Theatre Voice

·  1.) Tell us something of your background and how you came to the rep.

·  2.) What advice do you have about building audiences in Nashvillle?

I served as executive director of Tennessee Arts Commission for 15 years starting in 1984. After I retired, I became the executive vice president for institutional advancement at TPAC. Primarily I did fundraising, but my goal was to find ways to bring the synergy of fundraising (development) together with the synergies of marketing and the education program. Easier to do there with fundraising and education because they were physically close in the office, I have some arts in education experience, and most of TPAC’s fundraising centered on its education program, not its presenting or facilities roles. The aim was to position TPAC as the center of performing arts in Nashville, not just a building, but an important cultural institution. I spent a fair amount of time talking about and doing things that provided “value added” to donors and subscribers, e.g., a bigger and stronger adult learners program that encouraged experiences within the creative process. My fancy title was fairly unused when I started in 1999; now I see institutional advancement directors everywhere. Where were they when I was trying to figure out what-the-hell I was doing?

“Audience Development” and “Institutional Advancement” probably are defined differently in different organizations.

Here at Tennessee Rep “Audience Development” means again not just responsibilities for the daily functions of marketing, fundraising, public relations, and education and outreach activities – but also as a philosophical umbrella. All of those areas must work independently and together to reach potential audience members, engage them with the products and mission of the organization, and give them access to the creative process, local professional artists, and life-enhancing experiences. It's not just wearing many different hats, it's creating a new hat, a couture hat, if you will, that uses all the elements of the different hats and makes people notice you! (Or in this case, notice your product).

Although Tennessee Rep is more than 20 years old, it currently is in a re-building phase, almost like an old start-up (which might be a good description for me!) company. Tough artistic and financial decisions and challenges require the company to seek a more “professional regional theatre” artistic mission and an audience for fewer musicals and more recent contemporary works and unconventional stagings of older works. We have focused a lot of energy on connecting with potential audience members through the Internet and through more face-to-face opportunities to experience the creative process and see Tennessee Rep not as a cultural institution but as a community institution. I am out there on the street and at all sorts of arts and civic and community activities, if they will let me in!

The job title might better be “relationship building” and it is probably best done by those who are passionate about the arts or an art form, but maybe not artists themselves. (This is probably another discussion topic altogether.) Some artists are wonderful for one-on-ones and small gatherings. Some are not. Some don’t mind the 7:30 AM meetings and the constant social, political, and sales networking that comes with audience building. Some do. Some cannot live with the rejection that comes with relationship building vis a vis fundraising and marketing. Probably artists have all the rejection they need. It’s a basic element in the arts unless you are an artist in a vacuum, like Emily Dickinson. Fortunately, I have no artistic talent. I push the paper, tote the load, etc., behind the scenes.

If people experience excellent product and they have education and outreach opportunities to connect with us, they will buy more tickets and donate – and that will help us stay alive. And perhaps grow. It’s the Nashville way. Still small enough to meet and greet almost everyone! But more specifically, I think websites and organizations like the following can push audience builders out of our boxes:,,, ArtsReach magazine. No shortage of ideas, just time and energy and money, of course. Did I mention how much easier audience building is with a little money?

Tennessee Repertory

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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