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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 3 of 4)

DB: My son actually attended that event with Latino Nation and the Black Student Union from Verona Area High School. The students really appreciated being able to go. They thought it was a really cool event.

EH: It was a great event. That’s the type of outreach I try to have. I wanted to connect it to having the students understanding that this particular program was connected to historically black colleges, and part of the tradition and the experience they would get if they chose to go to a historically black college. We also collaborated with Madison College for that event. The beautiful part about it was the collaboration with Madison College, and one of the local businesses. And this is where the business part of it comes in. Porta Bella Restaurant is a place that I frequent — I’m a fan of the food [laughter]. So, I spoke with Ed Shinnick, one of the owners of this family business, which has been in operation for around 50 years in Madison. I told him what I was trying to do. And he said, “Sure, we’ll help you out. We’ll give you this pizza at a reduced cost. We’ll bring people out to Madison College.” The cool thing about that experience was that Ed Shinnick himself came there, and he helped set up and pass out the food.

Madison College representatives talked about college applications and had students play a college trivia game. They also gave out prizes. After the Porta Bella dinner, students walked from Madison College to Overture Center for the Drumline show. That’s the type of collaboration I think will be meaningful for businesses. In terms of how can we collaborate to accentuate the programming, I’m looking for a more comprehensive opportunity, a more comprehensive experience, so there’s more collaboration with businesses and with education hubs. That’s part of the model that I want to try to maintain and continue to develop.

Additionally, we doubled the number of diverse community partners for the Frosti Ball from the previous year. I’ve gotten confirmation that we’ll have three times as many next year. So, its taking steps to continue to introduce people and connect them to what we believe are good programs. It’s a lot of work. I had to contact 32 different organizations to get 10 diverse community partners. That’s the legwork. Do you see what I mean?

DB: Tell more about diversity and the Frosti Ball.

EH: It is a fundraiser for Overture. It’s probably one of the biggest social events in the community for the year. So, it’s not just a fundraiser, it’s also a social event and party.

DB: And what does it take to be a community partner?

EH: There are different levels — $250, $500, $750, and $1,000. However, the community partner level is a reduced amount from what it would cost to be a [full] partner. One of the benefits at the $250 level is a discounted ticket to the Frosti Ball. Additionally, anybody who wants to come to the Frosti Ball through a community partnership gets a ticket for that reduced cost. Community partners also receive advertisement for their organization or business as a Frosti Ball sponsor. Again, it’s a way to engage people who would not normally be able to be a part of the event.

DB: It seems like Madison is a tough market for concerts/events that would typically appeal to communities of color.

EH: Madison is absolutely a tough market. But I’ll tell you, Boyz II Men was a sellout.

DB: Yeah, I tried to get tickets for that. I waited too late and didn’t get them [laughter].

EH: Boyz II Men was a sellout. Drumline was a sellout. The word is catching on. More people are coming to these types of shows at Overture Center.

As I move forward with programing, I realize that it’s easy for people in the organization to say, “Oh, we hired a director of diversity and inclusion, so we don’t have to think about it anymore because we have somebody that’s going to address it.” But, it’s an organization-wide initiative that everybody has to be a part of. Those are the discussions that we’re having now. It might look different for each department and each level of the organization, but we have to identify what that is and be very cognizant and deliberate about how we move the needle in terms of diversity and inclusion.

The first thing for me to do was to let the community know that I'm here. That was critical for me. I wanted Overture to have a presence and I wanted to be there and I wanted to interact with as many people as possible to let people know that yeah, we’re serious about diversity and inclusion and we’re going to support you. We want to be collaborative in how we approach this work.

Now we go to the next level and that is making sure that everybody in the organization owns his or her piece of diversity and inclusion. We continue to do outreach and engage our community partners. We have to put the best and brightest minds around the table to figure out how we do this in the business of performing arts centers. There are always questions from the funders, “What is the data? What are the metrics? We’ve got to know the numbers.” But, it’s difficult in performance arts. We can give you numbers, but how do you assign value to those numbers? You can quantify it, but how do you assign a value, an intrinsic value, to the numbers?

DB: Well, it’s the age-old question, “How do you measure success?”

EH: I’m engaging the UW Center for Research and reaching beyond Madison. It’s about putting the best and brightest minds around the table because it’s not just the Overture Center. It’s all of the performing arts centers across the country and probably throughout the world. I’m new. My position is new. So, these discussions haven’t happened before, not at this level.

People who funded this position, they want to know what are the metrics? What is Ed doing? It’s not that. It’s what are we doing? Are we meeting the needs of the community around diversity and inclusion? Are we moving the needle forward? Are we making progress? I would say, yes. I could give you the numbers of everybody who came to these events. I can say that I can pick up the phone and call 100 people right now, they will know who I am, they will know my work. I have some type of understanding of their work. I can invite them to an event and whoever will be able to come, will show up. That’s something that’s different than what’s happened in the past. Those are the kinds of relationships we need. In order to get people to be a part of the vision and the future we have to build relationships. People have to trust you. They have to believe that what you have to offer is something of value to them and their community, and in a lot of cases, to their families.


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