For the past nine months, the Oregon Symphony has been without revenue.
After canceling all 2020 concerts last spring, the symphony announced in November it wouldn't hold in-person events until at least 2021. At the time, symphony president and CEO Scott Showalter told WW that the arts institution was "almost certain" to lose millions of dollars.
But instead of going dark, the struggling organization has shelled out more and more content—all for free.
Over the summer, the symphony debuted Essential Sounds, a series of short, virtual concerts dedicated to frontline workers. It released recordings of past concerts, weekly short videos of symphony musicians, and children's storybook readings soundtracked by violinists, tuba players and oboists.
The symphony is far from the only Portland arts organization that's been giving away free content during the pandemic.
Chamber Music Northwest pivoted its annual summer festival to a free online format. Not long after that, the group took inspiration from the MasterClass trend and posted a series of virtual classes on violin, clarinet and flute, each taught by one of the ensemble's esteemed musicians.
Third Angle Music has been debuting new works by local composers that are meant to be listened to on walks around specific parts of the city. Artists Repertory Theatre has offered some audio plays for free or by donation. Portland Playhouse released a series of new works created and performed by company apprentices. Portland Art Museum has been posting virtual tours of its exhibits on YouTube. Fertile Ground, Portland's most expansive theater festival, still happened this year, streaming for free on YouTube and Facebook over the course of 11 days.
Fine arts have a reputation for being inaccessible. But lowering the barrier of payment, even during this time of financial hardship, proves that what drives even Portland's biggest arts institutions is the desire to share what they love.
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