Less is More at Bruce Wood Dance in Dallas: In Conversation with Executive Director Gayle Halperin

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Gayle Halperin (photo: Brian Guilliaux)

Gayle Halperin is a former professional dancer and the administrative force behind Bruce Wood Dance since 2010. She is also the newest member of the MMIAM program’s International Advisory Committee. Laura Adlers interviewed her recently to learn more about Bruce Wood Dance and her role there.

Who was Bruce Wood and how was Bruce Wood Dance formed?

Bruce Wood was the heart and soul of  Bruce Wood Dance. He was a Texan, raised in Fort Worth, so after going off and establishing his career as a professional dancer, he returned to Fort Worth in his 30s and formed the Bruce Wood Dance Company, presenting its seasons out of Bass Performance Hall. He was the Artistic Director and sole choreographer, so he was creating new works specifically for the company all the time. He was very successful, the company was touring nationally. However, as the company continued to grow, funding the company became more challenging and it ended up folding in 2007.

He had made great strides with the company. They were performing four shows a year, building a new dance audience, so when the company folded there was a big gap, there was nothing comparable happening in the region. I went to speak with him and asked if he would consider beginning a new version of the company in Dallas called Bruce Wood Dance Project. This was in 2010, around the time the Dallas Arts District, the Winspear Opera House, and the Wyly Theatre had just opened.  Bruce was intrigued and appreciative of the support coming from the Dallas Arts District and started to create new works for Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the dance program at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. We were bringing Bruce Wood Dance back to life one project at a time.

Bruce Wood, Photographer Brian Guilliaux

Bruce Wood, Photographer Brian Guilliaux

In 2014, Bruce died unexpectedly and, in spite of this terrible loss, the Board of Directors decided they wanted to continue, to keep Bruce’s dance company alive and growing, so here we are today! We changed the name in 2017 to Bruce Wood Dance, at the suggestion of an agent we hired to represent us for touring and promotion.

I understand you have volunteered your services to the organization from the very beginning. Who else works with you at the company?

I started out with Bruce as his business partner, and have volunteered my time and expertise in an administrative role to this day. For the longest time, it was just Bruce and I running the organization, but I just got the official title of Executive Director last year! In fact, I am in a position to also help fund the operations of the organization, and we now have two staff members – a Development Manager and an Operations Manager. Our creative director who creates our branding and marketing collateral has been with us from the beginning. On the artistic team, we have an Artistic Director, an Artistic Advisor, a Rehearsal Director, and ten dancers – five men and five women.

RED - choreographer Bruce Wood, Lighting Designer Tony Tucci, Photographer Sharen Bradford.

RED – choreographer Bruce Wood, Lighting Designer Tony Tucci, Photographer Sharen Bradford.

What distinguishes Bruce Wood Dance from other dance companies in America?

Our mission is to harness the power of dance, to entertain, enrich and heal through all of our programs, whether they are educational outreach classes, mainstage productions, or collaboration with other Dallas arts organizations. Bruce created productions about emotional experiences that are common to our humanity and one of his many gifts was his ability to tap into the nuances of a broad range of emotions – from something that is very funny to a very intimate experience to loneliness and profound grief. His motto was “less is more”; he did not like melodrama. For him, it was about simplicity and honing a creative idea down to the essence. He believed that every audience member should be able to watch a dance performance and know what the dance was about. So we continue to perform his work, but also commission new works with choreographers who share his esthetic.

Tell us about some of your outreach programs.

We launched our first outreach dance program with the Nexus Recovery Centre, which is a facility that provides rehabilitation and housing for women who are suffering from addiction and domestic abuse. We started teaching classes there in 2014 and now teach two classes a week for most of the year. The healing aspect of dance is so important there.

When we started working at Nexus, we also provided complimentary tickets to the women we were working with and we would often have about 30 of them at our shows. This was so successful that we decided to extend this offer to a wide range of groups, from social service organizations and their clients to the Girl Scouts to middle school students! In total, we now provide about 250 tickets to the weekend productions (in a 750 capacity theatre), with the goal of making dance accessible to everyone, especially to those who may not be able to attend on their own or who may never have experienced a dance performance before.

Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?

We are such a global community these days that it is so important to understand how the arts work in other parts of the world. We are developing very strong relationships with international dance groups and moving beyond local interaction. This provides more opportunities and growth for the organization, so it is so important to understand the dynamics and necessary skills for managing the arts on a global scale.

What specific qualities do you look for when you are hiring an arts manager that are unique to the industry?

First and foremost, passion for and understanding about dance. You can certainly learn about it, but dance doesn’t receive the same level of funding as other disciplines, so it is really essential to have someone who is well connected and passionate about the dance industry and able to talk about and sell dance. You also need lots of energy and imagination and drive!

What are some of your future plans for Bruce Wood Dance?

I would really love for us to tour more in the future, across the United States and beyond. Last year, we toured quite a bit. We performed at Jacob’s Pillow last July, which was a big milestone, but to date,we have primarily toured throughout Texas. We have an agent now, so are hoping our touring activity will increase in the near future.

Bolero -- choreographer Bruce Wood, Lighting Designer Tony Tucci, Photographer Sharen Bradford res-1000

Bolero — choreographer Bruce Wood, Lighting Designer Tony Tucci, Photographer Sharen Bradford.

Learning to Slow Down and Program “With” a Rural Cultural Community: In Conversation with Marie Bobin

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Marie Bobin (Photo: Yulia Gervits).Marie Bobin is a member of the first MMIAM cohort, completing the program in 2014. She entered the program with 10 years of broad arts management experience in the United Kingdom and the United States. Marie is now living in the high desert of San Bernardino County in Southern California and working as an independent arts management consultant with an interesting range of clients. Laura Adlers interviewed Marie to learn about the challenges and opportunities that come with working in a rural cultural community.

 

What was your experience in arts management prior to applying to the program?

Prior to applying to the program, I had 10 years of experience working as an arts administrator. I started my career in the UK as the development producer for the Finborough Theatre, an Off West End venue premiering new works by emerging playwrights. When I returned to the US, I gained valuable museum experience working for the J.Paul Getty Museum’s education and registrar departments before being appointed Director of Operations and Events for the Jules Verne Film Festival’s US branch of operations.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?

Having been raised in a bi-cultural setting, I have always had a keen interest in intercultural communication. The arts’ ability to bridge cultural divides and to promote cross-cultural understanding is what first led me to pursue a B.A in Theatre Studies. With a decade of experience behind me, I realized I needed a stronger foundation in cultural policy and a broader international perspective in order to realize the kinds of projects I wanted to develop. The MMIAM program allowed me to gain policy perspective on a global scale and to learn not only from some of the best academics in the field but also from my cohort’s broad expertise.

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

After graduating from the MMIAM program, I was fortunate to work for the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles as the program specialist and later as the creative producer for the programs department. Our team was responsible for producing and programming film, theater, literary, and music festivals and events. I am grateful for this chapter in my career, working for an institution guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and fostering human connection through cultural programs that celebrate discovery and hope while helping to build a more just society.

Arts Connection Mixer. Photo: Bill Green.

Arts Connection Mixer. Photo: Bill Green.

After moving to the high desert of San Bernardino County in Southern California, bordered by Joshua Tree National Park, I started working as a freelance producer and cultural programmer. Working as a consultant has given me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of organizations and to collaborate with a dynamic group of cultural organizers.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?

The first organization I started working with when I moved to the area, and continue to work with to this day, is Harrison House Music, Arts & Ecology, a residency and performance program for international artists and environmental activists based in the late American composer Lou Harrison’s desert retreat in Joshua Tree. The residency program awards great minds with the time to create and share their best work in a historic and inspiring setting.

I am also working with the Palm Springs Dance Festival. Now in its third year, the festival producers approached me to help broaden their programming with a dance film series. Our aim for the inaugural Dance on Film program was two-fold: 1) to lower the perceived barrier to entry and introduce new audiences to dance via the medium of film, and 2) to showcase the cross-cultural and intergenerational power of dance. I am thrilled with the line-up, which meets these goals and I can’t wait to share it with our new and returning audiences.

Looking ahead, I recently completed a National Endowment for the Arts grant proposal to produce a month-long NEA Big Read program in the high desert in the Fall of 2019. Although the grant awards will not be determinded until April, the grant process itself was an enriching experience. Working with Arts Connection, the Arts Council of San Bernardino, we were able to bring together 25 partner organizations to participate in two dozen programs. It’s a huge community effort which will help promote literacy and the arts while creating opportunities for residents to gather, connect, and participate in free cultural programs throughout the region.

What is one of the greatest challenges you face as an arts manager in your cultural community? How are you addressing these challenges?

As a producer working in a rural or non-metropolitan community for the first time, I have had to make a conscious effort to slow down and spend time truly understanding the needs of my community and how my skills can support those needs. Whether one is working in a rural or urban setting, it is crucial to distinguish between programming “at” a community versus programming “with” a community. It’s for this reason that I decided the NEA Big Read would be a valuable first large-scale community-wide program that would help showcase some of the vibrant work local artists and organizations are already engaged in.

What did you gain personally and professionally from studying in four different countries with students from around the world?

The program’s theoretical coursework in every arts management discipline, coupled with field work and lectures by international arts leaders, provided me with a strong foundation in cultural management. It also gifted me a family of colleagues from whom I continue to learn and with whom I am hoping to plan future collaborations.

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The members of the first MMIAM cohort in Milan, Italy.

How did your studies in international arts management change your perspective of arts management practices in your home country?

It was truly daunting to understand on a micro level how our European and Latin-American colleagues don’t face the same continous struggle in needing to defend and promote the value of the arts. There is a deeper intrinsic understanding of the “why” in other countries around the world, as well as a stronger integration of arts education in national curricula. It’s for this reason that I strongly believe in and continue to produce intergenerational events, giving the next generation a chance to experience the arts at a young age.

Customer Relationships in Arts Marketing: A Review of Key Dimensions in Delivery by Artistic and Cultural Organizations (Abridged)

by François Colbert and Danilo C. Dantas

What do we know about the customer relationship in arts management? What role does relational marketing play in cultural organizations? What are the avenues worth exploring in this field? These are the main questions addressed in this article.

There are few fields where the customer relationship is more crucially important than in the arts and cultural sector. But there are several dimensions to this relationship. The quality of the artistic product no longer suffices. In today’s hyper competitive marketplace, the sheer variety and quality of offerings vying for consumers’ attention have forced arts organizations to invest in other aspects of the customer experience. For example, the success of the Tessitura database illustrates how arts and cultural organizations can improve the customer experience and build a stronger relationship with consumers. The development of new audiences also relies on a deeper understanding of their expectations and behaviours.

The evolution of marketing and technology has inspired researchers to explore these new trends from different angles, adding to a growing body of literature. These studies on the relationship between arts organizations and their customers have sometimes produced conflicting results. This article seeks to encourage further debate on these issues by tracing the origins of this line of research and presenting an overview of the main findings thus far.

Drawing on different texts from the literature, the article first turns its attention to the use of the product orientation and market orientation in the arts and the variations in their effectiveness depending on the type of customer. The article then presents the main factors (aesthetic, social, service-related) affecting the quality of the customer experience and discusses the importance of the notion of co-creation in the cultural sector. The authors then move on to explore the role of emotions, involvement, pleasure and the quality of the customer relationship in the development of satisfaction, repurchase or recommendation intentions, and loyalty toward a cultural organization or product.

By way of conclusion, the article calls for a reflection on two crucial avenues of investigation that have received little attention to date. The first concerns the huge impact that the shifting demographics, cultural changes and technological developments of recent years have had on the different types of cultural consumers and their defining characteristics. An investigation of these new types of consumers that goes beyond the usual subscriber/non-subscriber dichotomy is required in order to gain a clearer understanding of the type of relationship they want to establish with the cultural organization. Second, in a context where most research in the field of arts marketing has relied on traditional methods such as surveys, qualitative interviews and observation, this article invites researchers to adopt innovative approaches in their research into the relationship between consumers and arts organizations. Longitudinal studies, for example, could help us better understand the evolution of the relationship between a group of customers and a specific organization. Moreover, neurophysiological methods such as eye tracking and analysis of facial micro-expressions could afford better insight into the reactions of consumers to specific changes in the artistic experience. These new avenues of research offer researchers a valuable opportunity to design innovative and impactful studies that will improve our comprehension of the customer relationship in the field of arts and cultural marketing.

Read the full article in the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 21, Number 2, Winter 2019.