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Nov 2, 201701:13 PMMosaic Marketplace

with Deborah Biddle — A blog for diverse business enterprises in and around Madison.

Community and collaboration: Keys to enhancing diversity at performing arts centers

(page 2 of 4)

DB: All right, so after the first year, do you feel like you know where you want to go now?

EH: Yes, part of the journey for me was to understand a new landscape. It’s a PAC [Performing Arts Center]. But, it’s also an industry in and of itself, and it’s taken me a while to understand the complexity of the industry — the complexity of this organization and how to make inroads into making the organization, the patrons, and the people we serve more diverse.

DB: How have you gone about doing that?

EH: Well, we started off with an event — like a press conference — and that was very deliberate for me. My sister came in. We had a bunch of community people and community leaders. I brought in folks who I work with, as well as some of my former students. I wanted to create an opportunity for people to understand that it would not be business as usual. I wanted folks to understand that if we’re talking about a cultural change — a cultural shift — it’s going to feel different. It’s going to look different. So, the first thing that I did was to really try to give people the sense that this is how it’s going to feel when the organization, the patrons, and the people coming through the doors are of diverse cultural backgrounds. That was where I started. The thing that was interesting to me, and what I learned pretty early on, is that the Overture Center was already doing an incredible amount of diverse programming. They had Patti LaBelle, Boyz II Men, Drumline, International Festival — I mean the list goes on and on in terms of what they were already doing. So, when I first came on, I thought that my job was going to be creating new programming that would attract diverse audiences. But no, it was not. It was really trying to connect people to existing programs that people may or may not have been aware of. To get people in the doors who previously may not have thought that was for them.

For some in diverse communities, there was sticker shock and anxiety over the cost of tickets. But I try to push people to do the outreach in a way that is hands-on, and to make contact with people — individuals, organizations, and communities — that they had not before engaged. So, it was more of a targeted outreach effort all year for me to invite people to come to be a part of and experience what was going on here.

This is really a world-class organization and facility. It has a $205 million contribution, which is the largest single philanthropic contribution to a performance arts center in the world that we are aware of. It’s a great gift to this community. The intention was that it would be for everyone. That was my hope and my goal for the first year. Let’s bring people through the door and make sure that more people are aware of all the great things that are happening here and let folks know that this place is for them.

One of the things I did was get the vice president of marketing to go out to the Fall Gospel Festival produced annually by Clyde Gaines. He’s an African-American promoter, and its a big deal for the African-American and church communities in Madison. We also had flyers that we put into the insert of the Fall Gospel Fest program that promoted Boys II Men and Patti LaBelle. We went to the Tasha Cobb gospel concert at High Point Church. We put flyers in those programs about Overture Center’s upcoming concerts — Patti LaBelle was on one side and Boyz II Men was on the other. That type of outreach hadn’t previously happened.

Those are the types of things that I was trying to do. And not just to do it myself, but have it become a part of the culture of the organization — so that it’s programming, marketing, and development. It starts to trend diversity and inclusion. It starts to be at the core of everybody’s thinking across the entire organization.

Drumline was another opportunity. Again, an intentional outreach piece. We collaborated with all the schools and also with community-based groups.


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