In “Orchestra Faces Bankruptcy, Meets Baldrige, Brings Beautiful Music Back to Life,” I wrote about the New Mexico Philharmonic (NMPhil), which was created in 2011 when its predecessor had to declare bankruptcy. In 2016, Maureen Baca, president of the NMPhil Board of Directors and a 25+-year Baldrige alumna examiner, told me that the predecessor orchestra faced a perfect storm: budget growth beyond community capacity, dramatic changes in the economy, unsustainable overhead, labor/management issues, personality/individual issues, and no apparent systematic processes.
That all changed when Baca brought her passion for Baldrige and process-based organizations to NMPhil. By introducing Baldrige concepts slowly and showing board members and staff results, what evolved at NMPhil was a process-focused culture, beginning with workforce-focused processes, including for volunteers; product/service processes; and a new focus on measurement and management by fact.
So, has the orchestra sustained its improvements?
Said Baca, “We are continuing very much with using the Baldrige framework. . . .
The organization has not only survived but has thrived and is becoming stable, as demonstrated by the achievement of the Roadrunner Award [the second highest honor from Quality New Mexico, a Baldrige-based member of the Alliance for Performance Excellence, a network of state Baldrige-based programs]. We now have a fairly stable financial base that supports us.”
She added that most arts organizations don’t typically think about performance management, but NMPhil is different.
"We are creating a sustainable organization,” said Baca. “We don’t want what happened before—to not be properly managed and to face another bankruptcy. And that’s something that many orchestras in this country have been through. Some of them have come back [from bankruptcy]. Unfortunately, many have not."
"Sustainability is a real challenge for the arts these days. And [Baldrige] is the principle way we are creating sustainability."
For six years, the orchestra has been tracking and trending data, with about 40% benchmarked against external sources. One of the significant ways that NMPhil uses the Baldrige Criteria, said Baca, is to measure stakeholder satisfaction across six segments to really understand its results. The organization has attained 97% stakeholder satisfaction as measured by the number of 4s and 5s on a 5-point scale. The orchestra has received similar ratings, at around 97%, for how the audience judges its artistic excellence.
“This is an important measure on keeping people coming to performing arts,” she said.
Baca said she and the executive director of NMPhil, Marian Tanau, who also is a practicing violinist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, now talk very publicly about organizing around the Baldrige framework and have given joint presentations at Quality New Mexico, sharing how their small organization uses the Baldrige framework and its Criteria.
NMPhil staff members have become so engaged with the Baldrige process that two of the six full-time employees serve as examiners in the state Baldrige-based award process. Part of their success as examiners, attributes Baca, is that they have practiced the Baldrige framework on a daily and strategic way in their own organization.
Baca has been helping the staff and board “understand what the [Baldrige] framework is and what it has to offer. . . . It’s getting people exposed to the concepts a little at a time, so they’re not overwhelmed by it.” The next opportunity, added Baca, is to engage the musicians in the Baldrige framework.
One of NMPhil’s most proud accomplishments is the Young Musician Initiative (YMI), which is offered to economically and socially challenged elementary school students in the community’s poorest neighborhoods. The program reaches about 100 children in public schools and about 40 children on a neighboring Navajo reservation. The kids are in the program 12–14 hours a week after school and have mastered the instruments enough to now comprise the youngest performing orchestra in the state.
The students’ academic improvements are measured at the end of each academic year and compared with children who are not participating. Baca said that because the “student body” of YMI changes each year as students graduate to middle school and new students join, the organization does not necessarily expect to see “improving trends” in improvements; rather the goal is to achieve at least 40% improvements, which exceed the nonparticipating peer average most years.
“We’ve seen significant changes and academic improvements over the course of the school year,” said Baca, adding that Albuquerque’s new mayor has an interest in after-school programs that produce results so information on YMI is being shared with him.
NMPhil is excited about the future. For long-term sustainability and to help with funding issues, it has created the New Mexico Philharmonic Foundation, Inc., as a completely legally and financially separate entity. The foundation has seen pretty good success in its first few months and is starting to have some endowments, as well as some unexpected donations for which stewardship and resource use are taken very seriously and thoughtfully, she said.
There’s also a new performance arts center being discussed for Albuquerque. “People here are beginning to recognize that the arts are a vibrant part of a healthy economy,” she said.
In 2017, NMPhil hired its first music director , Grammy® Award-winning Brazilian conductor Roberto Minczuk, who divides his time between Albuquerque and São Paulo, Brazil.
Said Baca, “It’s a big deal for an orchestra who hasn’t had a music director, a regular conductor, to hire one.”
It’s such a big deal, that I asked Baca how the orchestra managed this. Said Baca, “We had a structured, defined process that was based on best practices from orchestras in the east. We adapted those to our local needs. . . . I think by virtue of [the music director job candidates] understanding of both the organization’s commitment to the future as well as the opportunity here, I think that’s why we’ve been able to have some really serious candidates interested in Albuquerque. And I know it’s a big driving force behind why . . . because we do not have the highest pay in the world, but we do have exciting possibility here. They all saw an organization that is healthy and committed to growing and committed to long-term longevity.”
The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.
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