Donna Briggs has been the president and CEO of the Britt Festival for five years. With her education in Communications and Organizational Development, Briggs heads 13 full-time employees in an organization which (during the season) goes up to 65. We met at her office in downtown Medford.
EH: Who was Britt?
DB: Peter Britt was an explorer, a photographer, a wine maker, a builder, a renaissance man. He came here in the mid-1800s. He left the Britt hill to Jackson County.
EH: How did the Britt Festival begin?
DB: In 1961, John Trudeau, a conductor of the Portland Symphony, came in search of the perfect venue for classical music, and found the Britt hill. He got together with the mayor and the city council, and by 1963, they had their orchestra put together. Basically the stage was a lean-to. Now, we have a 90-piece professional orchestra from all over the world.
EH: How many people do you entertain in a season?
DB: Right at 60,000. Our venue holds 2,200. We do about 40 performances. The Britt experience is about that hill in Jacksonville.
EH: Why are people so drawn to Britt?
DB: People that come to Britt will experience three hours of being in the moment; that experience is joy-filled. No matter where you are, you’re a stone’s throw away from the artist. There’s something magical that happens between the patrons and the artist, it’s the synergy on the little Britt hill.
EH: You have a smaller stage as well?
DB: The Performance Garden was built to provide a stage for education programs and to provide that pre-concert experience. We always have complimentary artists perform on that stage prior to the main act. More and more people come early to make a whole evening out of Britt.
EH: You have an education program?
DB: We have a huge year-round education program. We offer residencies in the schools, along with camps, and workshops. We have a robust internship program for college students.
We have an internship program for high school students called the Artist Career Exploration or ACE Program. Those students are with us for 12 months. They learn the business; then they put together their own performance in the Performance Garden.
EH: What’s on the horizon?
DB: The big project on our schedule for July 2016 is the Crater Lake National Park project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. We worked with our music director, Teddy Abrams, about commissioning a composer to write a piece to celebrate the ambiance of Crater Lake, to be performed with entire lake as the backdrop. We found Michael Gordon. We will also have quartets and trios playing in unusual places throughout the park. It is free to the public.
EH: How do you approach large organizations with large projects?
DB: Take the time to ascertain where the challenges are; if changes need to be made, be very thoughtful in how you are going to approach those changes; do your homework; talk to people; listen to people; and then make your plan.
It has taken five years to bring the organization to where I feel that we are on a very solid footing and positioned for continued exploration and growth. That growth might not necessarily mean more money, it may mean more creative and risk-taking programs.
EH: What is your philosophy?
DB: My life philosophy has been: Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.