Last Tuesday, the Kennedy Center announced its 2010-2011 season. It includes a broad mix of accessible and challenging art, theater, music and dance, American and international performers. Everything from the debut of the National Symphony Orchestra's Music Director Christoph Eschenbach to a new production of Sondheim's Follies, from a Festival of India to a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President Kennedy. The range of artists appearing is startling: Renée Fleming, Mariinsky Ballet, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Patti LuPone, Anat Cohen, Lang Lang, and Peter Brook, among many others.
I had the idea to announce our entire season at once when I first arrived at the Kennedy Center in 2001. In prior years, every art form announced its programming separately. As a result, the press, public and donor attention was minimal. I believed that the richness of our programming was only evident when you examine the entire array of artists and art forms.
Today, our press announcement is a major event on our annual calendar. The list of over 1,000 performances we produce and present--there are another 1,000 performances presented by others--is eagerly awaited. We have a donor event the night before in my apartment to give a few major sponsors a preview of the season. My entire staff joins the press in our Family Theater to hear the announcement which is broadcast live on the Internet. And a lunch is held immediately after where the press can discuss the season with our numerous programmers.
Why is this relevant to anyone but the Kennedy Center? Because it is an inexpensive event that builds our reputation and our sense of community. The staff is energized, the press is (hopefully) impressed, our donors feel special and proud and the richness of our programming is on show for anyone who cares to visit our web site. (We also e-mail a season advertisement to hundreds of thousands of members of the community.)
Any arts organization can create an event that does not cost much but adds to institutional image. It need not be a season announcement. It can be a lecture or master class series, an exhibition from the archives, a performance at an important local political event or a local sports hero participating in an educational event, or... The limit is only the creativity, connections and assets of the organization. The visibility of the project can have a major impact on the way the organization is perceived and therefore on its revenue potential.
But beware. No one event has a sustaining impact. We must create the next project and the next and the next. I believe that every small or mid-sized organization should have three or four truly special events a year; larger organizations need one a month or so to build enough interest. If we can do this consistently, the 'family' we build grows, as does our vitality.
I am confident that our season announcement last week will help us create the revenue we need to implement it. Now we move on to the next event, and the next, and the next.