Monday, May 21, 2007

I get the change, but how are you different than United Arts?

I had a conversation with a local executive director on Friday partly to discuss our changes from being the Performing Arts Alliance to the Arts & Cultural Alliance. You can read the letter here. One of the big questions from that conversation was why do we need both the Alliance and United Arts and how are you different? It is a valid question and was asked in the context of potential budget cuts many arts and cultural organizations will face with the property tax cuts looming.

Before explaining our differences, I reminded the arts leader that the Alliance and UA are not the only service-oriented entities concentrating on our region. This is not an exhaustive list, but within the core of the region, private nonprofits include the Downtown Arts District (DAD), and the Orlando Performing Arts Center (OPAC). On the public side, there is the Orange County office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Seminole County Arts Council and the Winter Park Cultural and Economic Development Division. Finally, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor's Bureau (Orlando CVB) also serves the cultural community in pushing visitors to experience our region's best.

I would need a much larger forum than this blog to explain all the differences between the various service organizations, but two points are important with all of these groups. First, we are not working in a vacuum. All of these group's leaders meet monthly to discuss where are efforts can better work together. A soon to be released arts and cultural economic impact study on the region is the result of these relationships. Second, all of these entities believe passionately abut building the cultural identity of the region and the opportunities for artists.

So, how is the Alliance different than UA? The major difference is that the Alliance doesn't raise money to give it away. UA is our region's major fundraising entity in the tradition of United Way that gives money to both arts organizations and artists. UA is also the designated local arts agency. This primarily means UA is the leading advocate for the arts and cultural community on a regional, state and federal level.

The Alliance's major mission is to increase participation in our arts and cultural community. We have evolved into a boutique cultural marketing and tourism trade association. I stress boutique because the Orlando CVB is clearly the leader in drawing visitors to the area. The Alliance is concentrating purely on the arts and cultural sector. The Alliance serves seven counties to follow the push to build the region's presence. UA serves four counties.

Like other trade associations, we are membership based. Arts and cultural organizations realize the importance of leveraging our strengths to increase participation and that collaboration needs a third party to implement the services necessary to build audience.

UA and the Alliance are different, but share the same passion to elevate our region's cultural identity. In very simple terms, UA is the funding and advocate arm and the Alliance deals in audience development. Are there things we do together? Yes. ArtsFest is a great example of this. Ultimately, the differences are important to help you understand where to go for what services, but I think it is even more important to realize that we are all working together.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Isn't the theme park artist important too?

A local director and teacher spoke to me with confusion about what we meant when we say we want to increase participation in the region. He mentioned that he thought the research conducted revealing that 11% of our households participate in arts and culture was not inclusive enough.

He thought it was discriminating against the artists that work at the theme parks and other visitor attractions. Were we doing a disservice by not including that participation in our research? Does not the artist that works in the theme parks also count in our analysis of participation?

I was surprised by his reaction, but he said he knew several artists that felt a little slighted. After explaining the premise of the research, it was clearer to him what the data supported. He did ask why we didn't include audiences that visit the theme parks in our data as they participate as audience members for our artists employed at these attractions. We didn't measure the audiences at the parks because our research was about local participation and didn't include visitors. That is a different set of data.

Our conversation did remind me how our community is truly unique as we have such a dynamic artist community and yes many of them make a living performing or painting at the theme parks. Many of those same artists also perform and paint within the region at more traditional venues too. We clearly have no shortage of talented artists. Truly this is part of the motivation behind measuring the participation at a local level from our greater community. We know how much talent we have and want more people in the region to notice it too.

We want the parks to be filled with visitors and our local arts destinations to have full houses and galleries and museums to be over flowing with people. A region identified for its cultural destinations, whether pop, traditional or progressive. It can't happen soon enough.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Get educated about the venues...then decide.

Where do you stand on the venues is a question I get asked a lot from fellow students in my MBA class and people I run into in the community. I am the arts guy and the only nonprofit person in my 35-member class, so I naturally get tagged with questions in these areas. I often like these questions because I get a chance to help educate or point a person in the right direction to get educated about the issues, in this case the venues.

People assume that because of my position I must be close to the process of the plan to build the performing arts center. The official position of the Alliance is that we do support the buildling of a new performing arts center, but outside of the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Opera, Orlando Philharmonic, Festival of Orchestras and the SunTrust Broadway Series (the local groups that will primarily use the space), none of the arts community has been closely involved in the strategic process. In fact, I think the board and staff behind the performing arts center could have done a much better strategic job of engaging the greater arts community.

The venues are currently under great scrutiny and the Orange County Commission, who has yet to approve the plans of the venues, could vote to turn down the proposal. It is definitely a pinnacle moment in our burgeoning city's growth no matter where you sit. I think that many people already felt it was a done deal. It isn't at all though.

The Orange County Commissioners have been hosting education sessions to gain feedback from the public. There are two left. You can see the Alliance website for the times and places. The Performing Arts Center and Project Hometown are also asking that as many arts patrons and staff sign a petition in favor of the proposed performing arts center. Now, I am not going to tell you to sign this letter. The Alliance doesn’t' work in that manner. What I am going to highly encourage is that you attend one or both of these final sessions. Educate yourself, so that you can make your own decision about signing the petition. If you have already made up your mind and want to sign the letter, email The Performing Arts Center has had the most public support, but right now it is tied closely to the other venues because the strategy was to bundle the venues together.