Name: Chris Ayzoukian
Organization: Patricia Reser Center for the Arts
Annual Operating Budget: $2,700,000 (est.)
Learn more at centerfortheartscampaign.org and prca.beavertonoregon.gov
Chris Ayzoukian’s written interview was originally published on April 30, 2020, and his follow up interview with Suzanne Nance aired on August 5, 2020. Listen and read both below.
How are the arts playing a role during this critical time?
The arts and artists of all kinds help us reflect on our experiences and the world around us. They help us make sense of feelings, and remind what it means to be human, of what we can achieve. This has never been more critical. Even though we can’t experience the arts together right now in person, we are reminded of our interconnectedness now more than ever. Even in isolation, the arts continue to play a vital role in getting us through these difficult times – whether it’s an online live performance, a favorite book, a piece of music you return to in order to lift your spirits, or making crafts with a young loved one at home. Artists and creators have recently stepped up online to provide a haven for all of us, even if for a moment in the day.
What has been the most notable / most unpredictable / most challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your organization? Biggest financial challenge?
We are thick in the middle of construction for the new Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton, and in the final phase of our capital campaign in partnership with the Beaverton Arts Foundation. We have had to find ways to pivot to keep moving forward. Our contractor and construction team have been our partners in navigating this first stage of the crisis. They’ve done a fantastic job of ensuring workers’ safety onsite while keeping the construction project moving forward. Our stellar capital campaign team continues the wonderful work of being there for our growing family of supporters and serving as a resource to connect more people to the hope and positivity that the arts provide. During this time, we’ve worked to create more awareness of the work of local artists and arts organizations in response to the crisis.
What has been most unpredictable for us is planning for the future – short term in the next year and long term for the next several years as the center opens. Financially, while the center isn’t yet open, we currently rely heavily on support from the City of Beaverton (lodging tax dollars) to keep moving forward with our pre-opening plans. Due to the impact that COVID has had on the travel and lodging industry and the reduction in lodging tax dollars, we have proactively adjusted our budgets for next fiscal year and beyond while staying on track for our opening. There are many considerations related to our longer view in the next couple of years – the health of local arts organizations, audience behavior post-crisis, sources of funding, and touring artists, among others. We continue to monitor the impacts so that we can be nimble.
To date, what steps have you taken to mitigate that impact?
We have taken steps to overcommunicate with our stakeholders, funders, and elected officials in Beaverton. We’ve tried to focus as a team on what we can control right now and reprioritizing our work accordingly. We are all experiencing this public health crisis together and while we can’t be together, we are bonded together in navigating through it. Every crisis presents challenges but also opportunities to bring people closer to us. This has been an amazing time of personal, genuine connection with our donors, friends, and colleagues. We are also scenario planning weekly, if not daily, for the future.
What kind of innovation in management has developed for your your organization, and what challenges have you encountered when implementing new innovative ideas?
While going all remote isn’t all new or innovative, it has changed the way we work. So much of our team’s work happens in “hallway conversations” outside of formal meetings – that’s how we communicate news and support each other. That personal informal time doesn’t exist right now, especially at a time when time together is needed most to navigate the situation.
What are the short-term and potential long-term effects of this shut down for your organization and the arts in general?
We believe in a healthy arts ecosystem in the region – we are one part of that ecosystem. I am an optimist and a realist. I am confident the arts will be back, and we will bring people together again. The question is what the ecosystem will look like when it returns and how long will it take to rebuild back to pre-COVID levels. In the short term, we are all going to be operating in a depressed economy and challenges that impact all of us, our makers and our attendees. Let’s not forget that in the arts as a sector we are the experts and the source for communal in-person life-changing experiences. However, after this crisis, we will have to prove that to people again. We are going to have to work harder to create extraordinary compelling and necessary experiences to bring people out because of lingering constraints and challenges. This is how we as an organization are thinking about the next couple of years.
What is a positive collaboration or initiative born as a result of this situation within your organization or that you’ve seen from your peers and colleagues in the arts industry?
The collaborations that have taken place to create relief funds for artists and arts organizations in the region have been inspiring. While I believe the sector will need more injections of funding, the generosity and leadership of funders, donors, and advocates, and the speed at which various initiatives have come together is a testament to the collaborative and supportive nature of this community.
What is the biggest lesson learned as a leader during this crisis?
I’ve learned to remind myself to remain open, to be there for others, and to remember that even in moments of great uncertainty, every crisis presents opportunities. At the most basic level, opportunities to share the moment with others by sharing our thoughts, our vision, our vulnerabilities. That can be challenging in times like this, especially when we are physically isolated, but remembering that’s really the business we are all in – finding ways to connect with others – has helped me navigate this crisis.
Regarding the creative process, what has been a source of inspiration for you/your organization at this time or how has your creative process changed and evolved? What outlets or channels have you sought out to continue to express your creativity, personally and/or professionally?
The fact that people continue to give to the arts and to this project is very inspiring and it has kept us all going. It’s touching to see people reach out with words of support and checking in on our project. It’s a sign of how important it is to people. The sheer amount of content online by artists locally and internationally has also been hugely inspiring for me and our organization, although I’ve found it’s impossible to keep up with it!
On a personal level, returning to making music (trying to) has brought me great solace. I’ve also found myself more of a news junkie than usual, and I’m finding comfort (yes, comfort) in reading analysis and projections about the recovery ahead.
What message do you have for the artists and fellow arts leaders in our community today?Let’s lead with hope and a bright vision for the future! I know it’s difficult to find calm in the face of fear and the unknown but remember you (we) are a source of inspiration for our community. We each have an opportunity to reimagine and recreate the future right now, even long-established institutions have this opportunity. Also, take a moment each day to visualize that moment of return for you and your organization. It might look different for each of us. We don’t know when that moment will come but imagine it – the joy and exuberance of it! We will never forget that moment the rest of our lives.
When looking to the future, what brings you hope?
The outpouring of creative work after times of crisis. We all know the wheels of our creative community are turning right now or will be very soon, and we will have a prolific period of output. This, along the proven power of the arts to lift us up after times of crisis, gives me hope for the future.
About Chris Ayzoukian:
As Executive Director of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton, Chris Ayzoukian is responsible for the mission of the center and for achievement of its annual and long-term objectives, including all strategic, programming and operational aspects. The center is currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2021. Prior to his current role, Chris spent 17 years at the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Hollywood Bowl, most recently serving on the senior management team as Vice President Philharmonic and Production heading concert production for over 200 concerts annually, orchestra operations, worldwide touring, media, scheduling and personnel. During his tenure at the LA Phil, he also held positions in artistic planning, recording and broadcast media, and strategic planning. Chris led planning and execution of numerous concerts and multidisciplinary stage productions, the critically-acclaimed LA Phil Live in-cinema broadcast series transmitted live to 450 movie theaters live in the U.S. and Canada, and many radio broadcasts and recording projects, one of which garnered a Grammy award for Best Orchestra Performance. Ayzoukian also led the strategic planning across the organization for the inauguration of music director Gustavo Dudamel including ¡Bienvenido Gustavo!, a free community festival at the Hollywood Bowl welcoming Dudamel to the city.
A classically trained pianist and composer Chris holds an undergraduate degree in Music Theory and Composition and MBA from Loyola Marymount University.