Dayton has a really eclectic arts scene (kudos to Ron Rollins for encapsulating it so well in his final Culture Clash). There are fantastic professional and community arts opportunities available every weekend all across the region. Dayton has been ranked number one for arts and culture among mid-sized cities AND is in the top 20 cultural bargains for high-quality arts at low prices (Cities Ranked and Rated, 2007). We have unique opportunities that put the region on the national stage (besides Kent from SYTYCD) and people from outside Dayton are sometimes more aware of the quality of art produced here than we are. Just consider this article by a NY critic on the Dayton Playhouse FutureFest or this one on the prestigious Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
Unfortunately, many locals may not appreciate the regional arts scene as much as outsiders do. And this is a thorn in the side of local arts marketing directors who are trying to share quality arts with the community. This problem is compounded when these same marketing directors look out into the sea of grey hair in the audiences and know that their most ardent supporters are aging. The National Endowment for the Arts released a study last year highlighting that audiences for live arts experiences are getting older (while the numbers of attendees continue to decline). They posit, “Aging audiences are a long-term trend. Performing arts attendees are increasingly older than the average U.S. adult (45). The aging of the baby boom generation does not appear to account for the overall increase in age.”
So – if the problem is that young people don’t go out to the arts enough, I want to know what DOES get YPs to arts events. Taking a very unscientific poll (asking people I know), I learned there are a lot of different reasons people hit the town for some arts:
- Elizabeth Farley, 30-something YP who lives at the Greene and works at Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, heads out for a night of arts as a reason to get dressed up, have a big night out with the boyfriend, and because she grew up appreciating the classical arts. She recommends the DPO for conductor Neal Gittleman’s conversational insights and the Dayton Art Institute for its extensive collection.
- Mark Hepp, 30-ish YP living in Belmont and working at the Base, explores the arts because he likes the personal aspects of live entertainment. He enjoys the “unpolished and uniqueness of the local arts” versus commercial main stream entertainment. He points out that he’s gone to some shows and exhibits that were not to his liking, but those experiences gave him more appreciation for the events he does like. His favorite spots include the Schuster Center & Wiley’s Comedy Club.
- Frank Sawyer, 20-ish Centerville resident who works for Premier Health Partners, enjoys the arts as a way to network with individuals from various walks of life. He says, “The beauty is that you get to be surrounded by a full cross section of the Dayton community.” He always tries to hit Urban Nights and the various holiday celebrations. He asks, “What better way to get in the holiday spirit?”
- Kristen Kaltenstein, 20-something Standard Register employee who lives Dayton, goes to the arts because she’s “always looking for something new.” For her, the arts in Dayton provide the entertainment and substance that keep nights interesting. She names the annual CityFolk Festival as one of her favorite events each year.
So there are obviously a LOT of different reasons and tastes among 20- and 30-somethings in our region. Who’s going to reach out to them all? There are two groups trying: Dayton Ballet Barre and JumpstART.
The Dayton Ballet Barre is for you if you are under 45 and interested in great ballet and fun social opportunities. (This group wins the prize for my favorite YP use of homophone.) I spoke to Jim Butler, the President of the Associate Board for some insights into what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and the value they are providing to their members and the region. With multiple levels of involvement/membership available – you can be a member of the Barre for purely social activities ($50 membership fee) or join the Dayton Ballet Associate Board if you have a little time to volunteer to this great cause. And I mean a *little* time – If you can give a couple hours a year, they’ll take your help. Butler emphasizes that “you can be as involved as your schedule allows.” (NOTE: There are lots of different levels of involvement with this group, but for the sake of this story, I’ll refer to everything as the Barre. Check out their Web site for more info.)
The Barre was created specifically to support the Dayton Ballet – the second oldest ballet company in the country. A quick look at the Web site taught me that the Dayton Ballet is “one of the top three dance companies in the nation that produces and presents new work, and the only dance company to establish a fund designated specifically to create a new full-length 21st Century ballet.” Some serious national attention, the creation of new works, and some ridiculously talented young performers should lead to a lot of YP audience members, right? Wrong. But the Barre is working to change that.
Butler was asked to join the Barre in 2006 by a friend; over time he was asked to join the Associate Board. He believes that the Barre wasn’t really “getting the job done” because they weren’t getting more people out to experience the Dayton Ballet. These YPs took their mission seriously, and gave themselves the charge to make a real difference by coming up with a specific plan.
The Barre now utilizes a “gradual exposure” strategy to get attention for the Ballet through non-ballet events. A look at the monthly YP round-ups will show you that they host Barre Crawls through the Oregon District, family picnics (kid-friendly!), volunteer opportunities, fashion shows and more. Two of their largest yearly events include the upcoming British Bash in August and “Cocktails with Santa” in conjunction with the December performance of The Nutcracker. Butler acknowledges that ballet is an acquired taste and he believes that the “initial viewing isn’t enough to ‘hook’ patrons.” Through a very specific marketing plan which includes great social events, discounted ballet tickets, opportunities to meet the dancers and choreographers, and fun networking opportunities – they are introducing YPs to the Ballet.
Diane Shoeffler-Warren, who doubles as the PR and Marketing Managers for both Dayton Ballet and the Victoria explained the impact of the Barre. “Young professional organizations such as the Ballet Barre, infuse a specific energy into our audiences and assist in creating arts experiences that attract a younger demographic. Both Dayton Ballet and Victoria Theatre Association (VTA) use programming to attract younger audiences to expose them to a specific art form. Specifically, Dayton Ballet Barre has provided an avenue for young professionals to enjoy ballet productions with friends and colleagues in a fun, social setting. The Ballet Barre also strives to create support off the stage by hosting events linked to performances such as the Sugar Plum Tea (The Nutcracker) and post-performance parties, like LOVE BITES, held after the February 2010 performance of Dracula. They are a valuable resource to Dayton Ballet.”
The Barres hopes to grow to 1000 members by June 2011 with the ambitious goal of generating a broad-based core of arts supporters to double season ticket subscriptions for the Dayton Ballet. If you want to learn more or join the Barre – check out their membership page.
JumpstART has a similar mission, although it casts a much wider arts net – including visual arts, performance arts, theatre, dance, vocal, comedy, and more. As the activity arm of the Culture Works Associate Board, JumpstART provides a no membership/no fee way for YPs to explore the arts through ticket deals, event packages, and social outings to experience the arts together. Want to “join” JumpstART – you only need to like them on the Facebook page – JumpstART is all about communication, providing you with ticket deals, and hooking you into the overall arts scene.
The history of JumpstART doesn’t go back very far. They first met in the Spring of 2009 when Culture Works determined that they wanted to get more YPs plugged into the arts scene. That summer they launched a survey, and the results demonstrated that even though YPs give Dayton credit for a great arts scene, they weren’t attending arts events for three main reasons – lack of knowledge about events, misconceptions about the accessibility of arts events and concern over cost. With survey results in hand, they knew what they had to do. So, JumpstART responded with a three-tiered approach is to host events that are easy to attend, affordable, and well-publicized. Working with the local arts groups, restaurants and bars, JumpstART puts together monthly ticket deals – called “jumps” – to meet YPs where they are and incorporate arts into the evening. (Example: at a recent “jump,” Boston’s Bistro and Pub provided pizza and beer and DPO offered a deeply discounted concert ticket for a total price of $10 for an after-work event.)
In addition to hosting events, JumpstART is working to remove the stigma of the arts as stuffy or high-brow. They have begun posting “first-person reviews” of arts events on their Facebook page and even at DMM. These reviews include what people wore to the theatre, where they parked, if they got dinner before or drinks afterward, and what they generally thought about the event. You can always read a review from a seasoned critic in the paper, but sometimes in order to feel like you belong at the event, it’s nice to know what your peers are doing. Too often, people who haven’t been to the theatre don’t want to go b/c they don’t know what to expect. These reviews provide the insight on what you’ll see and if it’s worth your time.
The Facebook page also alerts fans to affordable events, opportunities that may be “off-the-beaten path,” or really worthwhile shows. They are aware that the more “formal” arts venues may not be for everyone, so they also highlight free shows, grassroots arts organizations, and the wide range of eclectic arts offerings across the region. Many YPs may not be averse to arts experiences in general, but may be looking for more accessible opportunities highlighting young, local artists. As a main pillar of JumpstART, they’re focused on communication and letting YPs know that there’s room for them at the arts table – whether it’s through the classical arts or newer grassroots experiences.
Currently, JumpstART is in the process of reformatting the organizational structure. JumpstART steering committee member Shannon Bockelman invites more people to become “jumpers.” Bockelman says, “We’re looking for YPs who want the opportunity to make a difference in the community through the arts. The Associate Board is a way for people to come to four meetings a year, come to some fun events, grow their leadership skills, and make an impact on the community.” The Steering Committee will continue to plan the “jumps,” but they are looking to grow the Associate Board to help spread the word about these opportunities. They are sticking to their no-membership motto, so fees and attendance obligations don’t get in the way of anyone coming to JumpstART events. But if you’re looking to become a part of the Associate Board, meet new people, and help spread the word about the arts in the region, be in touch with Claire Nerl at Culture Works.
Both JumpstART and the Ballet Barre are working toward a larger mission to get YPs engaged and active in the community. While city planners and economic developers work on growing the region from a business and infrastructure perspective, these groups are focused on introducing the young talent in the region to our great cultural assets. As Butler states, it’s about the quality of life; “the ultimate goal is to revitalize the community. We choose to do it through the arts.” Both groups are run by volunteers and provide excellent opportunities for leadership training, and both groups are currently looking for YPs interested in being involved (at any level). Although they are two unique organizations, since they have similar missions, you’ll see joint events, collaborations, and cross-promotion coming up as they continue to build their relationship for the betterment of the arts and the region.
Dayton Ballet Barre
July 25: Ballet Barre Picnic
August 4: Ballet Barre Meeting – These are always open for new members.
August 14: Ballet Barre British Bash
September 1: Ballet Barre Meeting
September 18: Ballet Barre – Fashion Runway Show
August 11: JumpstART meeting – Want to learn more? Email CNerl@cultureworks.org
August Jump (Date TBD): Encore Theatre Company Next Thing You Know
September 16: Jump into the DAI: Modern Masters
(DISCLOSURE: I’m the chair of the Culture Works Associate Board and help to plan many of the JumpstART events.)