The MMIAM Journey

A blog about the Master of Management
in International Arts Management program

Adapting to Coronavirus in the Arts

An Interview with Courtney Kenyon

Courtney has experience in arts across the board, but fell in love with theatre at a young age. She was a longtime stage manager, music educator, and one time bailiff before she joined the MMIAM program to expand her horizons in the theatre world. She graduated in 2019 with the 6th cohort and is now the Annual Giving Manager at the Arizona Opera in her hometown of Phoenix.

What do you do as the Annual Giving Manager at the Arizona Opera?

Primarily I manage our CRM database, Tessitura. I’m in charge of gift entry and general database functions like upkeep, reporting, and entering new donors. The database is what allows us to keep track of our patrons, their donations, and our relationships.  At the moment, I’m part of a team that is managing a huge data cleanup project that will allow us to more effectively track our donors and their history with our company as well as establish best practices across departments.

I also manage a total portfolio of around 200 people including established donors as well as prospective donors.

I really enjoy working in development because I get to meet so many wonderful people and build relationships with them. There are so many different dynamics among donors and what the Opera means to them, so there’s a lot to do and a lot to learn!

Riders of the Purple Sage (credit: Tim Trumble Photography)


How has COVID-19 impacted your organization?

Overall the COVID-19 impact has been rough, as I’m sure it has been for many organizations.  Luckily, we have a strong and supportive donor base as well as an incredible team within the organization which has allowed us to keep afloat and maneuver all of these changes successfully. Other organizations in Phoenix weren’t as lucky, especially those where a lot of their programming went into the summer. Unfortunately, we still had staff cuts in June, and I miss them dearly, but it definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We were fortunate to keep them on through the end of June, while many other arts organizations made dramatic cuts to their staff in March. We were in a more favorable position going into the lockdown since we were at the end of our season, which normally ends in April. At the start of this, we only had to cancel one show and some summer programming but we’ve since had to redesign our season.

Currently, we’re in the process of communicating with our subscribers right now to figure out what they would like to do with their season tickets, whether they’d like to keep them on account to use them for next season or donate them back to the opera.

We just recently announced our Reimagined season, which will include outdoor, socially distanced performances by our Studio artists once a month starting in October (Studio Spotlight Series).  We’re also in pre-production to film an adaptation of The Copper Queen, our second commissioned opera, which was supposed to be our season premiere, and would have been our second world premiere. We’re also doing something called Arizona Arias which is similar to the Studio Artist Series, but will begin in the spring and will be “performed by some of today’s leading opera stars” and members of the Arizona Opera Orchestra.

Regarding the work environment, we started working from home March 16th.  Our annual gala was supposed to be held on March 14th, but we had to cancel it two days before due to the governor’s order on large gatherings. Everything has been digital since then. We had a successful digital campaign for our NextGen programs that generated a lot of activity on social media for which we successfully completed a challenge match and raised over $150,000.

We’re in the process of slowly getting back into the office on a staggered schedule so as to comply with social distance and workplace guidelines put together by the state and federal government and a team within the opera designed specifically to address COVID safety.

What skills that you gained from the MMIAM program have helped you succeed at the Arizona Opera?

I use a lot of the stuff I learned on the MMIAM program. The skills we learned in fundraising, marketing, and database management help me succeed at my job because that’s literally what I do everyday.  But also being able to read and understand a budget, how to be aware of innovation in the field, and the cohesion of branding has also been incredibly useful to my position. The education as a whole was incredibly important because it prepared me to be a successful arts manager.

During MMIAM we worked a lot as a team, and that’s really important for my job now, since we’re all working interconnectedly towards the same goal and communication is key, especially within the Development team itself and across departments.

The MMIAM program also helped me understand the global impact of things, particularly now during the coronavirus. You can see the effect in different countries and organizations in other societies. It helped me develop a truly global perspective and know how to access that knowledge from different sources.

What do you think are the long term implications of COVID-19 for your organization and the arts and culture world at large?

I think it’s going to impact the creativity of our organization at large. Before this, our season was very regular and formulaic – 5 operas a season and scheduled events around each opera – and now we don’t have that predictability as an organization. Next year will be our 50 year anniversary and we are hoping that we’ll be able to celebrate such a milestone in person with the patrons and donors we love so dearly, but because of the unpredictability of the time as well as a government that isn’t properly handling the pandemic, we still don’t know what we’re going to be allowed to do, so we’re going to have to play it by ear.

As a silver lining, though, it has helped us develop as a team. Arizona Opera has a really strong team doing amazing things. Going forward, we know that we have the strength to face whatever is thrown at us.  For example, our director of the education program has had to redesign her whole programming, but in doing so, she’s got some really awesome things lined up that we may not have had the opportunity to do or explore before!  On the development side, we have to rethink how we’re going to interact with our donors this season since we won’t have any structured development events at which to see or talk to anyone. Despite the fact that the world is basically on fire right now, we are really lucky that we have the opportunity to innovate and create this season, even though we know we will face really tough challenges in the future.

The willingness to change is a real benefit and a necessity. Not just for us, but for all arts organizations. At this point you have to change, and if you don’t then you probably won’t survive. In our industry, you have to be willing to redesign, reconfigure, and rebuild in order to adapt to the world as it changes.

Backstage tour from 2019 (credit: Personal archives)