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Christina Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

Listen to the podcast to learn:
  • The Importance of Teamwork
  • How the Arkansas Symphony is involved in community outreach
  • How to adjust your business budget to avoid bankruptcy
  • The role music plays in academic achievement
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Christina Littlejohn

Christina Littlejohn, originally from Greenville, SC received her master’s degree in business administration and arts administration from the University of Cincinnati.

After graduation, she worked for the Mobile Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Pensacola Symphony before coming to Little Rock in 2009. She was awarded the executive director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in the height of the recession.

She and the board cut salaries and prices and planned concerts that were non-traditional. Attendance improved and eventually the organization was operating in the black.

Recently, conductor Philip Mann announced his retirement following the 2019 season.

Littlejohn plans to take time to evaluate new orchestra prototypes before deciding the direction for Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Podcast Links

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Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com



[00:00:08] JM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show offers listeners firsthand insight into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of success people. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny and informative weekly blog where you’ll read and comment on life as wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.

Now, it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.


[00:00:44] KM: Thank you, Jayson. Like Jayson said, I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up you in your business. Before we start, I want to introduce my cohost, who you just heard from, Jayson Malik, from Arise Studio in Conway, Arkansas. Say hello, Jayson.

[00:00:56] JM: Hello, Kerry.

[00:00:58] KM: So I told everybody I was going to bust him out today on the radio, because we call him Radio Jesus, and he said if I did we were going to say prayers.

Hey, if anybody is watching on Facebook Live, he looks like Radio Jesus.

[00:01:12] JM: I think Jesus had more hair.

[00:01:14] KM: Well, maybe. It was at least as long as yours. I want to say right now you’re sitting at your computer you might want to watch Radio Jesus Live on flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page. It’s kind of fun to see what goes on behind the scene and at the breaks as it happens in real-time. If for some reason you miss any part of the show, want to hear it again or share it, there is a way, and Jayson will tell you how.

[00:01:38] JM: Listen to all UIYB past and present interviews by going to flagandbanner.com and clicking on Radio Show. There you may join our email list or like us on Facebook, thus getting a reminder notification of the day of the show and a sneak peek of that day’s guest. And if you’d like to be an underwriter of any UIYB shows, send an email to marketing@flagandbanner.com. That’s marketing@flagandbanner.com.

Back to you, Kerry.

[00:02:11] KM: Thank you, Jayson. If you’re turning in to this podcast for the first time, welcome. If you’re a returning fan, you probably know this next part by heart, and I’m sorry, but at the risk of being boring, we must repeat ourselves for the new comers. Besides that, it gives my guest a chance to settle in to their sit.

This show, Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, began as a platform for me, a small business owner and a guest to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way. Originally my team and I thought it would speak to entrepreneurs and want to be entrepreneurs, but it seems to have a wider audience appeal because after all, who isn’t inspired by everyday people’s American-made stories?

To see people in their totality is humanizing. We all thirst to connect and make sense of an overcomplicated world, and on this show we have the luxury of time to go deeper than a mere soundbite or a headline, and my favorite part, we always learn something. It’s no secret that successful people work hard, but other common traits found in many of my guests are the heart of a teacher, belief in a higher power and creativity, because business in of itself is creative.

My guest today is a very creative business person. Having both a degree in business administration and art administration. Ms. Christina Littlejohn, CEO of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra has combined her talents to do what many persons thought impossible, resurrect the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra after the 2008 banking crisis.

It was 2009 when Christina brought her talents to Little Rock along with her three-year-old daughter leaving her already successful career in Florida. Through her team building skills and courageous infrastructure changes, she is now able to proudly boast that the ASO is healthy, strong and in the black with an annual budget of $3.4 million and an endowment to ensure its longevity for future generations.

It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the creative business woman who leaves an impressive legacy wherever she goes, the CEO of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Christina Littlejohn.

[00:04:30] CL: Thank you.

[00:04:32] KM: I loved reading about you.

[00:04:36] CL: Well, thank you.

[00:04:37] KM: I don’t know if we’ve ever met before. We were trying to figure it out a minute ago, but one thing that you say about yourself that I read about a quote that you said, and this is so true in everything I read about you. You can build a team, get people to work together collaboratively and creatively and move towards one common goal. That is a skill that you can’t learn in college. That is something that true leaders can do. I even recognized that before I read this about you and you said and I quote, “One thing I seem to excel at is leading the team.”

[00:05:17] CL: Right. Yes. Sorry, it’s funny to listen to all those things said about you. So thank you so much for that introduction. Well, and I would say that Arkansas Symphony’s turnaround was through a massive team effort. So it’s musicians, and staff, and board members all wanted to make sure that we had an orchestra here to survive and to communicate and contribute to our city and to be here forever. It was a team effort for sure.

Everything does take a team. I mean, you can’t accomplish anything great and you can’t accomplish anything that’s in service to others without others participating. Yeah, you got to have people with you.

[00:05:59] KM: Yeah. A lot of people don’t realize that. A lot of leaders don’t realize that. It’s kind of my way or the highway, but that’s really not the best way to lead. It even goes back than when I read this about you, that you were a music major at Furman University, because you’re from South Carolina.

[00:06:15] CL: Right.

[00:06:16] KM: Aha, and that you were a music major there, and that your school newspaper was about to fold.

[00:06:21] CL: Yeah, that was funny. Yeah, that was funny. I love, love writing, and so I started off writing humor stories and then I became features editor, and then I became – I was named editor-in-chief and the head of dean of academics called me into his office and he said – He’s like, “Look, you’re going to be editor,” and he goes, “You’re a music major. I don’t know why you have this position.” He’s like, “I don’t think you can do it, but I’m just giving you a heads up that if you don’t turn it around, we’re just going to end the newspaper, because nobody reads it. It ends up in the trash all the time. So you have six months to a year. It’s up to you. If you do it, great. I don’t believe in you, but if you don’t, it’s gone away.”

So that was an interesting challenge, because I was like, “Not going to go away. Who are you to tell me that I can’t do this?”

[00:07:08] KM: How old were you?

[00:07:09] CL: I was probably 19 or 20 at that point.

[00:07:12] KM: So at 19 or 20 you were given this college newspaper, told to turn it around or – I mean, she’s a turnaround queen. Told to turn it around – If you’re going to be Radio Jesus, she’s going to be Turnaround Queen.

[00:07:25] CL: It’s really funny how things have turned out. Yeah, but it was a great experience. It was wonderful, and I had a phenomenal team of student editors with me. I mean, they’re just phenomenal writers. One is a friend of mine who’s a play right now in New York. The one has been a journalist, earning a living as a journalist. The last one is on my tier. It’s a fabulous team of people that I got to work with.

Yeah, it was just a lot of fun. Then also had the benefit of having a great mentor, the university president and I had the same birthday, which is weird that we knew that. But anyway. Now, Furman is a good small private liberal arts school. But the university president, Dr. Johns, was just fabulous, and for some reason he decided to take me under his wing and teach me leadership and be my mentor and help me during the year as well.

We made a lot of changes and it was just the coolest experience, because we’ve changed our look, we’ve changed our strategy. We did a strategic planning for the day at somebody’s house in Atlanta. We went to Six Flags. So we did fun team building stuff and we did strategy development, and then the newspaper did turn around and quickly we started getting these letters from students and from faculty members and we just put them on the wall of our office, letters of congratulation, and eventually within a couple of months, that dean of academics, and has won two that we had, and we put it on the wall.

So it was cool. We won awards for the first time in 15 years, I think. It’s been a long time, but we won awards and we won best paper in our division. Anyway, it was a great experience.

[00:09:02] KM: Whatever you did must have worked, because it’s still going strong.

[00:09:05] CL: Yeah, yeah. It’s great.

[00:09:07] KM: It is. So you set processes in place that are still there today.

[00:09:13] CL: I guess so. I think part of it is you got to make things fun. So if you can surround yourself with the smartest people humanly possible that you can find – I mean, again, that’s it with that newspaper, or you’re in Arkansas. Who are the smartest people in the room? Who are the smartest people that you can bring into the room and work with that group? You also still have to make it fun. So you need some successes and you need to make sure that it’s fun.

Right now, our symphony staff is having its annual Christmas party. We do Christmas concerts in December, so we don’t really have any time. So they’re at the office having fun.

[00:09:45] KM: You’re having Christmas in February?

[00:09:47] CL: Mm-hmm.

[00:09:48] KM: What do you all do?

[00:09:49] CL: Oh! We do holiday gift exchange before I left, and then I’m sure they’re playing

[inaudible 00:09:55]. They’re probably playing other stuff too.

[00:09:58] KM: Christmas in February.

[00:09:59] CL: Exactly.

[00:10:00] KM: That’s a good idea.

[00:10:01] CL: Yeah. So I think that’s a big piece of it with the team. It does take a team to turnaround. One person can’t ever do that by herself or himself. So it takes all of you working together, but it’s hard work to turn things around. So that’s another reason why you just got to make sure that it’s fun.

[00:10:18] KM: So your mother plays an instrument. Your parents play an instrument. You’re a music major. You’re turning a newspaper around, but you like to write. What instrument do you play?

[00:10:26] CL: I play the cello.

[00:10:27] KM: Oh, I love the cello.

[00:10:29] JM: Cool.

[00:10:29] CL: They don’t play anything.

[00:10:31] KM: When did you know you could?

[00:10:32] CL: Well, I was lucky. In Greenville, South Carolina at that time, Governor Richard Riley was our governor, and South Carolina spent second only to Minnesota on arts education in the schools. So the string instrument was offered through our public elementary schools in 4th grade.

[00:10:48] KM: And you started playing in the 4th grade and you know you had an affinity for it.

[00:10:51] CL: Right. I was stuck with violin, because at that point they only made violins that small. So it was really small and they made me take violin, but in 6th grade I got switched to the cello.

[00:11:00] KM: Arkansas, what does it rank in spending money on liberal arts like that?

[00:11:05] CL: I have no idea.

[00:11:05] KM: You don’t?

[00:11:06] CL: I know it’s not number two. That much I know for sure. I mean, it’s not very high. Let’s see, in the 80s, 90s, probably in the 90s, a lot of states started dropping the amount of money that they spend on music education, probably all the arts, but definitely music. So here in Little Rock, one of the things that we’ve added in the last couple of years is more string instrument instruction. So we’ve now partnered with – I’m sure I’ll get this wrong, but it’s at least 8 elementary schools. So we’re now teaching 100 kids violin.

[00:11:38] KM: The Arkansas Symphony is?

[00:11:38] CL: Yes, through these partner schools. So over the last couple of years we were able to add a program that we call the Sturgis Music Academy, and we teach after hours in some schools. So after school in some elementary schools, and then we teach during the day at Bale Elementary. So we teach all the third and fourth graders at Bale Elementary right now violin.

It’s precious. They’re so cute watching them play their violins.

[00:12:01] KM: So you’d went to school. It looks like you got a degree in business and a degree – A business administration and a degree in art administration. So what is this music –

[00:12:14] CL: The undergrad degree is in music.

[00:12:16] KM: The undergrad is in music.

[00:12:17] CL: Undergrad is in music. I play the cello. I went to Furman on a music scholarship, and –

[00:12:22] KM: And decided to go into business? That seems like right brain, left brain. I don’t get that.

[00:12:26] CL: Well. What was interesting was being editor of the newspaper. So I almost – So I think about this now. So the two things that I was thinking about pursuing were journalism or playing cello in an orchestra. Either one would have been very hard. So I’m not saying what I’ve picked is easier, but it’s got be easier than being in journalism right now.

But one of the things that I looked at, I was like, “Well, I was really a good cello player, and I was really a good writer too, but one area – But there were better writers, like my friend that’s writing plays off Broadway, and they’re really strong writers and the cello – Gosh! They earn a living as a playing musician in an orchestra. I knew it would take a minimum of 10 hours a day in the practice room by myself, and it’s a luck of a draw. I mean, hundreds of people audition for a spot at Cleveland Orchestra, or even a spot here. I mean, it’s just a hard living than I thought. They’re better cello players. They’re better writers, but one thing I seem to be doing well at is I can build a team.

So we took a family vacation and we’re in – Where were we? I think we’re through Minneapolis, or Detroit. We’re in Detroit, and there was a newspaper article and the new head of the Detroit Symphony. The new executive director of Detroit Symphony, and I remember my mom looking at that newspaper article and throwing back in the backseat going, “Read this, because this is what you need to do.”

[00:13:44] KM: Oh, mom!

[00:13:45] CL: Yeah. So I read that article and I was like, “Oh! She’s right. That is exactly what I need to do.” So I went to Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Conservatory has a program where you can get a master’s of arts administration and master’s of business administrations. So that way I have my MBA in case I wanted to go do more for profit, but they had an arts administration program since the 70s. So they really know what they’re doing in terms of teaching people to do what I do.

So I was able to take development class strategy for the arts production operations finance. So I definitely took all my finance classes.

[00:14:20] KM: And you graduated and what happened?

[00:14:23] CL: First I was in New Orleans with Louisiana Phil. Next I was in Mobile, Alabama where I built an orchestra there.

[00:14:29] KM: From the ground up?

[00:14:30] CL: Yup.

[00:14:31] KM: Nobody else.

[00:14:33] CL: Well, we were presenting touring orchestras and I had a board.

[00:14:36] KM: How’d you put the board together?

[00:14:38] CL: Well, the board – Actually that one we were presenting to one orchestra. So we’re presenting Louisiana Phil. So the budget was around 200,000 and we would just present Chamber Orchestras as that came through.

[00:14:47] KM: Did somebody came to you and say, “I have $200,000. I want you to build the symphony.”

[00:14:51] CL: No, but what they did was they said, “We’re looking for a general manager to present these orchestras, but we’re thinking about starting our own orchestra here at Mobile. What do you think?” I said, “You can’t hire one person to build an orchestra. It’s going to take the entire community to build an orchestra and you need to know why you’re doing it and you need to think about these things.”

So they hired me and then within a year we went to beach for the weekend and did a strategic planning, and it was just obvious from the dreams of what we wanted to accomplish for Mobile. We needed to build an orchestra. So we said about building the orchestra.

[00:15:23] KM: So it started in New Orleans and ended up in Mobile.

[00:15:26] CL: No. This was the Mobile Symphony. I was in New Orleans with Louisiana Phil and then I was in Mobile and I helped build the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.

[00:15:32] KM: What were you doing in Mobile if there wasn’t a symphony already?

[00:15:35] CL: I was just hired to present outside orchestras, put on concerts. It would be just like hiring somebody on to put on a concert.

[00:15:44] KM: Okay. Then you got moved from –

[00:15:46] CL: So I was in Mobile for 10 years.

[00:15:48] KM: Then you moved to –

[00:15:49] CL: Miami, Florida.

[00:15:50] KM: That seems like paradise.

[00:15:52] CL: Whoa! I don’t know about paradise. It is beautiful.

[00:15:57] KM: The weather.

[00:15:57] CL: It is gorgeous, yeah.

[00:15:59] KM: So what did you do there? So you’ve built your – I don’t know how you left your baby. You built Mobile, Alabama all the way up. Feels like your baby. You must have gotten a great job offer to move to Florida.

[00:16:09] CL: Yeah, 10 years. I’ve been 10 years and we had an orchestra. We had this program. We had 14 partner elementary schools. So we were teaching hundreds of kids violin. It was great, and we had down at cash reserve building. But Cleveland Orchestra had a really neat opportunity. They were launching a residency in Miami, Florida, and that seemed like the perfect fit for me to help build – It wasn’t the orchestra from the ground up, because Cleveland Orchestra is just amazing organization. It’s a $55 million budget. But they were doing something brand new and new to our field too, but it was something that could help Cleveland, because Cleveland the city was declining, but Miami was not. Miami is definitely not a declining community or population.

So could they send the Cleveland Orchestra to Miami for January, February and March, for the winter, and so that would decrease some inventory in Cleveland, and then increase it in Miami. So that was the game plan. So that was hard work, because we had a brand new hall opening.

[00:17:16] KM: And you only had musicians three months out of the year.

[00:17:18] CL: Three weeks.

[00:17:19] KM: Three weeks out of the year.

[00:17:19] CL: Three weeks out of the year.

[00:17:22] KM: So you were ready to leave there.

[00:17:23] CL: Yeah, that was really had, because it was me and an assistant and my budget there was $3.5 million for the two of us and it was a lot of work.

[00:17:31] KM: Okay. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Christina Littlejohn, CEO of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. We’ll get more tips on her leadership skills. We’ll find out how she ended up coming to Little Rock. She builds her – We’ll also talk to her about how she managed to survive and restore the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra from the 2008 banking crisis. How she survived the ASO homelessness during the year and a half, long renovation of Robinson Auditorium, and last, what her plans are to replace Maestro Philip Mann, who will be moving on to further his career at the end of this year, and we’re going to talk about educational opportunities for budding musicians. We’ll be back right after the break.


[00:18:16] KM: Boost morale and patriotism with a new flag or flagpole from Arkansas’ flagandbanner.com. We have poles, hardware, accessories, maintenance support, installation and custom flags. We have flags of all kind; for the sports enthusiast, the world traveler, or history buff, we have them all. Bring in your old flag and get $5 off a new one. Consult the experts at Arkansas’ flagandbanner.com. Come shop at our historic location at 800 West 9th Street in Little Rock, or visit us online at flagandbanner.com.

[00:18:50] JM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry McCoy founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed, starting with door-to-door sales, then telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales, and now a third of their sales come through the internet. This past year, Flag and Banner added another internet feature, live chatting.

Over time, Kerry’s business and leadership knowledge grew. As early as 2004, she began sharing this knowledge in her weekly blog. In 2009, she founded the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom, and in 2014, Brave Magazine. Today, she has branched out unto the radio with this very production, podcast and live stream on Facebook.

Each week on this show, you'll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you'll find interesting and inspiring. If you like to ask Kerry a question, or share your story, send her an e-mail to questions@upinyourbusiness.org. That's questions@upinyourbusiness.org, or send her a message on flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page. Back to you, Kerry.


[00:20:16] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Christina Littlejohn, CEO of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra housed in the Robinson’s Center in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Before the break we talked about her leadership skills. We talked about her time in college. She’s got lots of degrees. We talked about her innate ability to resurrect just about anything from the dead.

[00:20:42] CL: I’ve got to know about that.

[00:20:43] KM: I’ve got a dog I’d love to have back. It’s sad. Now we’re going to talk about what she’s done for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. There was the 2008 banking crisis. Our local symphony was in the red $700,000 in debt. It was six months from insolvency and folding. Christina Littlejohn, what made you decide to accept this job in 2009 and come bring your three-year-old daughter to Little Rock, Arkansas?

[00:21:19] CL: Well, the people. The people. It was

[inaudible 00:21:24] renowned George Mitchell are life members of our board. Martin

[inaudible 00:21:29] was board chair, and I came and interviewed for a couple of days. Also Little Rock reminds me a lot of home. I’m from Greenville, South Carolina and I spent so much time in the gulf area, but Little Rock really reminds me of home. It feels – It’s just right. Miami was too big. Pensacola was too small. Little Rock is just right and people are nice and people are smart.

Yeah, but it was those life members, and it also that people care that much, that that many people would come to a dinner to meet a potential executive director. It meant a lot.

[00:22:07] KM: How many people?

[00:22:08] CL: There must have been 40 people at that dinner. I mean, that’s a real statement at how much people care about this symphony.

[00:22:13] KM: How’d they find you? Do you have a resume out?

[00:22:18] CL: They called so many. He recommended me.

[00:22:21] KM: Word of mouth.

[00:22:21] CL: Yeah, word of mouth. Our industry is tiny.

[00:22:24] KM: Yeah. Were you scared?

[00:22:25] CL: To move here?

[00:22:25] KM: Yeah, take on such a big task.

[00:22:29] CL: Well, I don’t know that any of us knew how big the task was until I got here and then we’re like, “Wait a second. This is not real pretty. This is a lot uglier than any of us knew.”

[00:22:38] KM: Nobody mentioned that we were six months away from bankruptcy.

[00:22:42] CL: Yeah, right. Honestly, I do not believe the board knew that – I think that – I’m not exactly sure. But we pulled it out. Again, it was the fact that that many people would show up to just meet a potential executive director. It made a real statement to me.

[00:23:01] KM: You went on your gut instinct. You made this decision off the heart, not off your head.

[00:23:05] CL: Exactly. Definitely not a head decision. Definitely a heart decision.

[00:23:08] KM: So what was the first thing you did?

[00:23:11] CL: The first thing we had to do was I had a great board chair, Martin Toma. So Martin Toma was new as the board chair. Martin and I spent a lot of time together. We built the financial recovery task force that included musicians and board and staff members. Again, it’s still always goes back to the team. In order to flip anything, you need a team.

[00:23:31] KM: So that seemed very inclusive. It was musicians, board members –

[00:23:35] CL: And staff.

[00:23:36] KM: And staff. Is that normal?

[00:23:39] CL: I don’t know if it’s normal, but it was what we needed to do. In order to – The problem was a really big problem, and in order to solve a really big problem, you need a lot of people pulling in the exact same direction. In a symphony, our biggest constituents are the musicians, the staff and the board. We’re the intimate key. Obviously, the audience and the community members, but we have the most invested. So it took all of us working on the same page, rowing in the exact same direction.

So what we had to do, once we realized how big the problem was and the number, we were – Basically the orchestra have been operating with a $500,000 operating gap for years. So the musicians and the staff took pay cuts with awesome positions.

[00:24:25] KM: How hard was that?

[00:24:25] CL: We made a lot of cuts for our marketing and I feel like we print on toilet paper. Then the staff said – Then the board said, because then we’re like, “Okay, here’s where we can make the cuts, but we feel like anything beyond $200,000 is really going to jeopardize. We’ll have to lay off musicians or more staff, and it would really –” Martin had this line, he said, “Take us to – Cut us to the edge, but don’t let us go over the cliff. Make sure that when we come back, we can thrive instead of – Make sure that we’re not cutting off essential pieces of the organization.”

So the board members of that financial taskforce said, “You know what? We’re going to own 300,000 in the problem. Don’t cut anymore. Anything beyond that is going to really hurt us in the long term. So we’re going to own 300,000 of the problem and said, “They increased their giving 300%.” So they made that gap up. Yes. So we called it a shared sacrifice or an all-in, all-play, but it was a total team effort, because that’s what it took to do it.

[00:25:26] KM: So the board upped their giving by 300%.

[00:25:30] CL: Yup.

[00:25:30] KM: The staff and musicians took pay cuts, and you printed on toilet paper.

[00:25:37] CL: Exactly. Our marketing budget was decimated, but that’s all right. We lowered our ticket prices as well. So lowering our ticket prices increased the number of people that were actually coming to our concerts. Entergy was great. They came in as a sponsor to make tickets free on Sundays for kids. So when we had it free for kids on Sunday and then some more families could come and we’d lower the ticket price. The more people on a house makes everybody feel more successful. So even though we’d cut our marketing budget, we also cut the price, and then we had the free and then – So we could build our audiences back up.

[00:26:15] KM: So I would have thought if you cut your marketing budget, you would have cut yourself off from sales. I would not have thought that. I would not have thought that if you brought all those different people to the table, you would end up with 100 people at the table that they were unable to make decisions, because sometimes too many people can’t get anything done.

[00:26:33] CL: We had representatives, sorry. There were three – They were like three, three and three, or four, four and four.

[00:26:38] KM: Representatives. They’re not all in the room.

[00:26:40] CL: No. Sorry. Just four – Leaders of each group. Yes.

[00:26:44] KM: And then they would take the information back to their group and mull it over.

[00:26:47] CL: Exactly.

[00:26:49] KM: How long did it take before you started to kind of – How long did it take to put that together and get those decisions made that you just talked about to implement that?

[00:27:02] CL: It had to take at least a couple of months, because part of it also is we had to analyze what the financial problems were. You can’t solve the financial problems if you don’t have a number.

[00:27:11] KM: Because you’ve got six months till you’re bankrupt. You’ve got to do all of these fast.

[00:27:16] CL: Right. So I think it’s still took – I got here June 1st. I think it took us at least two to three months to get that number and know what the problem was and then pull us together and then we met a lot of Saturdays.

[00:27:28] KM: So do you go out and sell? No?

[00:27:32] CL: Well, I mean I raise money for the symphony. The symphony lives or dies by donations.

[00:27:36] KM: Right. Do you raise money on top of all the other stuff you do?

[00:27:39] CL: Yeah. Chief fundraiser. The CEO is also the chief fundraiser. I mean, yeah, because it’s important. I was thinking about it. The money that’s given to Little Rock, the money that’s given to Arkansas Symphony is used to make sure that we have musicians here. We need

[inaudible 00:27:57] here. We need David Gerstein here. We need our musicians living in Little Rock to play in the orchestra, because they’re phenomenal players. They went to Indiana, the went to Rice, they went to Eastmond, they went to Juilliard. They’re phenomenal players, but we need them living here so that they can teach at

[inaudible 00:28:11] school. They can teach at my daughter’s school. They can teach other places, right? So that they can teach private lessons and play in our churches and play for our weddings and play for our memorial services.

If all we did was fly musicians in just for a concert, then they’re not going to be here to make the real impact. I know every day, every day in my job that I’m working, our organization is making a difference, and it’s changing somebody’s life. If all we did was just do present concerts and fly our musicians in for just a concert, then they’re not here to make a difference.

But that’s why we need the money, because we need to make sure that they can earn a living here. So for some of them, probably at least 12, were their base salary, were their health insurance and they can earn money doing other things. But if we’re not here, if we’re not doing that, then they’re not musicians here to teach and to play and to be here to make an impact every single day.

[00:29:05] KM: I’ve never thought about the Arkansas Symphony as all the things that you just mentioned, for your weddings, for your services, for your churches, for your schools, for teaching. I always just think about the Arkansas Symphony as performance in Robinson Auditorium. There it is. That’s all y’all do, but y’all do a lot of outreach. I’ve never thought about that.

[00:29:28] CL: Right, we do.

[00:29:29] KM: Teaching our children.

[00:29:31] CL: Yes.

[00:29:32] KM: And helping us celebrate special occasions.

[00:29:34] CL: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Sweet Cliff Baker passed way recently, but David Gerstein was there to play for his memorial service. Carol was there and I thought, “If we weren’t here, if the Arkansas Symphony wasn’t here and wasn’t supported by individuals, these guys wouldn’t be here to be here to celebrate and to honor those people that make a difference here in Little Rock.

[00:29:54] KM: Your budget – You came in, your budget was about 2.8 million I think, maybe, maybe 2.5. It is now 3.4 million and you now have an endowment.

[00:30:07] CL: Yeah.

[00:30:08] KM: For the future of the Symphony to continue.

[00:30:11] CL: Right. Well, and we had an endowment when I got here. It’s just grown. We’ve, over the last year or so, we’ve been blessed with some endowment gifts. So it’s grown a little bit over 7 million. In the last year or so, we’ve received over $2 million towards our endowment.

[00:30:25] KM: How important is an endowment?

[00:30:27] CL: It’s extremely important. Gosh! It’s so important. The earnings of the endowment, so about 4% of the earnings – The earnings off the endowment go to help support things like the increase in health insurance that we see every single year or the increase in the cost of living increase. People deserve some kind of raise if we can do it. So the endowment helps buffer on the outside.

[00:30:49] KM: How’d you navigate through the Robinson – Here you’ve made it through the crisis. You’re becoming solvent. I don’t know how long it took you – So if you got here in 2009, was it 2011 you begin to go, “Okay. Now, we can breathe easy.” How long was it?

[00:31:09] CL: I don’t know. We’ve never been able to breathe easy.

[00:31:11] KM: Ain’t that the life of a nonprofit?

[00:31:13] CL: Exactly.

[00:31:14] KM: It is a frustrating life, isn’t it? So now right after you got here in – You’re probably starting to make money. I’m trying to do this timeline in my head. So you come at 2009. About 2011 or 12, you’re probably starting to be able to breathe easy. Then 2014 happens, and we’re going to renovate the Robinson Center.

[00:31:36] CL: Right. Yeah.

[00:31:39] KM: Were you for that or were you against that?

[00:31:40] CL: Oh! Of course, I’m behind renovating the Robinson. The hall is beautiful now. The orchestra, you can hear us in all different way, and you experience and you feel it so much better. It’s finally a professional hall. It used to feel like a ballroom, and now it feels like you’re in a real concert hall. It’s beautiful.

So we were definitely behind it. I think about that, Martin had this expression, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” So one of the things I think about –

[00:32:04] KM: I want to tweet that, don’t waste a good crisis.

[00:32:07] CL: Yeah. I love that. Martin Toma has got – He’s got these great zingers. So one of the things that I think we did really well in 2009 was build that team of musician staff and board and just a tradition and make that part of our culture. So when we’re at Robinson, one of the things that we had to do was we obviously had to plan ahead of time. So we had a team of musicians born in staff. Just how we behave, and we went and explored a lot of different halls. So I think we explored. We had – I think that was the space taskforce. I just like saying space taskforce.

[00:32:38] KM: Yeah, you sound like you’re NASA or something. The space taskforce.

[00:32:43] CL: Space taskforce. We checked out about 10 different halls, different possible places where the symphony could perform while Robinson was closed. There’s no obvious backup plan here in Little Rock.

[00:32:55] KM: How many attend to a concert?

[00:32:58] CL: We have on average, I’d say it’s on average around 1,600, 1,700.

[00:33:03] KM: Where else can you do 1,600 or 1,700 people around Little Rock?

[00:33:07] CL: There’s not, really. So we ended up doing the Masterworks in Maumelle High School.

[00:33:12] KM: Maumelle High School.

[00:33:14] CL: They have a beautiful place. It holds 1,200, but it’s a really nice facility to perform for 1,200 people. It’s beautiful. They’ve got a show.

[00:33:20] KM: I’ll be darned.

[00:33:21] CL: It’s fairly new. Then we decided to do our pops concerts at Pulaski Academy, and that holds about 1,700.

[00:33:29] KM: Oh!

[00:33:30] CL: So we had – And we had a lot of fun. We were able to do some fun things. One thing we did was we performed at – Because people said, “Oh, it has to be right beside Robinsons.” We performed in that place, convention center, and we did a rehearsal there and we asked the public to come to the rehearsal and just to let us know what their experience was like.

So that was like Good Friday, but it was packed out. It was hysterical because I thought –

[00:33:58] KM: Where is this? Robinson Center closed. So you have it in a convention center.

[00:34:03] CL: Actually, it was at the Wally Allen Ballroom.

[00:34:05] KM: Oh, the Wally Allen Ballroom. Okay.

[00:34:06] CL: Wally Allen Ballroom, and this is before Robinson had closed. We needed to know where we’re going to go before Robinson closed. So we just did a rehearsal at the Wally Allen Ballroom and invited people to show up, and that it was packed with people showing up to just fill out a survey and tell us what their experience was. It was deemed unacceptable.

[00:34:24] KM: Because of the sound?

[00:34:25] CL: The sound was terrible.

[00:34:27] KM: I can imagine.

[00:34:27] CL: Oh, it was awful.

[00:34:28] KM: It’s for orating, not music.

[00:34:29] CL: It was awful. So then we had to keep exploring, because that would have been the natural thing –

[00:34:34] KM: Because it’s close.

[00:34:35] CL: Right, very close. People would know where to park. But it was horrifying. So then we just kept exploring. So we decided that Maumelle was – Even though it was across the river and we’d have to train people to go across the river, we didn’t want the quality of the orchestra to go down every two and a half years. Because you got to think about that too. What’s the musician’s experience and how they are going to pay? If you put them in a spot where it’s terrible for them to play for two and a half years, that’s a long time.

[00:35:02] KM: And musicians are artists and they’re persnickety.

[00:35:06] JM: It’s got to sound good.

[00:35:07] CL: It’s got to sound good and they got to be able to hear each other and they’ve trained. Yeah. That’s why we went ahead and went with Maumelle even though it was only 1,200 seats and we knew it was across the river, but we knew that the artistic experience could not jeopardize that for two and a half years for the musicians.

So we went there for Masterworks and then we went to Pulaski County for pops, because pops is mic’d anyway. So it’s amplified sound and PA has a nice screen there and it have 1,700 seats.

[00:35:36] KM: Explain what pops is.

[00:35:38] CL: Pops is more like popular music. So we have some pops concerts coming up. So we’re doing music of The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

[inaudible 00:35:50]. Wonderful. So music of Hammerstein.

[00:35:55] KM: How do I get tickets for the one in March?

[00:35:58] CL: Just go to arkansassymphony.org.

[00:35:59] KM: I bet my granddaughter would love that one.

[00:36:01] CL: Yeah. Then in May, it’s ET.

[00:36:05] KM: Oh, my granddaughter would love that.

[00:36:06] CL: The full orchestra will be playing with the movie of ET. It’s incredible, and that’s in mother’s day weekend. I can’t wait. It’s ET.

[00:36:14] KM: So it’s audio/video. Extravaganza.

[00:36:16] CL: Yeah, the movie and then – Yeah, they now have it. So you hear the full orchestra. So any musicians live on stage while you’re watching ET. It’s incredible.

[00:36:24] JM: Oh! That’s very cool.

[00:36:26] KM: Before we go to a quick break, I want to ask you if your attendance went down during that time or you’re giving went down during the time you were out of Robinson.

[00:36:33] CL: Right, now you’re asking me?

[00:36:34] KM: Yeah. Before we go to a break, did it go down?

[00:36:36] CL: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

[00:36:37] KM: Did your giving go down?

[00:36:39] CL: You know, the nice part was part of what the giving is, we had asked for money ahead of time, so multiyear pledges to get us through, and we were able to make the case that we needed the money ahead of time that we would need to make sure that we got through. Because industry standards, I checked with friends of mine that were at the hall, and so we knew to count on a 25% drop in our ticket sales revenue.

[00:36:56] KM: You’re such a planner, yeah.

[00:36:58] CL: So it was $500,000 gap that we were going to have.

[00:37:00] KM: So you raised money before it happened.

[00:37:02] CL: Thankfully, yes.

[00:37:03] KM: You’re always supposed to know that’s coming first and to raise money before you need it. That’s a great philosophy.

[00:37:10] CL: If you can.

[00:37:11] KM: That’s what you’re supposed to do. Don’t ever go to the bank when you need it. Go to the bank before you need it.

[00:37:14] CL: Right. If you can do it, do it.

[00:37:16] KM: That’s right. When we come back we’ll continue our conversation with Ms. Christina Littlejohn, CEO of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. We’ll learn about educational programs for budding musicians, hear about the ASO is engaging – Hear how the ASO is engaging Arkansans in their concerts. You just heard a little bit of it. Last, what her plans are to replace Maestro Philip Mann who will be moving on to further his career at the end of the year. We’ll be back after a break.


[00:37:44] KM: Boost morale and patriotism with a new flag or flagpole from Arkansas’ flagandbanner.com. We have poles, hardware, accessories, maintenance support, installation and custom flags. We have flags of all kind; for the sports enthusiast, the world traveler, or history buff, we have them all. Bring in your old flag and get $5 off a new one. Consult the experts at Arkansas’ flagandbanner.com. Come shop at our historic location at 800 West 9th Street in Little Rock, or visit us online at flagandbanner.com.

[00:38:16] JM: Flag and Banner is proud to underwrite Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy, where listeners are offered firsthand insight into the humanity and commonalities of successful people shared in a conversational interview with Kerry.

Along with this radio show, flagandbanner.com publishes a free bi-annual magazine called Brave. First published in October 2014, Brave Magazine harnesses the power of storytelling and human empowerment. The Department of Arkansas Heritage recognize Brave Magazine’s documentation of American life and microfiches all editions for the Arkansas State Archives. Subscribe to this free periodical by going to flagandbanner.com and selecting Magazine.

Back to you, Kerry.


[00:39:02] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Christina Littlejohn, CEO of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra based in the Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Before the break we talked about her education, growing up in South Carolina, her leadership qualities, which are phenomenal. If you didn’t get to hear about it and you’re a leader or want to be a leader, you need to go to this podcast and listen to it. She’s got some great tips for you. We talked about her coming to Little Rock and taking over the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra right after the 2008 banking crisis and how nuts she is for doing that. But it was something she did from the heart, and we are so glad she did. Then the turnaround that came and how, again, her leadership skills mapped out the best way to resurrect our symphony.

Then we even talked about the closure – And to bring us up to where we are now, we talked about the closure of Robinson Center for its renovations and where you played at Maumelle and some other schools around during the year and a half and how you actually were smart enough to go out and get the money before you needed the money, which everybody that it’s business needs to hear that, because I have made that mistake before. Never ask for money when you need it. Anticipate you’re going to need it and go ask for it first.

So now we are back in our home in Robinson.

[00:40:34] CL: Yes, we are, and I think we’ve been there one, two, three. This is our third season.

[00:40:38] KM: Third season there.

[00:40:38] CL: Yeah.

[00:40:39] KM: How is the new venue. Has it made a difference? Has attendance upped?

[00:40:43] CL: Attendance is up. The new venue is incredible. So the new venue allows us to do different things, like the ET concert. We could never have done that anywhere else. So it allows us to do different things. The seats are comfortable. You can bring your wine to your seat.

[00:40:58] KM: What?

[00:41:00] CL: Yeah. Then the orchestra fits on stage. It’s a beautiful thing. They can hear each other much better. The audience can experience it much, much better.

[00:41:08] KM: Got box seats where I think is very nice and cool.

[00:41:11] CL: Right. There’re box seats. The grand tier seats are fabulous, because you can see everything and hear everything.

[00:41:18] KM: Grand tier. Is that what we used to call the mezzanine?

[00:41:21] CL: It is, but they made it, but it’s completely different. So they now have two levels. So there’s an upper balcony and the grand tier and the orchestra level now. So there’re now two levels.

[00:41:32] KM: That’s my favorite place.

[00:41:33] CL: Is grand tier.

[00:41:34] KM: Mm-hmm.

[00:41:34] CL: Yeah.

[00:41:35] KM: Right in the middle.

[00:41:36] CL: I love the grand tier. Yeah. Well, I love the upper balcony as well, because I can hear – The acoustics in the upper balcony are fabulous.

[00:41:43] KM: Really, and they’re cheaper seats.

[00:41:45] CL: Yeah they are cheaper seats.

[00:41:45] KM: Well, listen up people.

[00:41:46] CL: Yeah, they’re really cheap.

[00:41:48] KM: Get those upper balcony seats.

[00:41:50] CL: Yeah, only $16.

[00:41:50] KM: And shut your eyes and go listen – And shut your eyes. They’re only $16.

[00:41:54] CL: Only $16.

[00:41:55] KM: What was the second tier? How much were those?

[00:41:57] CL: I think it’s ranged from $60 to $16.

[00:42:01] KM: That is so affordable.

[00:42:03] CL: I know. It’s free for kids. Thanks to Entergy. It’s free for kids on Sunday.

[00:42:07] KM: Oh, just on Sundays.

[00:42:08] CL: Just on Sundays, but –

[00:42:10] KM: And you can bring – You know, Americans want to drink these days. It wasn’t like that when I was growing up. You didn’t drink on Sundays. You didn’t drink at Christmas. You didn’t drink at Thanksgiving. I mean, today, the family gets together and everybody always has wine with everything. We have wine with everything these days.

[inaudible 00:42:27]

[00:42:27] CL: You can imagine, no drinking on Thanksgiving?

[00:42:30] JM: I have to drink on holidays just to put up with people.

[00:42:33] CL: What do we give thanks for? I’m like, “Gosh!”

[inaudible 00:42:35].

[00:42:35] KM: My sister brought wine to Christmas, dad goes – He’s catholic. He said, “You’re drinking on Christmas?” He was kind of shocked at it.

[00:42:45] CL: Wow! Okay.

[00:42:46] KM: Anyway, we regress.

[00:42:47] CL: Yeah, but you can bring your wine in or your water in or what have you during the concert. They have cup holders in the seats.

[00:42:53] KM: So I read something called neighborhood concerts. What are those?

[00:42:56] CL: Those are when we play in neighborhoods. So we have one coming up, for example, and we’re playing actually the Mosaic Templars and then we’re playing at Central High School. It’s a concert that’s not done at Robinson, but done in a more intimate venue. So Mosaic Templars only holds around 400 people and we’re doing a concert, and that’s the other thing we can do, different kinds of music. So this one is 15 of our musicians plus 7 jazz musicians.

[00:43:21] KM: When is that?

[00:43:22] CL: That is March 2nd, and Mosaic Templars, March 2nd, and then Central High is March 3rd.

[00:43:28] KM: I’m coming March 2nd, because the Mosaic Templars is my sister building down there at Flag & Banner.

[00:43:32] CL: Right. Okay. Well, I cannot wait, because it’s such a nice setting. Then it will be, like I said, 15 of our guys, 7 jazz musicians, including the soloist, Brian

[inaudible 00:43:42]. So it’s got Grammy award winning musicians mixed with our musicians. I think it would be the coolest thing, and I love that venue, because it would be nice and small and we’ll have wine available for donation. It will just feel more like a jazz club. So the symphony never gets to do that.

[00:43:59] KM: That’s going to be fun, like a jazz club at the Mosaic Templar with the orchestra.

[00:44:02] CL: Yeah.

[00:44:03] KM: Super talented musicians. All right, good. Educational programs.

[00:44:07] CL: We do – So we have four youth orchestras, four different levels of youth orchestras. So we have youth ensembles. So you can play starting at age 6, probably, but then going up to high school. Then we also have a program where the Sturgis Music Academy where we now teach violin and viola, but we also added cello. So violin, viola, cello, and they’ve got one day a week is with the group ensemble, and then one day you have your private lesson. So we’ve got –

[00:44:38] KM: Where do you learn about the Sturgis?

[00:44:40] CL: You learn about that on arkansassymphony.org as well under education.

[00:44:44] KM: Or do they have a website also? I don’t know.

[00:44:46] CL: No, they’re under us. So they’re part of us.

[00:44:48] KM: So go to arkansassymphony –

[00:44:50] CL: .org and then there’s education and there’s a dropdown box there that has all the different things that you can learn about.

[00:44:56] KM: So you can learn about Sturgis. That sounds like a wonderful opportunity.

[00:44:59] CL: Yeah.

[00:45:00] KM: Is it free or do you pay?

[00:45:01] CL: You do pay, and then we have the afterschool programs. But there are scholarships too. If anybody – We want any child that wants to do it to be able to participate. It doesn’t really matter. If they can’t afford it, that’s fine. We have money that’s set aside for scholarships. The youth orchestra programs, again, if a child’s auditions and they can’t pay the tuition – Tuition is pretty affordable, but if you can’t – It’s not a big deal. We’ve got lots of scholarships available.

[00:45:31] KM: Your board is very generous. They’re not going to want any child that wants to play to not play.

[00:45:36] CL: No, exactly. We want every child that wants to play to play, because we know the impact that it makes. Like at Bale Elementary school, we’ve been there for a few years now, but the principal at that time, it’s different now, but she said the kids were taking violin from 3rd and 4th grade and she said that the kids that got their math scores back and they were 30 points higher. She said the only difference that we can think of is a violin class.

So we know the impact of what music education does for our community and all we want is our community to get stronger and more educated and have more hope and have more opportunity. So we want to play that role in this community.

[00:46:10] KM: Oh, I love it. Just on a side note, my grandson was having so much trouble in school when he was about seven and he could not sit still and he started playing the drums. He’s a turnaround child. He did exactly what you said. As soon as he started music, he became better in school.

[00:46:25] CL: That’s awesome.

[00:46:26] KM: It’s true. It’s absolutely true. I’m here to testify. I hate to talk about this, but Maestro Phillip Mann is leaving.

[00:46:34] CL: Yes.

[00:46:35] KM: He is a rockstar.

[00:46:36] CL: He is, and he’s been with us for nine years and he’s done such a fabulous job with the orchestra. So we’re really excited about the quality that he’s been able to build. So we’re just thankful that he was with us for nine years. That’s a normal.

[00:46:53] KM: Sure. You’re happy for him.

[00:46:53] CL: yeah, absolutely.

[00:46:55] KM: You have to be happy when people get opportunities. Has he already found another opportunity? Is that why he’s going?

[00:47:00] CL: He does a lot of international conducting. So he was in Mexico City, or he was in Korea. He did a lot in London. So he does an awful lot of international conducting.

[00:47:10] KM: So he’s well-known. Like you said, it’s a small community.

[00:47:13] CL: Yeah.

[00:47:12] KM: He’s young, isn’t he?

[00:47:13] CL: He is.

[00:47:14] KM: How old is he? Is he in his 30s?

[00:47:17] CL: I think he crossed over.

[00:47:19] KM: Yeah, he’s very young.

[00:47:20] CL: But he’s very young, yes.

[00:47:22] KM: Crossed over.

[00:47:24] JM: I know. I was going to say so I’m crossing over.

[00:47:26] CL: I think that number switched to a four, but honestly I can’t remember. I know whatever it is – I know when we hired him, he was definitely in his early 30s.

[00:47:34] KM: He’s done a lot.

[00:47:35] CL: He’s done an awful lot, yeah.

[00:47:37] KM: I know you. Not I don’t know you, but I know you just from this hour-long interview that you’ve got a plan. Can you share what you’re planning, what’s your strategy? Are you already looking? Are you interviewing?

[00:47:49] CL: It’s a little different plan. So what we have for 19, 20 coming up, I’m so excited, is we do have some fabulous guest conductors for next year.

[00:47:57] KM: For next year or this year?

[00:47:59] CL: For 19, 20. For 2019, 20, we’re going to be announcing that probably in the next couple of weeks.

[00:48:04] KM: So he’s going to be Maestro for the whole year.

[00:48:07] CL: Yes, he’s here through May 23rd. It’ll be his last official performance. His last performance in the concert hall at Robinson is May 2nd and 3rd and then there’s a neighborhood concert on the 23rd.

[00:48:17] KM: Then he’s going to be the – I think I’ve read this. He’s going to be the music director laureate.

[00:48:22] CL: Right.

[00:48:23] KM: Is that right? What does that mean?

[00:48:24] CL: Yes. Well, that means it’s an honorific title. So it’s to say thank you for the nine years that he’s given to us and the great work that he’s done.

[00:48:34] KM: So it doesn’t mean he’s coming back to help out.

[00:48:36] CL: He might, but it’s probably going to be years from now. But it could be. Like David Itkin is our conductor laureate, and Philip is our music director laureate. So –

[00:48:45] KM: Oh, I see. It’s like being past president.

[00:48:48] CL: Yeah.

[00:48:49] KM: Kind of.

[00:48:49] CL: Kind of, yeah.

[00:48:52] KM: It’s like the church and the symphony and the arts. They can’t just use normal words.

[00:48:58] CL:

[inaudible 00:48:59].

[00:49:00] KM: I mean, the church is just going to say he’s going to get up and give a sermon, but no, they got to call it a homily. I mean, everything is –

[00:49:07] CL: Oh, that’s funny.

[00:49:08] KM: I know, it’s true. Isn’t it?

[00:49:09] CL: Yeah.

[00:49:10] KM: So he’s going to do this this year.

[00:49:13] CL: Aha.

[00:49:13] KM: And then next year you’re going to have.

[00:49:14] CL: We have some guest conductors next year, and then the other thing that we’re doing is we’re taking a minute, musician, staff and board taking a moment to pause and think through what we really need from our artistic leadership. It’s a big job, but what kind of qualities are we looking for in the person to do that, or is it possible that some of our musicians might want to do more of that work.

So just taking a moment to pause and reflect on whether or not moving in the 21st century, that’s the best thing to serve orchestras. Do we just need a music director? Is that the right model for us for the 21st century? It may be. We’re just taking a moment to pause and reflect.

[00:49:57] KM: You’re looking at it as an opportunity. This is what you said in the paper. I read it – Or in Arkansas Business or in Arkansas Times. Get ready. You said, “We want to make sure we’re truly serving Arkansas and want to take some time to see what an orchestra of the 21st century really needs. Would it make more sense to have a principal guest conductor? What’s best to really serve our audience here and be innovative and provide us with the most flexibility. Maybe we have a number of artistic advisors. What’s the right artistic mode.”

[00:50:28] CL: Right. Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We have certain imperatives the Arkansas Symphony does that we’ve embraced for the next five to 10 years and we want to double our footprint. We want to have our audience be more –

[00:50:40] KM: Double your footprint. What do you mean?

[00:50:41] CL: Currently we serve – Now we serve about 10,000 people. So we want to serve 20,000. So what does that look like? Could we do more streaming? Could we do more broadcasting? Could we do more education programs? We want our audience to look more like Arkansas. We want a more diverse audience. Anyway, there are different things that we want. So is there a way – It’s important for us to take a moment and reflect on this.

[00:51:04] KM: I want to take a moment to say you’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Ms. Christina Littlejohn, CEO or Arkansas Symphony Orchestra housed in Robinson Center in Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.

Christina, it’s funny you said that, because right here it says that you are already streaming concerts online.

[00:51:22] CL: We have a few. Yes, we’ve tried. So we’ve streamed. We did a free concert to open the concert hall back November 30th, 2017, I think. We did a free concert to show off how beautiful Robinson was and we streamed that one live, and that was fine. We did on our side and Democrat Gazette picked it up on their site, and they had so many people theirs crashed.

[00:51:44] KM: What?

[00:51:44] CL: So that was fun.

[00:51:46] KM: That’s wonderful.

[00:51:46] CL: Yes, that was a lot of fun. Then we have some of our youth orchestra concerts we’ve been capturing, and those are on our website. So you can go ahead and watch a couple of those. So we’ve been experimenting with it. But we were thinking about like if we want to really serve the community, there are people that can’t get to our concerts anymore. They might be in a nursing home or assisted living or what have you and they just can’t physically get here, or also we say we’re the Arkansas Symphony, because we do perform in Hot Springs and Russellville, but are there different parts of the state that we could stream into? So our concerts could go to community centers and what have you. So those are things that we’re working on.

[00:52:22] KM: Then do a little public announcement where to make donations.

[00:52:28] CL: Right. Absolutely.

[00:52:30] KM: If it was so successful that it crashed the newspaper’s server, why are you not done it every time you perform?

[00:52:38] CL: It’s expensive.

[00:52:40] KM: You can’t do it yourself?

[00:52:41] CL: Well, one of the things that we’ve done is the broadcast piece of the puzzle, just the audio isn’t that hard or that expensive. It’s the video piece. So we want to do it so you can see the orchestra too. So you got to hire the camera guys and make sure that they’re placed and then you got to have the technology to make sure that it’s working, that it’s streaming out. Then like for November 30th, we hired – We needed a director. Like if we have a couple of cameras up there, we don’t want them just to – So there was a guy in the back that was reading the music score and say four measures. So at the count of 10, flip to the French horn, flip to the oboe players so that we can make it a lot more interesting for people to watch. So once you add all that to it, then it becomes more expensive.

[00:53:25] KM: Does it have to be perfect?

[00:53:27] CL: Not live. I don’t think live has to be perfect. That’s part of the whole live experience, right? It can’t be perfect.

[00:53:32] KM: Look at how amateur we are on Facebook right now.

[00:53:34] CL: I’m sure that I have not said everything perfectly on this talk. No, exactly. So in live concerts are that way too. That’s part of the joy and the fun of being there. So, no.

[00:53:45] KM: I’m surprised Robinson, the new Robinson Center doesn’t have a video equipment already in place.

[00:53:50] CL: I know. I am too. I wish they did.

[00:53:54] KM: It’s only how many years old?

[00:53:56] CL: It’s only a couple of years old, but we asked them about technology putting more stuff in there like this and they decided not to go for it, because they said technology is changing so fast. They didn’t want to make the investment in it.

[00:54:08] KM: Oh my gosh!

[00:54:08] JM: Wow! Really?

[00:54:10] KM: Right. Technology – Okay. Well, that’s right. Christina, let’s recap for our listeners. How do people see your performance schedule?

[00:54:18] CL: Arkansassymphony.org and it’s got everything up there.

[00:54:22] KM: How do people buy tickets?

[00:54:24] CL: Arkansassymphony.org or they can call our phone number, 666-1761.

[00:54:29] KM: Say that again.

[00:54:30] CL: 666-1761.

[00:54:33] KM: How do people get involved?

[00:54:35] CL: They can get involved in all kinds of ways. We have young professionals group called Sharp for people ages 21 to 40, and they could be members for $6 a month and come to all the concerts they want.

[00:54:45] KM: Oh, that’s cool.

[00:54:45] CL: Yeah. You can also become a member of the symphony. It’s like Netflix, so you can get a membership for $9 a month. Then you can –

[00:54:51] KM: Everybody needs to do that.

[00:54:52] CL: Yes, I completely agree. It’s just like Netflix. It’s $9 a month. You can come to every concert that you want to.

[00:54:57] KM: That’s a great gift to give to somebody.

[00:54:59] CL: Yes.

[00:55:00] KM: All right, next, and learn about the educational programs.

[00:55:04] CL: Arkansassymphony.org, education and then it’s all on the dropdown box.

[00:55:08] KM: You do have a good website. If anybody wants to know anything, you can get no that website and you can find out anything. Where’s my gift for this young lady? Where is my gift for this young lady? Oh, here it is. Pull it up for me, dear.

Let’s talk about who our guest is next week.

[00:55:26] JM: That’d be Tim Zimmerman from SCORE.

[00:55:30] KM: Oh, yeah. Do you know what SCORE stands for?

[00:55:34] JM: Are you asking me?

[00:55:35] KM: Mm-hmm.

[00:55:35] JM: It will be the Service Corps of Retired Executive.

[00:55:38] KM: Oh, you did good job reading. He called me and he asked me if he could come on the show and talk about how to help small business owners and want to be small business owners, and that is exactly what we always want to do. So I’m really excited about having him on. He doesn’t look like he’s retired though. He’s kind of older. So here I’m putting together Christina’s gift. It’s a flag set.

[00:56:01] CL: Oh, wow!

[00:56:02] KM: I know. Christina, the U.S. flag always goes in the center.

[00:56:06] CL: Okay.

[00:56:06] KM: And then these are the all the states that you’ve lived in.

[00:56:08] CL: Oh! Wow! That’s South Carolina flag.

[00:56:12] KM: You recognized it.

[00:56:13] CL: I did. I’m a Carolina girl through and through.

[00:56:16] KM: There you go. That’s all the state you’ve lived in, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina.

[00:56:20] CL: Me with my own Alabama flag.

[00:56:22] KM: I know! Roll tide!

[00:56:23] CL: Roll tide. Go Tigers!

[00:56:27] KM: Listen. Thanks again. I really enjoyed talking to you.

[00:56:29] CL: Thank you.

[00:56:29] KM: I’m going to come to the symphony.

[00:56:31] CL: Please do.

[00:56:31] KM: I’m going to buy people gifts for the symphony and I’m going to hook up our two 12-year-old children together so that they can watch. Let’s get them introduced early and appreciate it. Thank you for all that you do for our community.

[00:56:42] CL: Sure, thank you.

[00:56:44] KM: Jayson, I think that’s it for us, Radio Jesus. I just want to say lastly to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also been for us.

Thank you for letting us fulfill our destiny. Our hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.


[00:57:18] JM: You've been listening to up in your business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. If you missed any part of this show or want to learn more about UIYB, go to flagandbanner.com and click on Radio Show, like us on Facebook, or subscribe to her weekly podcast wherever you like to listen. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week with links to resources you heard discussed on today's show. Underwriting opportunity is available upon request.

Kerry's goal is to help you live the American dream.


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