I try to attend as many open sessions during the APAP week as I can because there I have chance to hear thoughts of leaders from producing & presenting arts business, as well as meet artists and foundations. This year I had a pleasure to discuss about New Paradigms for New Economic Realities in Performing Arts (APAP 2017) . This session was about “what presenters, artists and agents have to do and what are we already doing differently to survive and prosper in the new economic realities”, according to the APAP.
One of the first speakers of the session was Joseph Ferlo, President and CEO of the Oshkosh Opera House Foundation and Director of The Grand Oshkosh since 2004. He advocated for horizontal leadership, stating that a presenting theatre is “more than the building, it is a state of mind that needs to reach out to the community”. He stated that for a regional theatre “word of mouth are how the things get done”, thus interacting with the community is very important. Although he was forced out from his theatre (emergency renovation) to go into communities successfully relocating almost all performances in the 2009 season, now he is greatly benefiting from these community relationships. He had to take shows out from the building to the communities that sometimes have never experienced the arts.
The first thing he did was project “Arts and Other Human Needs”. I believe it is a perfect name for grant application because wherever you inquiring for grants the most frequent answer received from grantors are that they prefer to support basic human needs and not the arts. However, now with the new name he could say that he helps the arts and people with those “other needs” stressing out that art is also needed to people same as food, shelter, and education. He would bring artists to perform 4 days in hospitals, shelters, orphanages, schools, and so on. This residency is 5 year old now and one of the biggest fundraising tools. And the theatre is doing this because he believes that “absolute magic” happens when people experience one form of art for the first time.
He also fostered better relationships with artists and agents, creating residency programs and working with local artists supporting education programs. He gave local artists a chance to rehearse on dark days and they in return let him sell their staff in season packages. This lead him to subscription buyers and more attached audience. Then his organization began to have new perspectives and vision. He started to work on company’s identity building the brand and transforming it throughout. And from his experience he knows that if we will give back to the community with faith and desire the support will come! I have noticed the same philosophy at Carnegie Hall and its Executive Director, who expanded far beyond building to the benefit of global communities, trying change life of people through arts.
Thus presenting organizations need to work in community with several other organizations from different fields. And telling from my experience when the leader of the theatre who is an artistic entrepreneur begins to work across sectors horizontally with other companies dealing with not just arts, but also with environment, health, education, and so on, the community starts to realize that these leaders solve problems creatively and thus want to invite them to situations where decisions are being made in the community. And just like that you expand your company through community.