Executive Director Megen Balda Celebrating 20 Years 

Megen stands in downtown Saint Paul
GTCYS Executive Director Megen Balda

In May 2023, Executive Director Megen Balda celebrates a major milestone with 20 years of service to GTCYS. We sat down with Megen to hear more about her work, key highlights, and hopes for the future.

What has inspired you to stay with GTCYS through two decades and multiple roles? 
The years have flown by since I was hired as the operations manager in 2003. I was named executive director in 2012 after moving up through other roles. It sounds cliché, but I really do see every challenge as an opportunity – and there have been many over the years! I thrive on working through new opportunities and believe that’s been a driving factor behind my tenure and GTCYS’ success, especially over the last decade. There are always new goals to work towards and new community needs to address. I love the balance between the creativity of shaping our programs to nurture our students and the strategic work to keep GTCYS relevant and moving forward.  

Most importantly, the wonderful community of people is a constant inspiration, including our students parents, alums, donors, staff, and board. It’s truly inspiring to see the level of care, trust, and commitment from our community. They make GTCYS what it is – a family – and it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of.  

What are some of the highlights of your GTCYS career so far? 
There have been so many! I’m especially proud of reinstating international Symphony tours in 2014 after a long hiatus dating back to 2001. Touring and performing in Spain, Argentina, Eastern Europe, and Italy has been lifechanging for so many of our students and opened their eyes to the wider world. Being part of Symphony’s historic performance at the Taormina Art Festival in Sicily last year is something I will never forget.  

Megen and Mark pose in front of ancient ruins with chairs set up for a concert
Megen and Mark at Teatro Antica di Taormina (Siciliy, Italy) the day of Symphony’s opening performance of the 2022 Taormina Art Festival.

Hiring my wonderful colleague Mark Russell Smith as permanent artistic director in 2013 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever helped the organization make. It elevated the artistic experience for everyone in GTCYS and prompted so much growth for students in our programs. I’m so pleased to have Mark as a partner as we move the organization forward together. 

Bringing Harmony to life in 2016 and nurturing its evolution has been transformational – not only for the students involved, but for GTCYS as an organization. Being an early proponent for equity diversity and inclusion which we began in conjunction with Harmony – before it was an expected norm for arts organizations – has prompted a lot of learning, reflection, and action. We still have a long way to go and the work is never finished, but I’m proud of the progress we have made so far.  

Megen speaks into a microphone on the Orchestra Hall stage
50th Anniversary celebration at Orchestra Hall

Successfully steering the organization through COVID is something I’m honored to have led – though something I hope we never have to repeat. Our amazing staff bent over backwards to reinvent our programs so students could make music together in person and at home. In hindsight, it was an incredible feat and I’m still in awe, but pausing our programs was never an option in my mind. I’m just grateful that GTCYS was a much-needed bright spot for hundreds of students during such a difficult time.  

What do you hope for GTCYS’ future and your role in guiding the organization? 
Looking ahead, I have so much hope for and confidence in GTCYS. We’ve experienced tremendous growth, expanding access to benefit more students and raising the artistic bar. And yet we have so much more to accomplish! The concept of excellence and access is paramount to our mission going forward. I look forward to working with our team to make sure that every interested student in the community has a place in GTCYS and feels like they belong here.  

What’s a fun fact people may not know about your time here? 
I’ve had a lot of roles during my time with GTCYS, but one of the few tasks I’ve never been responsible for is preparing music or marking parts in our music library. I’ve appreciated leaving that to the experts and I’m sure they agree! 

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