Feature Article - April 2013
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Programming: Performing Arts

Break a Leg!
Put Your Best Foot Forward for Performing Arts Programming

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Find Partners and Collaborate

Although you don't want to re-create something that's already being offered, that's not to say you can't connect with existing arts organizations and find ways to work together. Partnering with another arts group is a great way to collaborate, said Christin Baker, arts specialist with YMCA of the USA. The people in your Y or park district's community are a group potentially hungry for arts programming, and arts institutions in your area surely have professionals involved and perhaps even an educational outreach component of their mission, so everyone wins. Working together can "help elevate their name and brand and brings enrichment to the Y or park," she explained.

Practically speaking, Memmer said that funding for the arts is tight, and is likely growing tighter, "so it's crucial to find your place within the arts community and make connections and friends with other arts organizations." Particularly if you're just getting started with performing arts programming, you can benefit from talking to other organizations. "The partnership may not even involve programming," he said.

Perhaps you have some space an orchestra or theater group could use to rehearse in exchange for offering outdoor performances or concerts in your park during the summer. (Performing arts programming doesn't have to be strictly lessons-oriented. Offering arts-based entertainment for your community is another way to fill a need and perhaps gauge local interest in the arts before you begin a program of your own.) "Start small," Memmer said. "Talk to the theater group down the street and see what happens. See what their needs are, what your organizations have in common."

Warrenville Park District's dance program is certainly not the only one in the area, and in fact when they began, many of their instructors also worked at local dance studios. As their program has grown, they've brought their instructors in-house as staff, but they still keep in touch with local studios. "If we can't service a dancer, we refer them to a studio, and vice versa," Brackmann said. "It's worked really well for us." Their program also has a partnership with a nearby high school, so they're able to use the high school auditorium—as well as staff and high school theater tech students—for performances.

Though Vashon is a small island, a 15-minute ferry ride from Seattle, McCabe always had "lots to work with" and "lots of support to develop arts programming," she said. In fact, community members often approached her with ideas, "and all I had to do was say yes." Six years of Shakespeare in the Park that eventually evolved into the Island Ensemble was born when a local drama coach approached her. The park district covered their expenses and offered the director and technical crew a small stipend, but everyone else volunteered, "and the community loved it." The summer performances were free to the public and brought the park district a lot of attention and prestige.

Vashon Park District also collaborated with Vashon Allied Arts and Voice of Vashon, a local online radio station, to produce radio theater during the colder months (another case of the performing arts being a good indoor entertainment option!), and they provided performance space to a local ballet troupe and managed the schedule for the local high school's theater in exchange for having their programs there.

Reach out to university theater departments whose young students might be delighted to teach classes for kids, suggested McCabe. She also advised looking for seniors in the community who may be retired performing artists.