Coping with crisisThis is the fourth and final article about the current situation of music organizations in Greensboro. I reconnected with Laura Way, President and CEO of ArtsGreensboro and Ryan Deal, Chief Creative Economy Officer for Creative Greensboro.

ArtsGreensboro: Way began by pointing out that restrictions have loosened up a bit. “Now that the governor has moved to Phase 2.5, it’s going to allow for a little room with live performances or live engagements. It’s a little harder for music venues [as opposed to other arts], but it can happen with a combination of live-stream and live. That’s a good thing.”

She continued. “I’m really concentrating on re-entry: how do we get people where they are now to the time when they can open their doors as healthy as they can be and ready with programming that will drive audiences back indoors? I don’t actually see it until 2021, but we need to get to 2021.”

“I have to think about the entire eco-system, and while I appreciate everyone leaning in and doing virtual and pivoting and figuring it out…. I worry that the pivot – such an abrupt pivot – has an impact on the plan when people do come back in. I worry that we’re spending a lot of capital on virtual and we’re not creating enough reserve for when we do re-enter the marketplace.”

“I’m worried about loss of audience. I’m worried about loss of income. You can have as many virtual experiences as you want and have a ‘tip jar’ out there or have a fee. You are not generating the same kind of earned revenue, and it’s easy to pass it by and not make your contribution to that organization.”

I stated that I thought that a lot of people were ‘hungry’ for art, and when it’s safe to open, there will be large crowds. “I think there is a huge appetite, but we have to recognize that everything is going to open at the same time. We need to be really thoughtful; we need to come out with strong artistic programing.”

“As I said before, we need to look at our business models. We learned a life-lesson here: we were not as prepared as we should have been. We need to be nimble to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”

“And we’re taking action steps to help with that. We’ve started our work with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management out of the University of Maryland. Michael Kaiser [Chairman of the DeVos Institute] is the turn-around expert.” FYI: Kaiser was president of the Kennedy Center, and before that, Alvin Ailey and several other dance companies.

“They [the DeVos folks] have an engagement with ArtsGreensboro, having one-on-one conversations with executive directors, doing some data diving. It’s an external assessment of an organization’s artistic programs, marketing, looking at their diversification of audiences and funding, and they’ll go back to the organization with a set of recommendations/suggestions around planning calendars, programming, from an external perspective where they may not be hitting the mark, and where they’re excelling.”

Other promising ideas? “We recently negotiated with the county to allocate $500,000 for the arts. That is a big win. The applications are due tonight, 11:59PM [9/4/2020]. It’s for all arts and culture – Preservation Greensboro, the Children’s Museum, Bel Canto, Music for a Great Space – they can all apply. We have an outside committee reviewing the applications. We will make the funding recommendations to the county. We have committed to getting the recommendations to the county by the 16th of September. We have asked them to have the checks out by the 30th.”

Finally, Way concluded with an action plan: “I’m all about ‘show me the money.’ The state just got an additional $9.4 million to infuse into the arts and my first email this morning was to the state arts council. I’ll write a letter to everyone who is voting on that and I’ll say, ‘And by the way, what is Guilford county getting? Can I use that money to supplement these grants?'”


Creative Greensboro: Deal began talking about the success of this summer’s Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park (MUSEP). “We ended up having cumulatively over 175,000 viewers for those seven concerts. The engagement was great. There was certainly not the sort of community-building that I believe and know that happens at in-person lawn concerts.”

But the circumstance of COVID required doing only small group performances, physically distanced, etc. “It’s not what I wanted to be doing, it’s not what we thought we’d be doing. But the thing we heard over and over again from the artists [who performed] was the sense of gratitude for the opportunity to have something to work toward, that was going to actually be shared. To me, we could have had zero viewers, and I would have said ‘that was a brilliant investment’ because it was meaning-making work for the artists, which is as important as the audience who enjoyed it.”

What’s coming up? “In a typical year the city would be facilitating rehearsals with the community music ensembles – the Concert Band, the Philharmonia, the Choral Society, and the Greensboro Big Band – the Opus Series. None of those groups, of course, are meeting as they normally would. But what we offered to them was to carry the MUSEP model into the fall. The only difference is that we’re not going to live stream the concerts, mainly because our production costs are less expensive if we do a good bit of recording on one day and spread the concerts out over a series. We’ll have two recording days and end up with four concerts, 11/29 through 12/20. We’re sticking with Sunday night at 6:00.”

“We invited those four ensembles and their leaders to imagine very small groups to put together about an hour’s worth of music. In the end, the Choral Society and the Big Band declined. There weren’t enough folks in those ensembles who were comfortable with any path forward. But the Philharmonia and the Concert Band are moving forward with small numbers, essentially chamber-style work.

Something different for OPUS is in the works: “A flagship component of the MUSEP series has always been the inclusion of guest artists. I would like to see our guest artists on the Opus Series really diversify what the musical genres and expressions are that are included there. We’re working to identify four other community music groups that will be guest artists on the Opus Series. That will reflect traditions and genres that are specific to non-white-Euro-centric cultures.”

Since my conversation with Deal, the concert dates and artists have been confirmed: November 29: guest artists Sol Di Luna & Bad Cameo, December 6: small groups from the Philharmonia, December 13: guest artists Lorena Guillen Tango Ensemble & Sheila “Star” Washington, and December 20: small groups from the Greensboro Concert Band.

Deal added some cautionary words: “I have to be careful when I brag about these viewership numbers because there are some that will say ‘Well, gosh. Let’s just always do everything on-line.’ But we could talk about always additionally streaming things on-line like doing a live-stream of the in-person concert. I think that’s great because it certainly does expand the engagement, but it’s definitely not a replacement. And maybe [streaming] brings in a larger age demographic.”

What happens after the fall OPUS series is up in the air: “We have moved to planning a month at a time. I have no idea. Everyone asks. Right now, we’re not making any promises about what the spring will look like.”