Photo by Jamie Alexander
Owensboro Symphony’s Gwyn Morris Payne may be new to the role of CEO, but she’s been a steady hand at the organization for more than 20 years.
Payne’s musical abilities were limited to clarinet and piano while growing up, but her other talents made her the right choice to take the reins at the symphony last August. “My background is finance,” she said. “I often joke when asked what instrument I play that it is the calculator.”
Payne worked as a public accountant for nearly 13 years before offering management and financial services to small businesses. In 2000, she got a call from a board member at the Symphony, who said they needed someone to manage the organization’s finances. She joined the staff as a part-time finance director and became a full-time employee a year later.
As different roles have become vacant over the years, Payne has filled in temporarily, giving her a broad understanding of the organization.
She said running the Owensboro Symphony is like running any business. “Most people don’t think of a non-profit as a business, but it is,” Payne said. “We have to be frugal managers of our money, forecast income and budget down to the dime. We also have many stakeholder groups that I keep informed and engaged; donors, sponsors, granting organizations, patrons, musicians, community partners and many more!”
She’s currently busy laying the groundwork for next year — scheduling performances, making offers to guest artists, and continuing to grow their community events. “Every day it’s a new adventure,” she said. “No day is like the next, and I enjoy that about my work.” She added that none of her work is done alone, and that she’s very fortunate to work with a supportive and creative executive staff. She also enjoys collaborating with the symphony’s talented Music Director, Troy Quinn.
Navigating the organization’s role during the current climate has been a challenge, but it’s one they have met with creativity and hope.
“The COVID-19 pandemic pushed this organization to become more creative with our programming than we had ever been,” she said. “In March 2020, when the world shut down, our primary concern was how we would continue to connect with our patrons.” They were committed to being even more present in the community than ever. “We all know there is a healing power in music and what better time to share this power as far and wide as possible,” Payne said. “The pandemic challenged the Owensboro Symphony to find ways to connect with audiences. Some of the programs were new and others were enhanced to reach more people. We also wanted to find ways to safely employ our talented musicians during a very difficult time.”
Payne said the support they received during the last year has been amazing and has allowed them to do a complete revamp of their normal program. They focused on programs like Music On Call, which takes musical experiences directly to individuals. The population impacted by Music On Call may never attend a performance in the traditional concert hall. Instead, it’s aimed at patients in the hospital, rehabilitation centers, nursing and group homes, boys and girls clubs, recreational centers, senior centers, libraries and special-needs programs.
In 2020, Music on Call grew and reached even more people by arranging for musicians to set up in parks and perform for those that were enjoying the fresh air and trying to stay safe. There were outdoor performances at retirement homes for the residents to sit at their windows and enjoy. There were educational performances in the library courtyard as well as outdoor school programs. They also reached thousands by producing a televised holiday special called “Safe at Home for the Holidays!” which aired on KET and local stations.
“The program aired on television stations at the exact time and date that our annual Holiday concert would have taken place in the concert hall,” Payne said. “The reach and coverage we received from this project was exponential, and the response was phenomenal.”
They’ve continued to find unique ways to perform for the community, such as the Symphony Stroll, Summer Salute and Symphony at the Market.
Although it’s been a dynamic year, Payne looks forward to the days after the pandemic. “This year has really shown me that when tasked with the impossible we can all achieve so much,” she said. “I am looking forward to continuing our outreach initiatives and connecting with the community — taking the orchestra to those that have never been able to experience the magic of a live performance of a full orchestra.”
She’s excited, more than ever, about making a difference in the community. “I believe that music heals and helps people through challenging times,” Payne said. “To have this opportunity to be instrumental in making this happen is a great feeling for me.”