Alexander Koutelias: Citizen of the World Dedicated to the Quebec Artistic Milieu

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Alexander Koutelias has been the Head of Development at the Orchestre classique de Montréal (OCM) since 2020, a position he obtained immediately after graduating from the MMIAM (Master of Management in International Arts Management) program, where he received a double master’s degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and HEC Montréal. La Scena Musicale spoke with him to understand his vision for philanthropy in Quebec (and the United States) and how his program of study prepared him for his current role at the OCM.


LSM: Tell us a little about your early days in philanthropy.

AK: I’m originally from Sarasota, Fla., where I was involved with the local grand opera company from childhood. But my first real experience in philanthropy was with the NGO International Network Museums for Peace in the Netherlands. This is a global network of museums that exchanges artifacts and cultural products—a kind of exchange between cultures. When I returned to the United States, I worked for two years for the New College of Florida Foundation, where I did my undergraduate degree. I was assistant to the director for donor relations and research.

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LSM: Aside from philanthropy, what were some other important things learned from the MMIAM program?

AK: In addition to preparing for all the functions of an executive director (accounting, financial management, marketing, cultural policy, fine-arts market operations, as well as heritage-site management), MMIAM uses its own network in each city (the program includes study tours to Colombia, India, China, and Italy) to get students introduced to leaders in their desired fields. Meetings like this are not available to everyone. So it gave me a great network, really around the world.

LSM: Can you give us an idea of the proportion of private funding in the arts, having experienced the American and Canadian systems?

AK: In Quebec especially, organizations tend to have almost a third of their revenue coming from private philanthropy, including sponsorships, a third from box office and a third from government support, i.e. the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the Canada Council for the Arts. The norm in the U.S. is 60 per cent from private funding, including individuals and sponsorships; 25 per cent from box office, and about five per cent from governments. There are no city arts councils in all cities and not much state support for the arts. The Federal Arts Council is poorly funded by Congress and it is not a priority for any party. I witnessed a very different situation in Quebec, particularly during the debate of potential ministers from the four major parties at HEC. Each party talked about the need to support and protect culture in Quebec, not to cut culture. But the revenue divisions I mentioned were the norm before the pandemic. I think these formulas have changed dramatically in the world since the cultural recovery in the United States and in Quebec.

LSM: What would you say to someone who questions the importance of funding the arts?

AK: It’s what makes the human species unique and it’s been with us since the beginning of civilization. We have to think about what we leave to our children. There is a tradition in classical music, whether it’s Mozart or Canadian composers of our time, and we have to sustain that tradition for the future. We can’t take it for granted. There has been a decline in interest in classical music in North America and Europe since the 1950s because it has been taken for granted.

LSM: Tell us about your philanthropic approach to the OCM.

AK: I came to the OCM with ideas that I had to patiently push forward, especially in the pandemic context. One thing that is important to me is the use of contacts—both professional and personal—to seek individual donations as well as sponsorships.

Another important thing for me is to increase the level of donor retention—that is, to have recurring donors. To do this, you have to give people reasons to give.

In my first year with the OCM, I was fortunate to see the success of a fundraising campaign called “musical medicine,” where we raised money for our string quartet concerts in CHSLDs, vaccination centres, hospitals… The board of directors offered a matching fund to double the donations raised for this project. So that was an incentive. Same thing the next year with our fundraising campaign for the OCM mentoring program, where people could sponsor music students from the University of Montreal. Fortunately, we exceeded our goal in both campaigns.

LSM: Any final words?

AK: I have to thank the OCM for giving me this opportunity to start my career in Canada— especially in Quebec, in French. And it’s a blessing to have a program like MMIAM in today’s world, preparing people for a more globalized world. I think we have to find the balance for Quebec. Even though I have Greek and American citizenship, I chose Quebec, so I express myself in French as much as possible. We have to find the balance between this global mentality and the respect of the local culture. This is necessary in 2022.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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