Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sing for your supper

My latest obsession is to find successful models for the development of a community that involve a major cultural expression alongside of the commercial development.

One of our Advisory Board members took Andy and me to Jersey City a couple weeks ago to check out Mana Contemporary.  http://www.manafinearts.com/   "Advancing Relationships and creating a single community" sounded right up our alley.

Mana started as a moving/storing company of fine art and they bought an old factory (as well as other buildings) in Jersey City and turned it into this wonderful 6 story cultural center. They store fine art on one floor in a state-of-the-art warehouse (that is their commercial side), they have a gallery on the 6th floor (pix below) of wonderful artwork and two floors of artist studios (which are completely rented out and have a waiting list-also commercial) and they give some non profits the chance to use their huge rooms for dance, exhibits etc.  They are putting in a little shop for artist materials (commercial) There is even a wonderful cafe that has juice, muffins, sandwiches, coffee and great cookies.   All in this one super large space. Artwork that can be viewed (but not a museum), side by side with commercial use.

A cool part is that a lot of the employees are also...the artists!  So the security guard, front door receptionist, etc, are actually some of the artists that display in the building! They have a "stake" in the success of the venture.

We got a great tour of the building and also heard about upcoming free fine art events.

Now, I am biased, but I think if they are doing that well, about the same distance from NYC as Stamford, why wouldn't a performing arts organization be able to do even better in a building that that performing arts group helps to manage? Sort of like when you are the caretaker for a mansion and you live there in exchange for running the place in a commercial type way.

Be in charge of renting it out to other performing groups, events, non profit galas, dance studios, choir competitions and concerts, bands, photography groups, corporate trainings and so on to make money for the owner.  That can be the commercial side. Especially if it's a space that has a theatre stage, pull down screen etc, and also removable seats.  The theatre helps to book it out for free since they "live" there.  Then that theatre group can do their season of shows there too.  Many of the booked groups would be staying overnight or bringing business to the area and can stay at the nearby hotel. Obviously so would the theatre's shows.

Not only that, the theatre company could be the "entertainment division" of the owner of that building or corporation and be able to help with booking stars, or performers for anything that corporation needs. Working hand in hand with the event planner and freeing up some time for them.  Kind of like singing for your supper.  AND what if they had a series of classes to offer the employees of that corporation/landowner like "Public speaking" or "Professional look" or whatever was needed. Free for them because, we live there.

Add to this the fact that this theatre has major credits in working with Non profits. So they can be the sponsoring corporation's "Charity Navigator" and make them look really good just by doing what they always do, which is entertain and help raise funds for other non profits.  The corporations name is always attached now to any non profit work that the theatre does thus increasing their "reach" of goodwill.

The same way Mana combines their commercial use and their non profit art in one space, is one model I find impressive and successful and that can be applied to theatre.  If you expand the idea of what "theatre" can be for a community and you let them Sing for their Supper.  

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