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Strategic Planning Considerations for the Future of the Arts

Thistle's the Way on Blogger

Musings by the Executive Director of the San Angelo Performing Arts Center.

Leaving the Army after 22 years and somehow ending up in performing arts venue management may seem like two sides of two different rocks, but actually they are similar in many ways. Strategic planning, for example--not the strategic plan for a fiscal year, but the 5-10 year planning required to meet the needs of a future development--is common to both.
Who on an Army staff doesn't like strategic planning? It is one of the most fun and engaging activities that an officer can do during their career. I jest of course. Strategic planning can be daunting, ponderous, complex, and unfinished. In the performing arts and non-profit world, strategic planning are all those things and more. In San Angelo, for example, we have to consider many factors such as the planned extension of the interstate, transition of organizational leadership, developments in other nearby cities, and the shifting trends in audience interests.
At the forefront of all the variables, however, is the planned extension of the interstate(s). This nebulous evolution of the transportation network will potentially change the landscape of performing art in West Texas quite significantly.
For example, it could bring more tourism to the city, in which case we have to be poised for that growth and consider whether we have the facilities, sites and events to accommodate adventurous travelers. It's something I think about everyday. Do we have a common vision for what our city will offer tourists so that they spend a couple days here, or will we merely be a rest stop for them onto places like Abilene, Amarillo, or Lubbock?
Other cities, like Abilene are getting prepared for this eventuality. Last year, the City of Abilene entered a seven year contract with ASM-Global to manage their convention center. ASM-Global is the same venue management company that oversees the daily operations of Wagner Noel PAC in Midland and the Buddy Holly Hall in Lubbock. Between the three, they have formed a triangle of live entertainment in West Texas that has never existed before.
It is a great strategic development because each city is approximately 2 hours from the other allowing for tours to come through and hit multiple cities. Moreover, ASM-Global works with Live Nation and Broadway promoters so there will be bigger shows regionally.
Moreover, if we look at how the Hotel Occupancy Tax funds are used in each city, they are all highlighted as a successful examples on the Texans for the Arts HOT Funds Tool Kit for Municipalities. 
Investing in the Arts always pays off, and you can see this not just in West Texas but in places as remote as Padukah, KY or Fayetteville, AR.  In Padukah, KY, their success story revolves around the Market House Theatre that went from a single building to over 11 spaces in their historic downtown.  Whereas in Fayetteville, AR, the success of the performing arts is driven by collaboration between Walmart, the City and surrounding communities, along with arts leaders.  When I visited Fayetteville for an International Venue Association of Venue Managers conference, the key word I remember was 'intentionality' in planning and ensuring a cohesive vision for Northwest Arkansas.
So as I enter into my third year as Director at SAPAC, I am looking forward to where San Angelo will be in 5-10 years. But I also wonder, are we ready collectively for the future?  There is a lot of work to be done, but we can use a lot of existing examples to make sure we are poised for the next decade.