How social media has energized a small California ballet company

interview by Geri Jeter, California Literary Review, 9/20/12

For small performing arts companies like Diablo Ballet, social media has come into the forefront as a cost-effective vehicle to get audiences involved in the arts in a new and interactive way. What social media offers, besides a low cost of delivery, is an opportunity for arts managers to control what and how their message is distributed. It also allows for something new -- true interactivity. This year, Diablo Ballet has had a much higher profile than in past years, and social media has played a major part.

MEAGHER: Getting Diablo Ballet's name out is always in the forefront of my goals. My marketing programs don't cost thousands of dollars. We're very grass roots so it takes creativity and a willingness to experiment. It also takes a staff willing to put in the time to do the job. Doing social media takes a huge amount of time. I spend three hours each day just attending to Twitter! It's worth it, though.... Social media has opened up a new world to the arts, and we need to harness this power now. Plus, it works. For example, after we did our Twitter Night, I heard from quite a few people who now wanted to go see a dance performance.... We [also] use Facebook a lot. Twitter and Facebook are two different kinds of social media: Twitter is the two-year-old who needs constant, immediate attention. Facebook is the mature adult you can talk to once a day.

The big question: Has all this effort translated into butts in the seats?

MEAGHER: Absolutely! We sold out our May performances, are currently at 98% subscriber renewals, and we've already exceeded group sales goals for the premiere of our new November holiday performance. All these marketing efforts feed into each other. You can't just sit by a computer waiting to see how many tickets sold from your Facebook ad. You need to look at the big picture. Social media works because it capitalizes on word of mouth. You can't buy this. If you can touch someone via Twitter [or] Facebook, then you've gained a fan. You've done your job whether or not you made an immediate sale. It's a cumulative process.


How small-venue productions are reinvigorating opera in Austin, Texas

Marc van Bree, ATX Classical blog, 9/20/12

Austin is about to get inundated with opera in unexpected places. This [fall] will see the launch of Austin Lyric Opera's The Pagliacci Project, and a new opera company in town, One Ounce Opera, is making waves. "I've been around rock bands since I was a kid," [said] Julie Fiore, founder of One Ounce Opera. "My dad is an active guitar player -- so putting together an ensemble of singers that books venues like a band just made sense to me. Since OOO is not bound by any traditional structure other than the music itself, I thought, why not continue to challenge the opinion of opera as 'dead' and 'elitist'? Taking opera literally to the people -- instead of hoping they will somehow come to you -- is something I've been seeking to facilitate for over a year now. The concept of classical music organizations breaking out of traditional concert halls has been picking up speed, so hearing of others attempting the same excites me." Austin Lyric Opera's artistic director Richard Buckley challenges the premise of opera being cast only in the traditional light. When asked why he feels it's important to present opera in a different way, he replies: "Why do we need to consider it different? Only if our only definition of opera is one that is for a large 2,300-seat proscenium stage is it different. The creation of a professional opera company in Austin has been financially dependent on the performance of certain repertoire in a large capacity hall. What we have not done often is small venue opera, of which there is a rich repertoire available." And that's exactly why Buckley saw an opportunity in Pagliacci. The Pagliacci Project involves live performances of Act II from Leoncavallo's short opera, taking place in a variety of locations, including outdoor street festivals, shopping malls and clubs.


Commentary: Small arts orgs can impact their communities using unfinished space

Johns Hopkins Institute's Center for Civil Society Studies blog, 8/28/12

[In July, at a conference in Lisbon, Portugal,] guests embarked on site visits to see innovative arts organizations in action. These visits were instructive in many ways, but the visit to the Museo do Design e do Moda particularly impressed. Director Bárbara Coutinho explained the space she found for the museum was perfect -- in terms of location, history, and scope -- but it had long since fallen into distress. She did not have the funds to complete renovation of such a large building, and knew that, even with funding in place, [this] would take years. Instead of having an empty building sit idle for years, she moved into the partly renovated spaces and set up exhibitions, allowing the roughness of the space to contrast with and highlight the work on display throughout the museum, and embracing the architectural restoration as a "work in progress" while challenging the typically sterile nature of the traditional exhibition space. The result is quite remarkable. This is an attractive approach for many arts organizations and communities with limited funds, and can be expanded to embrace larger economic development goals when used by communities faced with a high number of vacant or disused buildings. Taking this view of unfinished space being conducive to art can be particularly valuable to smaller or more diversified arts organizations, as was found by E.M.P. Collective, a young multi-disciplinary arts organization in Baltimore. They were able to secure a space for one year through a program called "Operation Storefront". E.M.P. was one of several small and start-up nonprofit arts organizations that were selected as tenants as part of this program; they were provided with a favourable rental deal in exchange for moving into previously abandoned spaces, many of which were in an advanced state of disrepair.


In new program, Royal Opera House advises (and learns from) small arts orgs

Nicola Merrifield, The Stage [UK], 9/20/12

[London's] Royal Opera House has announced it will work with three regional companies as part of its new programme that connects opera and dance organisations with the ROH. Huddersfielld's Balbir Singh Dance Company, Windsor-based The Opera Group and Bournemouth's Pavilion Dance South West have been selected for the first year of the ROH Links scheme [which] is designed to provide expertise on arts management and technical areas to small or medium sized organisations, over one or two years. It is part of a wider initiative, called ROH Connections, which also includes a strand called ROH Board Bank that encourages ROH members of staff to sit on committees of organisations to lend their expertise. Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said: "I am delighted to be entering into this new relationship with three very different organisations. We firmly believe that the Royal Opera House is a resource for the nation. With this new programme we hope we will be of real value to our new partners, and I know that we will also learn a lot from our time with them."


Commentary: "Real change starts on a smaller level"

Andy Horwitz, Culturebot blog, 9/5/12

In the wake of [an] enormous transition in America's cultural life, it is understandable that so many arts professionals and concerned constituents are bemoaning the current state of the arts -- lack of funding, dwindling attendance, a perceived lack of relevance. No doubt it is a difficult time, but it is also a moment of extraordinary possibility. Many foundations, regional and local arts organizations are working progressively and aggressively to adapt to the financial and social realities we face. And while it is fashionable in some circles to denigrate the NEA... [it, too], is thinking strategically about the future and trying to create a new ecosystem that is responsive to the financial and cultural realities on the ground. At the same time artist service organizations and artists themselves are working passionately too, bringing new ideas to the table. Culturebot grew out of a small arts organization and I personally have spent the 20-some odd years of my career in the arts -- first as an artist, now as an administrator -- in the world of independent, small and mid-sized arts organizations. While I wholly support the idea of maintaining big institutions and admire their capacity to undertake projects of incredible scale, I think that real change starts on a smaller level, that real impact happens when the art is closer to the audience, when the audience is closer to the institution and the institution is closer to the community. That's when lives are changed, that's when kids get the bug that transforms them into lifelong arts people.

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