Jessica Bejarano

Jessica Bejarano and the San Francisco Philharmonic | Credit: Spud Hilton

When the Association of California Symphony Orchestras (ACSO) holds its annual conference July 25–27 in San Francisco, plenty of evergreen subjects will be discussed, such as how better to fundraise and build audiences. But participants will also be engaging with one topic for the very first time, and you can probably guess what it is.

That’s right: AI.

“We want both big and small orchestras thinking about how artificial intelligence can be helpful to them,” said Sarah Weber, the association’s executive director. “How can it be a tool orchestras use?”

Beth Kanter, who over the years has written numerous books on how nonprofits can utilize new technology, will be addressing the issue at the halfway point of the three-day event. As Weber noted, “She’ll talk about the many ways AI can be a tool on the management side of orchestras, including grant writing, marketing copy, and writing donor appeals.”

Siri, can you persuade someone to give us money?

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That’s not the only technology-focused session at the conference, which welcomes representatives from orchestras around the state. “We have a couple of sessions on strategies for using social media,” Weber noted.

“One idea is powering the musicians to be ambassadors for the orchestra on social media, even as they create their own digital identities. The speaker [for this session], David Taylor, will compare it to the way professional athletes have a persona on social media that benefits both themselves and the teams they play for. That’s an interesting opportunity potentially.”

In addition, Weber said that “there are a couple of provocative programs regarding artistic programming, including one on expanding the canon and what that really means. We also have a panel of music directors who will talk about balancing [their many duties and obligations off and on the podium]. It’s a very complex job!”

Other sessions include “Building Responsive, Resilient, and Collaborative Community Programs” and “The Power of Local Advocacy and Civic Relationships.”

The conference has three keynote speakers: Aubrey Bergauer, author of Run It Like a Business; Kev Choice, an Oakland-based classically trained pianist, hip-hop artist, rapper, and composer who has performed with both the San Francisco and Oakland Symphonies; and composer-performer Ben Folds, who will discuss ways to integrate pop acts into symphonic programming while retaining artistic integrity. Folds serves as artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Weber said sharing innovative ideas is particularly important now. Across the nation, “orchestra audiences are back at or near pre-pandemic levels,” but operational costs have skyrocketed. “There’s also a lot of donor fatigue, and grant funding [is tougher to get].”

Weber concluded, “Orchestras can’t be satisfied with pandemic-level audiences. Growing new audiences will be critical.”

The deadline to register online for the conference is July 11. For more information, go to the ACSO website.

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