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How to Advance the Performing Arts in North Texas

Zannie Voss, chair of the Division of Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship, moderates panel of national experts at TACA symposium

Collaboration among arts organizations, identifying partnership opportunities, fostering a receptive environment, and much more was discussed at the fourth annual TACA (The Arts Community Alliance) Perforum symposium held at the Nasher Sculpture Center on October 22.

Zannie Giraud Voss, Chair and Professor, Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship, Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and TACA Board of Directors member moderated the discussion with an esteemed panel comprised of Kenneth J. Foster, Executive Director of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA; Cassie Meador, Artistic Director of The Dance Exchange, Takoma Park, MD; Kyle Nelson, Social Media Expert, Co-founder, Stout Partners, L.P., Dallas, TX; and Nigel Redden, Director of Lincoln Center Festival, New York, NY; General Director of Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, SC.

Rebecca Young, TACA President and Executive Director, kicked off the event by welcoming the national panel and 140+ assembled arts administrators and arts patrons. She noted that the 2011 symposium was the catalyst for the formation of a fund specifically to encourage new work in Dallas, The TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund. This fund awarded $100,000 in grants this past June, and will do so again in each of the next two years.

Voss posed this question: “What could we possibly create together that none of us could create by ourselves? Collaboration is a form of collective dreaming with the purpose of having a bigger impact.”

Nigel Redden shared examples of collaboration at both festivals he is associated with. He encouraged those in attendance to “think outside your building; collaborate with your audience by going to them, not just expecting them to come to your theater.” He said that a “festival represents the possibility of creating something for an audience that crosses lines.”

Citing his work with the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City, he suggested that this festival is a way of “stimulating something that wasn’t already there in the mix” that is New York City.

“The Spoleto Festival in Charleston, on the other hand, is about providing opportunities to young artists and about collaboration with the city,” Redden continued. “For example, we invited nineteen artists from around the world to do an exhibition called Places with a Past. They animated the city and encouraged our audience to go to places they’d never been before. The work was controversial, well-publicized and led to our thinking about collaborative work around Places with a Future.”

Dance choreographer Cassie Meador said that in order to “take the first steps towards discovering what new collaborative possibilities are we have to slow down; we have to stop; we have to show up in the room together and we have to turn to one another and listen.”

In Meador’s experience, cultivating an environment that allows you to see the contributions everyone can make is difficult. “It is not a streamlined process. It is messy. But I promise it's a beautiful mess if you're willing to step into sort of that unknown territory.”

Ken Foster spoke about the challenges inherent in not being associated with a single art form. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is several theaters and an exhibition space that initially struggled with its identity. The solution was to view the organization as “the people’s arts center and, by ‘the people’ I mean, of course, the diversity of populations that exist in San Francisco.”

He added, “The collaboration with a variety of communities making this place work is astonishing and challenging and brilliant and wonderful. The success of the center is because we completely shifted our way of thinking about ourselves as an organization, our relationship to the arts, and our relationship to the community. We do not think about this process as a collaborative project but what I might call a collaborative state of mind, a collaborative understanding.”

Kyle Nelson talked about applying business perspectives to the arts. “The arts community is just like Fortune-level companies,” he said. “They're all in silos; they all have a marketing budget; they all have a marketing director. They get their marketing campaign, and they go off by themselves and go build their initiative. But what's strange is that you're all talking to the same influencers.”

Nelson encouraged the audience to think of social media as “a whole room full of people who can introduce you to influencers. How do we cast a wider conversation around the arts in Dallas to get more people talking about you?”

Afterwards, the panel joined the audience at the Crow Museum of Art for lively, round-table discussions over lunch. Table topic hosts included John Paul Batiste, Maria Munoz Blanco, Jose Bowen, Marsha Cameron, Ken Foster, Rick Lester, Mark Lowry, Cassie Meador, Kyle Nelson, Will Power, Nigel Redden, Jeremy Strick, Katherine Wagner, Jerome Weeks and Donna Wilhelm.

TACA Perforum was co-sponsored by the Communities Foundation of Texas and the Embrey Family Foundation.

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