also included the drafting of an updated mission statement consistent with Peabody’s direction in the 21st Century. During the month of January, the Breakthrough Plan Steering Committee has been collating and sifting through the work groups’ recommendations, a process which has now identified 13 strategic goals that span and touch every aspect of the Institute and that align with our Five Pillars. The goals are organized under three areas: Programs – Leading programmatic growth to leverage our competitive advantage and drive institutional sustainability; People – Optimizing the Peabody Experience and building community; and Resources – Building the infrastructure and resources to ensure excellence in the Institute’s mission. Over the coming weeks we’ll be seeking additional input from the Peabody community as we move towards a final version of our Breakthrough Plan 2024, which will be rolled out in the Spring. 

As you can see, it continues to be a very dynamic time here at Peabody. I look forward to another update in the months ahead.