Name: Ron Blessinger
Organization: 45th Parallel Universe
Annual Operating Budget: $250,000
Learn more at 45thparallelpdx.org
Interview originally published on August 19, 2020.
How are the arts playing a role during this critical time?
For the artists, it’s an opportunity for reflection, to re-connect with why we are musicians in the first place. When concerts and work are halted, there are no more excuses for not learning that difficultpiece you always wanted to play, or write that quartet you’ve always wanted to write.
In our case, we’ve developed technology that allows us to continue performing weekly concerts, so the pandemic has actually spurred us to achieve a significantly greater creative presence than before. The arts have always been a sign of a healthy culture, and that notion is especially magnified in this situation. When symphonies and theatre returns, we’ll know that our health has returned.
What has been the most notable / most unpredictable / most challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your organization? Biggest financial challenge?
The biggest challenge is trying to plan ahead for concerts at a time when the situation is changing day by day. Financially, we’re actually in better shape than ever. Our supporters have really responded to our efforts to continue being creative and have stepped up their giving substantially.
To date, what steps have you taken to mitigate that impact?
Our relatively small size has been a big asset, allowing us to pivot quickly to capitalize on the opportunities we have to develop our online audiences.
What kind of innovation in management has developed for your your organization, and what challenges have you encountered when implementing new innovative ideas?
The pandemic has been a hard shove for us down the path of online performances. Our new technology allows us to form chamber music ensembles with individual players safely performing in their respective homes. Our challenge with this is to articulate how we’re doing it differently than the thousands of artists who are now figuring out how to give online performances.
What are the short-term and potential long-term effects of this shut down for your organization and the arts in general?
In the short-term, we are leading by example, not willing to let the pandemic stop our music making. Artists always are dealing with the hand that they’re dealt, whether it’s war, illness, political upheaval. Art always survives, and we’re showing one way of doing that.
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?
For the past three months, we’ve produced weekly live streamed concerts that feature players all over the world, coming together to create music via our new technology. We’ve made new friends that we would have never had the opportunity to meet were it not for this, which has made this a very rich time for us.
What is the biggest lesson learned as a leader during this crisis?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there is ALWAYS an answer to whatever challenges you face. We are judged by how well we’ve met the challenge of the moment.
Understanding that the future is hard to predict, how might the lasting impacts of COVID-19 change your upcoming season? Should the tone of pieces or performances change?
Upcoming season? At this rate no one will be back in the performing arts business until 2021-22. We’ll continue to look for ways of challenging convention in our performances, both live and online. The old way of renting a hall and packing in the audience might have to undergo serious re-examination.
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?
It’s all about our online performances for now. Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned, this situation has allowed us to give more performances than ever. Last year we gave 9 concerts…in the past 4 months we’ve already performed 14 times, and plan on giving live streamed performances every week for the entire year.
What message do you have for the artists and fellow art leaders in our community today?
Practice, practice, practice. Challenge conventions in your art. Context is everything. Create visionary art and your audience and support will come.
What question do you wish someone would ask?!
Uh….will the Blazers beat the Lakers in the playoffs? (the answer is YES!)
When looking to the future, what brings you hope?
The feeling that the performing arts will be much more appreciated and valued for having been absent for so long.
About 45th Parallel Universe:
We are a collective of musicians who come together to celebrate great chamber music with intimate artistic experiences. Passion for great music is what defines us and Portland is our stage.
Since 2009, 45th Parallel has happily demolished distinctions between old and new chamber music, bluegrass and jazz, fiddle and folk. By bringing fragmented audiences together, 45th Parallel reflects Portland’s surging creative communities in fresh and imaginative ways.
Founded by Greg Ewer, a violinist of insatiable curiosity, 45th Parallel stands apart from the city’s other chamber groups by its borderless and unbounded innovation. Call it 360-degree programming. The city’s finest musicians weave Bach and Beethoven into adventurous programs of “forbidden” music, or violin wizardry by virtuosos such as Gilles Apap and Kevin Burke. Their far-reaching collaborations also include gospel singers and Persian musicians, embracing Portland’s growing diversity.
But, programming aside, the performers, themselves, bring the highest levels of skill and commitment to each performance. Teaching the next generation of musicians is also critical to the group’s mission. An experiment to give music lessons to students who couldn’t afford them has blossomed into an urban success story, fostering confidence, community and an appreciation of beauty from both teachers and students. In the end, it boils down to this: 45th Parallel offers something both simple and complex: Music is nothing less than a marvel of human expression.
About Ron Blessinger:
For seventeen years, Ron was artistic director for Third Angle New Music, producing 12 critically acclaimed recordings, creating a commissioning fund and recording label, and producing residencies with leading composers, including Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winners Steve Reich, Jennifer Higdon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Zhou Long, among many others.