More Impact Of The Economy Conversation

Yesterday, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters had a follow up to the conference call on the economy I listened in on in December. Given that there weren’t enough phone lines to accommodate all those who wanted to attend, this time they employed a webinar format so people could attend online. You either listen directly or download the web session.

The call is about 90 minutes long and many on the panel mention strategies and opportunities people can take. What caught my ear and interest were the approach to programming described by Marilyn Santarelli, Executive Director of the F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. She talks about how she is re-negotiating payments to artists per Numa Saisselin’s suggestions in “Arts Presenting Is Dead.”

As Saisselin suggests, she goes to the artists and talks about their sales to date, their marketing efforts and are honest about their break even point. They asked that the artist share in the risk and lower their price. They proposed that after reaching the break even point, they would start to restore to the artist “dollar for dollar from the first dollar whatever discount you gave to us.” She found the artists that bought in to this option worked harder to help promote the show with more interviews, b-roll, etc. The alternative, she told them, was canceling the show.

It sounded as if they had only done this starting last December. I am curious to know if this inhibits her planning for her upcoming season as artists and agents worry that what they initially negotiate may not be final. Likewise, would they be more open to booking with someone who has a workable alternative to cancellation if things go poorly.

She also talked about their ticket sales strategy. Her organization is discounting early in the season and offering discounts to a wider variety of people including subscribers and sponsors. I am not sure, but it sounded as if they were expanding the groups of people who are eligible for discounts. As the season goes on, the prices will go up. She hopes if they message this approach correctly, people will buy early realizing they are getting a bargain. No mention of whether they were loosening their exchange policy for people who committed early. The Kirby Center has only implemented this on a few show so far and did so because 60% of their sales were happening in the last few weeks. I suspect that this approach will vary in success from community to community and some will still rather wait and see than to buy now and that the higher price closer to the date may prove a disincentive to those with many options.

These are just some of the strategies and opportunities being employed that are mentioned in the webinar. If you are eager for a little guidance, give it a listen.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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