“Ask lots of questions. Be a sponge.”
This succinct advice by Ted DeDee, President & CEO of Overture Center for the Arts, became the guiding principle for my interactions with Bolz Center alumni, industry professionals, and my peers throughout a week spent in San Francisco. Along with 9 of my fellow students and Bolz Center Director Sherry Wagner-Henry, I traveled to SF, February 13-18, for the Bolz Center Applied Learning Trip, followed by the 2015 Performing Arts Managers Conference (PAMC).
After numerous site visits and participation in PAMC, I returned invigorated and inspired, and in possession of a stack of business cards. Trip highlights included:
- We spoke with Deborah Cullinan, CEO of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, who described her creation of a project-based approach to programming at the center and emphasized the importance of building, and continually engaging with, a network that inspires you.
- We visited the offices of TUMML, a business accelerator with a mission to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems (Tumml is Yiddish for “shake up.”) There we spoke with CEO and Co-Founder Clara Brenner, and Yana Morgulis, Resident Advisor. I felt energized by the vision, brainpower and enthusiasm of the TUMML staff and entrepreneurs.
- We walked to the home of Oberlin Dance Collective (ODC) and met with Neal Spinler, Senior Marketing Manager (and Bolz Center Alum) and Christy Bolingbroke, Deputy Director for Advancement. Following a stimulating discussion centering on branding, plans of succession, and strategy development, we were treated to a sold-out performance by ODC. The dance company performed an unfinished version of Brenda Way and KT Nelson’s evocative The Invention of Wings, a reimagining of a site-specific piece originally performed at the opening of Ai Weiwei’s @Large project on Alcatraz. I was so touched by the performance that I cried a little.
- We stopped by the offices of Forest City, a real estate management and development company. Forest City is engaged in the 5M Project to redevelop a four-acre area in downtown San Francisco, forging partnerships with non-profit organizations to make the locale vibrant through arts programming. Forest City’s Andy Wang gave us a tour of the development site, explaining the importance of soliciting public input through community feedback sessions, particularly in this city where anti-development sentiments are commonplace.
- The 2015 Performing Arts Managers Conference (PAMC) that I attended featured two “town halls” in which each of the 349 conference participants were invited to pose questions to this large group of peers. Using the format pioneered decades ago at PAMC, the town hall sessions struck me as an efficient means of information sharing among industry professionals, and allowed me as an outsider to easily identify the hot issues facing the field. Concerns discussed included policies for bringing beverages into the theater, stagehand labor relations, and best practices for managing relationships with resident companies in performing arts centers.
- PAMC “Boot Camp” sessions, intended as primers on central subjects in performing arts management, proved highly informative to me. I chose the session on ethics, posing various scenarios a venue manager might face and working through ethical and legal implications of a range of possible responses.