What is the role of the Performing Arts Center?

iavm_logo_red-300x300During the recent International Association of Venue Managers conference here in Chicago this week, there was a lot of conversation about the role that performing arts centers should play in our communities.

The session was moderated by Dr. Patricia Lambert of the University of Oregon’s Arts and Administration Program. Panelists included Robyn Williams of Portland 5 Center for the Arts, Adina Erwin of the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Ken Harris of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Arts in Miami and Ted DeDee of the Overture Center in Madison.

While the audience that joined the discussion started out talking about the current political climate, the discussion quickly turned toward the community and how a performing arts center connects with its community. Ted DeDee reminded us that though we claim to be centers for the community, there are many who never walk through a performing arts center’s doors. While a performing arts center may be a home to resident companies, the arts center is not exclusively beholden to them.

Adina Erwin’s insight was that the Fox Theater’s connection to the community was born out of a desire to save the theater from the wrecking ball. She said that in Atlanta they are acutely aware of their connection to the community. Mark Holden of Jaffee Holden spoke to the need for the performing arts center to be a beacon of truth in the community at a time in which the truth is hard to discern.

During the session, I asked a question of the audience of the role that performing arts centers play in being both storytellers and facilitators for dialogue in their communities. Ellery Brown of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts spoke to using John F. Kennedy and the 100th anniversary of his birth to highlight those qualities that exemplify the former President of the United States. All of the programming in the year would be focused around five qualities justice, service, freedom, gratitude, and courage.

It is clear that the topic of relevance is front and center in the minds of the leaders at this conference. Community relevance. Brand relevance. Programmatic relevance. In the end, the audience came away with some new perspectives and some questions to ponder in the months to come.

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