Scott Harrison

Executive Director | Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

CSQ&A: Scott Harrison, Executive Director, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

When Scott Harrison began his tenure as head of LACO, it was Motor City’s loss and the City of Angels’ gain. His fresh approach is bringing more diversity to the orchestra and the orchestra to more varied venues. CSQ spoke with Harrison about how LACO is reaching younger audiences with music older than most buildings in Los Angeles, and fostering the next generation of musicians—and giving.

You moved from Detroit to LA to take this key role. What were your biggest motivations?

Scott Harrison For me, it was about evaluating the role, the organization, and the community. I was very eager to step into a chief executive role. I didn’t want to do that just anywhere; I wanted to do that with an organization that was making an impact with an exceptional quality of art, and freedom in thinking and creativeness. It’s important to be with people who have those fresh eyes and fresh perspectives to their art and music.

What are some of your top priorities at LACO?

SH Among the spheres that is most important diversity and equity, which is part of my core philosophy of how arts organizations connect to the community. We have to become more inclusive, more equitable, and more authentic in our institutions. We’ve changed up our programming, featuring a much more diverse array of artists performing at LACO—more women and people of color—and broadening our music repertoire both from the past and the present. We’ve worked thoughtfully to make sure that our conductors and soloists are diverse. It’s still a work in progress, but every day we’re trying to get to that ideal that we’re striving for.

Can you tell us about LACO’s partnerships with music schools and emerging musicians?

SH We’ve launched a fellowship program for Thornton students, and have reached out to student musicians and audiences at UCLA and the Colburn School. We have a partnership with Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. We are connecting student musicians with master classes, and opportunities to help them train and build their skills. And we have a college all-access pass for performances, and a lot of our programs take place on campuses.

What are some other ways in LACO has an impact on the community in LA?

SH LACO both on the informal and formal level is always looking to expand our connections and partners. We partner with venues like Hauser & Wirth gallery and Angel City Brewery. We also have joint efforts with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and at UCLA, where we are presenting new works. I try to attend a lot of events and roundtables, and make sure that I’m constantly available for causes that matter to us. Through collaborating with so many institutions in the arts environment, we’re able to further progress as an organization.

How does LACO attract audiences in a city that’s full of entertainment options?

SH We have a unique format of programs, like our SESSION concerts, for the culturally adventurous. We hold concerts in nontraditional spaces, like churches and the Huntington Library. We are connecting with a lot of different audiences in a lot of different ways.

LACO recently received a $1.5M grant from the Henry family. What’s the impact of that?

SH When a couple like Warner and Carol Henry, who have been so pivotal in LACO and are respected leaders and benefactors of the LA arts community, give a gift like that, it sends a message that LACO is an organization making a difference, and it radiates throughout the community and garners further support. These gifts are called transformational for a reason.

Can you share a bit about LACO’s fundraising methodology and philosophy?

SH  We find a lot of people from our concert audience become our donors because they experience first-hand what we work so hard on. We want people to believe in the organization through a combination of the different ways we impact the community and the arts. We can make connections with donors, who are motivated by a wide array of values, by having them find a value within us that they share, whether that be education, history, or social justice.

What are your hopes for LACO in the near future?

SH To continue pushing forward and living up LACO’s mission in a cohesive and thoughtful way. We want to resume our regional and international touring presence so that LACO can be an ambassador and advocate for the city of LA. And we want to turn up the dial on the creative and immersive part of the experience for the educational programs that we are now launching. Through this we are hoping to empower young people and let them know that they have a voice that should be heard. Ultimately, we’d like to make our creative environment more diverse and the City of LA more cohesive through the beauty that is artistic experience.