Columbia Festival of the Arts Gives Audience a Say in the Show
The nonprofit organization is surveying community members about lineup for the next installment of annual event.
A book is but a collection of words, a play a collection of scenes, a song a collection of notes.
Columbia Festival of the Arts, then, is an annual collection of concerts, exhibits, performances and shows. And for next year's festival, the prospective audience will have some say in just what that collection should be made out of.
"We're not sitting in an ivory tower saying, 'I'd like to present this or that act this year,' " said Nichole Hickey, the organization's executive director. "We're staying in touch with the audience to ensure that the programming we're putting together is what they want."
The festival is staying in touch with the audience by inviting small groups of people to give their opinions.
One gathering held in September brought in individual donors and representatives from the festival's sponsors. And the most recent get-together, held Thursday in Columbia, solicited the input of members of the Howard County Young Professionals Network.
Each event included performances: September's had a trio of musicians play for 20 minutes, and on Thursday an improvisational comedy group from Howard Community College put on a brief show.
In a way, these meetings serve two purposes. While surveying groups about the festival's lineup is the most important element, the organization can simultaneously nurture its relationships with donors and sponsors.
"We are a nonprofit. What we do and bring in terms of the programming is entirely dependent on grants, corporate donations or sponsorships, individual donations and then our earned revenue," Hickey said. "And our earned revenue is a very small piece of what we have to bring in to put on 16 days [of programming] every year."
How important are these sponsorships? Ticket prices for shows at the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts, located at Wilde Lake High School, are "totally underwritten" by them, Hickey said.
"The reality is when we have a 739-seat theater, to bring in even a Smothers Brothers or a Wynton Marsalis, the price of the tickets have to be underwritten," she said. "Otherwise we'd be charging more than $100 a ticket, and the most we've ever charged is $65."
Columbia Festival of the Arts staff held three get-togethers on a trial basis before the 2010 festival. There are more planned in advance of the 2011 festival, which is scheduled to run June 10 through June 25.
There will a third get-together in December, which will include a performance from high-school madrigals singers. There could be more next year, too.
The final festival lineup decisions are made by the end of February.
Hickey also welcomed public input via e-mail at email@example.com, though she did ask people to be realistic with their wish lists.
"When people say 'I'd like you to bring the Dave Matthews Band,' that's not a reality," she said. "Think in terms of reality, of the size of the theater we have. Look at where certain acts tend to play."
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