Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mixing with the Majors

Posted by Bruce Miller
Twenty-one nonprofit arts organizations with annual operating budgets in excess of $1,000,000 currently receive funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. These 21 organizations are referred to by the VCA as "the majors." They are invited to come together twice a year for roundtable discussions concerning the events, policies and practices that most effect the arts industry in Virginia.

In Central Virginia, the majors include Barksdale Theatre, the Richmond Ballet, the Richmond Symphony, Theatre IV, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and the Virginia Opera, which is headquartered in Norfolk but has a strong Richmond presence.

The first of the two annual roundtable discussions takes place each year in January in Richmond in association with the annual ArtWorks for Virginia Conference and Arts Advocacy Day at the State Capitol. I was asked by Peggy Baggett, our extraordinary Executive Director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, to moderate this year's January meeting.

This past Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., it was my privilege to facilitate a healthy, robust conversation among a roomful of the Virginia arts administrators whom I most admire. The last time I was asked to moderate was May 2007.

It's very energizing and great fun to direct and structure a spirited debate involving the likes of David Fisk (Executive Director of the Richmond Symphony), Gus Stuhlreyer (General Director and CEO of the Virginia Opera), Keith Martin (Managing Director, Richmond Ballet), Keith Stava (Managing Director, Virginia Stage Company), Evalyn Baron (Director of Outreach, Barter Theatre), Jo Kennedy (President and CEO, Visual Arts Center of Richmond), Rob Cross (Executive and Artistic Director, Virginia Arts Festival), Bill Hennessy (Director, Chrystler Museum of Art), Elizabeth Murphy (Executive Director, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra), Beth Pline (Executive Director, Roanoke Symphony Orchestra), Phil Whiteway (Managing Director, Barksdale and Theatre IV), and several others whom I know less well.

At Thursday's meeting, Peggy Baggett began by explaining how and why the Commission viewed Virginia's upcoming Minds Wide Open celebration to be a success. Keith Martin followed with a power point presentation outlining the details of Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts. Then Gus Stuhlreyer, newly appointed chair of the 2012 Minds Wide Open planning committee, led a discussion of possible themes.

After lunch, I led sessions on various leadership initiatives that the majors could consider for future implementation, statewide reaction to the recent NEA study regarding arts attentance, and potential dates and locations for our summer/fall meeting.

The arts are a two billion dollar industry in Virginia. The overall goal of the majors rountables is to determine the best ways for our states most prominent arts professionals to work together to transform our industry into a force that both the general public and the state legislature will understand, appreciate and respect.

Many thanks to David Fisk for hosting last week's meeting at the Symphony's new digs at CenterStage. It was rewarding to connect again with others who care so passionately about the arts in Virginia.

--Bruce Miller

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