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Trends and Strategies Discussed at 2012 EALS

By Steven Dawson

2012 EALS

Photo of Adrian Ellis by Jeff Watts

On Sunday, April 15, the fifth annual Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium (EALS) was held at American University. The symposium, which is an annual meeting of emerging and established arts professionals to discuss current and future strategies and trends in the arts, was the largest and most successful yet. Over 150 attendees, panelists, and guest speakers arrived at Katzen Arts Center to begin their day of discussions.

The day started with a plenary address by Chad Bauman, the new director of marketing and membership for the Smithsonian Institute. Until just recently, Bauman was the communications director for Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre. Known throughout the industry for his cutting-edge marketing and sales strategies, he was a big get for the EALS staff. In his address, Bauman spoke from his past experiences and challenged the notions of late discounts and the push for new audiences. Both, he claimed, while important, are a quick way to lose the audience you have. “You can try so hard to bring people in the front door that you let your current patrons walk out the back door,” he said.

Immediately after the opening plenary, the conference attendees joined one of two breakout panels. One was “Hitting the Target Audience: Keeping up with Market Trends,” which included some of the greatest minds in arts marketing today. The other breakout session was “Re-working the Startup,” in which panelists discussed such issues as competition for funding, growing a startup organization, and the decision to begin anew rather than join with another established organization.

After lunch, the attendees returned for another round of breakout sessions. The first of these afternoon session was “Beyond the Bottom Line: Running a Non-Profit in a For-Profit World,” in which panelists discussed issues like changing funding structures, trends toward self-reliability (ticket sales), and corporate partnerships. The second afternoon panel was “Creative Collaborations: What Works?” Here, panelists discussed the new importance of working together and partnering with outside organizations in order to fulfill one’s mission and even survive. They shared stories of successes as well as failures, and they shared ideas on how to create partnerships. The third choice for this session was “Universal Visions: International Arts Management.” Some of the issues addressed here were cultural diplomacy in a nation that has no single cultural ministry, intercultural exchanges in an increasingly connected world, and overcoming cultural and policy barriers.

After a break came the feature panel, “Arts Advocacy 101: Learn the Language.” In this panel, the guests discussed the proper language, techniques, and strategies needed to effectively advocate for the arts in every field. The all-star panel included moderator Anne L’Ecuyer, the owner of Washington Writer’s Retreat and former associate vice president for Field Services at Americans for the Arts, Robert Bettmann, the director of DC Advocates for the Arts, Jeff Herrmann, the managing director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Jonathan Katz, the CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and Andrea Kreuzer, the program associate for research and policy at the Arts Education Partnership.

The final keynote address was given by Adrian Ellis, formerly of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the founder of AEA Consulting. The arts management giant identified what he sees as the key trends affecting the cultural sector in the United States and the strategic responses that are likely to be required. He also discussed some of the challenges arts managers face in implementing these responses.

The day wrapped up with a networking reception that allowed current students and young professionals to rub elbows with the arts leaders and talk about topics specific to their work and experience. The EALS planning committee was proud that they were able to put together this veritable “who’s who” professionals, and they’re already working on improving and planning next year’s symposium.