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Accounting for Change at Repertory Dance Theater, part 2

Accounting for Change at Repertory Dance Theater, part 2

By Joanna L. Johnston, MBA, CPA
RDT Board Treasurer and UACPA Non-Profit Committee Member

This article was originally published in The Journal Entry, a publication of the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants. Writes Joanna, “Since this article was published in 2014, I’ve learned so much more about Repertory Dance Theatre and the art form. Consequently, I’ve re-upped for another term as a trustee of RDT’s board. This extended stay at America’s premier repertory dance company has given me added insight into the way America’s arts organizations not only survive change but thrive because of it and how accounting professionals can be a critical part of that success.”

In part 1, Joanna, a professional CPA and Repertory Dance Theatre’s current Board Treasurer, talks about the history of modern dance, RDT, and what she feels our art from offers an audience.  In this post she talks about the challenges and unique opportunities a dance company faces as it transitions staff members and strives to keep the Company and the art form moving forward.

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Like most arts organizations … RDT must compete with other performing arts companies and entertainment outlets for audiences, sponsors and donors. Throughout the last decade of economic downturns, RDT has needed to look for new ways to recruit and retain valuable corporate and foundation sponsorships. In addition, RDT has had to evaluate its financial position and cut expenses without cutting quality. Several years ago the Company reached out to the accounting community through the UACPA [Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants] in an effort to recruit CPAs for its board of trustees. Three CPAs responded, and [as of 2014] two are still serving on the board in executive positions. Having CPAs on the board has proved to be an invaluable asset. Their awareness of current tax laws and GAAP standards have helped the organization obtain refundable small business health care credits, provide assistance with reporting issues, budget and plan for cash flow fluctuations, work with auditors throughout the audit process and act as liaisons with local and state agencies concerning public funding for the arts. The administrative staff for RDT is only five full time employees, and none are accounting professionals, so it is imperative to have CPAs on the board to advise and support the staff on financial and reporting matters.

Recently, RDT has had to confront an unanticipated succession issue. RDT’s bookkeeper for the last 13 years was diagnosed with a terminal illness in June 2013. Even though the position was only part-time, she was responsible for recording all the financial transactions including receivables, payables, payroll and tax payments. She performed reconciliations and prepared financial reports for the administrative staff and the board. She was the only member of the staff who knew how to use the accounting software, print checks and prepare the financial information and reports. When Linda Smith, RDT’s Executive Director, became aware of the bookkeeper’s illness, the Company was challenged and in need of current and accurate financial information for grant proposals and end-of-year reconciliation. There was a struggle to get the books caught up while attempting to advise other members of the staff and board treasurer how to use the software to record transactions, prepare reports and print checks.

RDT wanted to honor a dedicated employee’s years of service while recruiting a new bookkeeper. A smooth transition needed to be created to keep financial continuity in the interim. I was asked as the board treasurer to step in for a two-week period to get invoices recorded, payables paid and travel per diem checks printed for the dancers going out on tour, before another bookkeeper was hired and took over. … RDT’s new bookkeeper … [had] to adjust to new software and accounting methods that function differently. It … [took] some time before the financial process … [was] running smoothly again, but with the help of experienced CPAs on the Board, the succession [was completed.]

This situation has demonstrated to the staff and board the importance of cross-training and information- sharing in a small non-profit organization. Going forward, a plan … [was] created to ensure that more than one person knows how to perform basic financial functions within the Company, and that key personnel feel comfortable sharing those duties with other members of the staff. Currently the board and administrative members of the RDT staff are formulating a strategy that incorporates segregation of duties and contingency planning to ensure accurate financial reporting and financial stability. Meanwhile, the artistic staff continues focusing on the mission of the organization which is still, [now in its 51st year] … dedicated to the creation, preservation, performance and appreciation of modern dance.

Many people confuse the non-profit status of an organization with the organization’s goals to be profitable in order to achieve its mission. Incorporating skilled accounting professionals on the staff and on the board of a non-profit arts organization like Repertory Dance Theater help ensure financial continuity while enabling the artistic staff and performers to provide quality entertainment and educational opportunities to the community.

Joanna L. Johnston, CPA is a Tax Manager at BDO USA, LLP with a passion for non-profit arts organizations. She is the Treasurer for Repertory Dance Theater, Vice-President of Finance for the Utah Wind Symphony, as well as a member of the University of Utah Business Alumni Association Board. She can be reached at jljohnston@bdo.com

Movement That Transcends its Meaning: New Work in RDT’s EMERGE

Movement That Transcends its Meaning: New Work in RDT’s EMERGE

A hand placed over your mouth …

A hand covering your eyes … your partner’s eyes …

Grabbing someone by the neck …

Imagine my joy when I get feedback on my piece saying, “Wow, you did a whole dance about the ‘forbidden’ gestures.  That was gutsy.”

Oops … I totally did.

How did this happen?  I didn’t mean to use gestures that I’ve seen a million times before–that have been done so often that they almost don’t mean a thing.

When I choreograph I usually try to keep one thing in mind DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

What does that mean exactly?  That statement is a lot harder to fulfill than it might seem–it requires that you be fully aware of your habits, your usual choices, your movement style and movement vocabulary.  It means you have to explore new musical choices, you have to break old habits, you have to push yourself to do something you find uncomfortable. It means you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to just do something different than what I’VE done before?  Do I want to do something that NO ONE has ever seen before? Do I focus on a new movement vocabulary?  A new process?”

In this day and age, that’s very hard to do–not all movements are created equal.

Contemporary dancers live in a time that is so saturated with movement that many movements or “moves” are already freighted with associations, ideas, images, or even time and place.  They become a kind of short-hand that short-circuits the creative process. Hence, the forbidden moves …

  • death drop to one knee
  • tricks/leaps/turns that we can see coming because of a preparation, a set up, or a chasse that ALWAYS comes before the trick
  • moves that are made famous in a music video and are then copied by people in every walk of life: for example, The Whip, the Dab …
  • grabbing your head in both hands and moving it in a big circle
  • reaching out into space, grabbing nothing with a pained look on your face
  • a fan kick or side tilt with your who-who-dilly directed straight at the audience
  • any of these moves by the now in-famous Contemporary Eric …

In dance we use the term “movement vocabulary.” And as with spoken language, moves (like words) can come and go, becoming fashionable and then unfashionable. And they can also lose their meaning altogether, just as words and terminology do: Who knows what the word “synergy” means these days (especially when they appear in a business book), or “surreal.” Words actually do have a denotative meaning (you can look them up in a dictionary), but they’re used so commonly (“We need to have ‘closure’.”) that terminology can become bereft of meaning, even leading, in its extremes, to what’s been called “semantic satiation.”

The same is true of vocabulary in movement or dance. There are overused phrases or words that eventually when spoken or performed no longer carry meaning or importance which have been lost over time after they were used repeatedly without focus or intent. In dance, it’s not just mindless repetition that causes this; sometimes the language loses its power when it is tied to the lyrics of a pop song or even just the crescendo of the music.  In fact, these moves can actually subtract meaning from your work by referencing something so common place, so well-known that they become virtually indecipherable.

So why on earth did I use several of them as a motifs for my duet Folie A Duex which debuts this weekend at RDT’s Emerge?

Good question. I don’t know–all I can tell you is, I wasn’t thinking about those moves as stock gestures.

It was about following an idea … a feeling–a state of being–a brief image that popped into my head, months ago, as I was thinking about this duet.

I don’t believe in questioning an idea. I simply work to fulfill that idea, and that idea comes with a movement vocabulary, a style, a series of qualities.  I work to identify those qualities and create movement, partnering, and dance structures that fit that idea.

Yes … my original idea did include these moments of touching, of covering eyes, mouths, necks, check, hips, etc.  But it was the quality of touch that was important.  It was the way the dancer made contact with themselves or their partner that caught my attention … that’s what I was exploring.  It didn’t seem to matter that I’d seen the gestures before.  Obviously, that didn’t even cross my mind.

I guess that like a creative writer, I was exploring movement language in a new way.  I was exploring the quality of the language, these moves in their purest form. They aren’t made in anger, in sadness. They aren’t moments designed to represent tenderness or compassion.

RDT Dancers Ursula Perry and Dan Higgins will perform “Folie A Duex,” an original work by Nick Cendese at EMERGE.

This is a challenge for both the dancers (Ursula & Dan) and myself. We’ve worked hard to coach one another in how we touch each other: the directness of the hand, the firmness of the touch, the way the hand doesn’t caress up the body to the place where it ends. All these gestures, when you look at them closely, have what seems to be inherent meaning.  The most basic arrangement of the duet–a man and a woman–already says so much! Humans are meaning-making creatures and we subscribe meaning to almost everything we see, even when we don’t mean to or know we are doing it.

As choreographer, I want my dancers to be able to perform these gestures, which makes up the work’s “language,” without commenting on them. If I’ve done my job properly, you won’t see the touches as the main goal of the piece. These moves that have been executed a thousand times are a recurring motif that, hopefully, has been used to paint a picture of a feeling, of a moment between two people, a moment that is intangible and diffuse and ghost-like.  A moment that lives openly and allows you, the viewer, to enter the conversation and to add your own meaning. In a sense my objective is to have the movement in “Folie A Duex” transcend the meaning of its vocabulary, something that a poet–whose tools are words drawn from the pool of vocabulary we all use–is always aspiring to.

Come see if I was able to do that this weekend at Emerge–my little duet based around forbidden movements.

RDT Gift Guide for the Dancer (or dance lover) in your life

RDT Gift Guide for the Dancer (or dance lover) in your life

the ultimate

Dance Classes

Every dancer knows that the only way to get better is to take class! Even our professional dancers take class EVERY DAY to get better, hone their skills and progress.

But you don’t have to be a professional dancer to take class. At RDT’s Dance Center on Broadway, we offer classes for every skill level (even if you’ve never set foot in a dance studio before).

All classes are in the evenings and on weekends, so they fit into your schedule and there’s no long-term commitment! You can drop in to classes as you please.
And …  there’s everything from Modern to Hip Hop to the newly formed Bollywood class!
Check out the full schedule here.

A 10-Class punch-card is good for any class on the schedule and the best bang for your buck.

Purchase Now

 

If you’d like to purchase a gift card for your loved one in a denomination other than $100, contact us. 🙂

And … if you can’t decide, check out the OPEN HOUSE on January 7. You can dance all day for just $10! Learn more>>


Concert Dance Tickets

Not everyone wants to try dance — they’d rather just watch. And who’s to blame them? Beautiful bodies moving beautifully on stage is really a sight to behold.
Well … you’ve come to the right place. This is our specialty. 😉

RDT has a incredible shows coming up that you won’t want to miss.

For the wild spirit: EMERGEEMERGE_DATE

EMERGE is RDT’s dance choreography showcase, featuring 8 dances by the RDT dancers and Artistic Staff. Dances feature local artists as well as RDT dancers.
It’s the place to be to see the next generation of choreographers. BUY TICKETS HERE>>

For the party animal: REGALIA

REGALIA is not only a choreographic spectacle, but an awesome party! With a VIP ticket  you and your guest will enjoy a generous cocktail hour while you wander the studios of the Rose Wagner to watch dance being created before your very eyes.
Then you’ll devour a scrumptious meal catered by Utah Food Services in the Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre.
Then it’s time to watch the newly created REGALIA_datedances on stage by 4 competing choreographers who have been selected for the experience, artistry, and wit.
After which you get to vote for your favorite to win an RDT commission for next year!
Afterwards, join the whole cast and audience on stage to dance the night away with the Joe Muscolino Band.
A seriously awesome evening.

BUY TICKETS HERE>>

Not quite in your price range? Check out the Performance Ticket for just $50. You’ll see the full performance and get to dance on stage after the show!

 

15109588_10154192988690197_7574637109403919961_nFor the undecided: ArtTix Gift card

You can purchase ArtTix gift cards so they can choose the RDT show they want to see!

Click here to purchase


 RDT-79_dan_winterdanceWinter Workshop

For the semi-professional/pre-professional dancer in your life. Check out WINTERDANCE, for the dancer who is really serious.
Students will work with RDT dancers in technique, improv, composition, and … even learn a piece to perform at RDT’s concert EMERGE, January 6-7!

Learn more>>

 


 Kneeotech Yoga/Dance Pants

If you’ve ever taken a dance class, you’ve probably had some aches in your knees. Kneeotech by Evolution Activewear has the solution. Their stylish yoga pants have knee-pads built right in. So you can take yourself to the floor with ease and not worry about your knees turning as purple as RDT’s logo. 😉

RDT endorses Kneeotech and loves wearing these awesome pants in rehearsal. Check out the RDT dancers trying them out!

LEARN MORE & PURCHASE


Support Everyone’s Favorite Dance Company

While everyone loves getting “things” …  sometimes the gift that means the most is the gift of giving back.
If RDT means a lot to you (or someone you care about), consider making a donation to help us continue to create, preserve, perform, and perpetuate the art of modern dance.
You can earmark your gift for for a variety of programs, including RDT’s school outreach throughout Utah; a particular upcoming concert; RDT’s children’s series Ring Around the Rose; or a particular upcoming commission or reconstruction.

Donate Now

 

If you’d like to make a donation in someone’s name as a gift, including a membership in RDT’s new Sustainers Club (with cool perks!), just click “This is a tribute donation” when prompted. 

THANKYOU


 

MERCHANT_PARTNERS300X300And one final idea…

If the best idea for your loved one isn’t on this list … consider SHOPPING TO SUPPORT RDT.
You can use this link to shop at some of your favorite retailers (only some of which are shown here), and RDT will get a percentage back in return!
And all you have to do is shop!
Shop to Support


Or check out the RDT Gift Shop for some awesome T-shirts!

Shop Now

Thankful for RDT

Thankful for RDT

When it comes to RDT, our staff and dancers have so much to be thankful for!  We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and wish you joyous holiday season!  Below are some of the many things we are thankful for…

Filament_LIft

Pilar… I’m thankful for all the opportunities RDT offers to think outside the box. To do something you’ve done before but different. Always changing, always growing, even when it’s a repeat.

Lauren… I am thankful for my supportive family and friends, my health, and the leadership within RDT that has made it possible for me to do what I love every day.

David… They call theater the great “Imaginary Invalid,” a fragile enterprise that for whatever reason continues anyway, year-after-decade-after-century. Concert dance is of course an imaginary invalid as well. That Repertory Dance Theatre has maintained for 50 years would suggest that we are not quite as fragile as we sometimes might seem, especially to those behind the scenes. I would agree. And the big reason why is our stakeholders, which is what I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving. This group of patrons, advocates, students, teachers, donors (both cash and in-kind)–at every level from $1 to $30,000–are a testament to not only the loyalty of the RDT family, but the character of that family.

Ricklen… I am grateful for RDT’s unwavering commitment to the highest artistic ideals and for its significant focus on sharing the joy of movement in the schools and in the community, offering people of all ages an experience that, in its immediacy and intimacy, is both thrilling and profound.

Nick… I am grateful for the many things RDT has taught me and continues to teach me.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work for an organization that I believe in, that I support, and with people who make me a better person each day we are together.

Bolero_CropLynne: I am grateful for all the wonderful and inspiring students I teach everyday in RDT’s AIE Outreach Program.

Jaclyn: I am very grateful to have a job dancing that feels more like a calling. I feel so lucky to be challenged every day and excited about what I can share through the art form! I also appreciate the family nature that RDT is in my life. When you create something special together, it makes a lasting bond that manifests so magically on stage. Much thanks to RDT for making all of my dreams possible!

Efren Corado Garcia: I am grateful to live in Salt Lake City for continuing to recognize the importance of Arts and Culture, allowing RDT to serve as it’s ambassador and as one of the city’s precious jewels. Also, I am grateful to RDT for giving me the opportunity to be a part of its legacy.

Dan: I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a family, a family that encourages me to push myself, find an artistic voice, and give back to a beautiful artistic community through the art of dance.

Lacie: I am thankful for the challenges RDT provides that stretch and strengthen both my mind and body through the art of Dance.

Stephanie: I am grateful to be a part of the RDT team because even though I am not a performer, art is a part of my daily life. I love being able to share the work of this Company and I’m proud to be a part of it. When I grew up dancing I never thought I would get to work in the field, but I’m so grateful that now dance is a part of my everyday life.

Justin: Every year Thanksgiving reminds me of how blessed I am to be living out my dream and how RDT goes beyond in making that possible. Being able to represent dance in such a historical way with the rep we do takes my breathe away every season. I am always reminded that dance isn’t just performing but about educating the future on how it must be preserved and it’a rich history. Being apart of RDT gives me a purpose bigger than myself and how can’t I be thankful for that?

Bringing RDT’s BRIO to the Classroom

Bringing RDT’s BRIO to the Classroom

Next week, RDT will perform two student matinees for close to 700 students. Before the students see BRIO, they will receive a study guide from our Education Director Lynne Larson to help them understand what they will see. Also, teachers are given lesson plans to help the students prepare for what they will see in the show. Here are some lesson plans you can try with your dance students. 


Lesson Plan—Small Area Choreography

Turf
Shapiro & Smith’s “Turf” performed by Katherine Winder and Ursula Perry.

In Turf and Jack, much of the choreography takes place in a small, defined space: In Jack, sitting or standing on a chair and in Turf, on small, large or rectangular rugs. To choreograph in small, defined spaces is a wonderful skill to develop and can lead to very innovative movement vocabulary.

  • Tape off a 2 X 4 area on the dance floor. Create as many as you can use for the number of students you have in your class. Students can work in pairs or alone.
  • Restrict the students’ movement creation to the space inside the tape.
    1. First Instruction: Create 8 gestures (a wave of the hand, a shrug of the shoulders, etc.) on various levels (high, medium and low) in the space.
    2. Second Instruction: Create 4 movements (a turn, a reach, a twist, etc.) facing different directions in the small space area.
    3. Third Instruction: Combine gestures and movements to create a phrase.
    4. Fourth Instruction: Show phrases to one another for feedback. Ask students watching what images came to mind while they were observing and also what type of sound might accompany the movement sequence.
    5. Students could then take some time to further develop their small space studies with the suggested imagery and music ideas. The same ideas could also be explored on a chair, in a big box, on a bench, etc.


Lesson Plan—Props and Dance

In the BRIO Concert, most of the dances use a prop. These props are quite ordinary and are objects found in your home and that you use every day:  blankets, chairs, and rugs. Using a prop in dance choreography can be challenging and unpredictable, but can also create wonderful movement vocabulary and images.

  • Ask the students to bring an object from home into class, something they use everyday. One of the wonderful things about props in creative dance is that we, as innovative, creative thinkers, can play and discover amazing new ways to use the prop other than the way it was intended.
    1. First Instruction: Talk with the students about the normal use of the prop and discourage them from “acting out” the normal uses of the object, but encourage them to think “outside the box” and create innovative and challenging ways to use the prop. Have them work on creating 4 unique ideas with their prop. If they would like to be in partners or groups to create, that is great. Allow each student time to create with their prop in the group, then switch to the next student to ensure all get creative work time. Once each student has 4 ideas with their prop, show to the class and give feedback.
    2. Second Instruction: Using the feedback with their 4 ideas, have students begin to develop movement phrases around their prop incorporating the innovations they already created and link them into a short movement/prop study.
      1. Ask them further questions, (for example, How is your prop introduced? What is its purpose? How does the movement relate to the prop?) to advance their studies even more.
Shapiro & Smith's "Dance With Two Army Blankets" featuring Nicholas Cendese, Joshua Larson, and Thayer Jonutz.
Shapiro & Smith’s “Dance With Two Army Blankets” featuring  Joshua Larson, Nicholas Cendese, and Thayer Jonutz.

 


 

Lesson Plan—Children’s Rhymes

In Jack and Pat-a-Cake, children’s nursery rhymes and games are used as the inspiration and accompaniment for both pieces. This is an interesting way to construct a piece using words, concepts and movements that are familiar to a large majority of our population. As in most universal experiences, rhymes and words such as the ones in Jack and Pat-a-Cake will mean different things to different people.

  • Ask the students to select a nursery rhyme that is special to them from their childhood. Have them do a little research to discover if there are variations to the rhyme, different wording, order, etc.
  • Using the text as a basis, have the students begin to develop movement motifs that represent the words of the rhyme. Once again, not “acting out” the rhyme, but taking the words and creating innovative movement from the meaning of the words.
  • Try either the mover reciting the rhyme as she/he is moving or another dancer reciting as the other moves. Show to the group.
Joanie Smith's "Jack" performed by Justin Bass and Tyler Orcutt.
Joanie Smith’s “Jack” performed by Tyler Orcutt and Justin Bass.

 

For more lesson plans and ideas about teaching in the classroom, check out the full BRIO study guide here>>

The Place for Art in America: Everywhere (Part 2)

The Place for Art in America: Everywhere (Part 2)

SpiderWeb

In the first part of this two-part series, I talked about how arts and humanities groups need to position themselves to be seen, heard, and appreciated by businesses and corporations as part of the larger economic web. In this part I propose that, in and of itself, that is not enough: we need cash support, as well as partnerships that are mutually beneficial and focused on community-building.

Where I live, tech companies have been moving in like bedraggled pioneers once did by wagon during the 19th Century. Here on the western flank of the Rockies, instead of Silicone Valley we now have what’s called “Silicone Slopes.” It’s pretty obvious that everyone from software developers to data center colocation, and from cloud services to IT support–all pioneers of a sort in their own right–are migrating in: InMoment, Landesk, C7 Data, Pluralsight, Domo, to name a few … they’re like little gleaming digital combines moving north and south along the foothills, harvesting revenue.

To the uninitiated like me all the shingles hanging out there designed to make money exist in another world from that of nonprofit arts organizations like Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) where I work as the fundraiser. To see the shiny glass buildings of corporate America with their sexy billboards, their marketing compaigns that reek of focus groups, and consultant fees, of feasibility studies and branding makeoevers–it all translates to, in the parlance of face cards, a full flush. They have it, and we don’t. We’re struggling to make payroll and keep afloat our altruistic and mission-driven programming while business types smoke fat cigars and wear Italian loafers kicked up onto their mahogany desks that look like ship’s prows, all tacking towards the 1 percent.

But … not so fast. What I’ve learned is what we always learn when we abandon our cherished (i.e., unexamined) opinions. And Scott Petty, Managing Director of Signal Peak, a venture capital firm based in Salt Lake City, is a good clarion bell to that. While Petty (who in full disclosure happens to be my brother-in-law) mostly works (and funds) startups, including many in technology, he is clear that the business sector is just like any other: nuanced, cyclical, and beholden to the vagaries not only of the economy but of what artists spend their careers illumniating:

Scott Petty, Signal Peak Ventures
Scott Petty, Signal Peak Ventures

the stuff of life.

What this means is that while the economy continues to improve, albeit at a much slower rate than most of us would like, many enterprises in my state are not in a position to give back to the community as, with, say, one of the big, established banks. Nor are these companies, as successful as their personas appear to be to the uninitiatied, ready to squirrel marketing dollars through unconventional outings such as sponsoring a concert or underwriting a dance residency in a rural or under-served area.

So even while RDT and other arts groups are attempting to re-brand software developers as part of the greater “Creatives Industry,” of which, we argue, fine art is the gold standard, the return on that investment has been thin. This is not because software developers aren’t part of a creative impulse in the broad sense of the term, but because they, like a lot of symphonies, art galleries and theaters, are just struggling to stay afloat. Who knew?

That said, don’t ever believe that, even during tough times there isn’t money to be raised from corporations. The scale with which outfits like Chevron and Boeing operate at is staggering compared to the design of non-profits and their budgets that, pride themselves on being a straight “wash” of what’s going out vs. what’s coming in. But, in the tech sector, for every Adobe there are scores of startups whose CEOs are working 80 hours a week and can’t get to sleep at night. “Flush” has two meanings, after all. (As in “flushed” down the drain.)

RDT has been fortunate to have loyal corporate sponsors, few though they may be. Speaking of Adobe, through an employee-match program, the multinational computer software company based in San Jose, California but with a large presence in Utah, is one of them, as is Celtic Bank, Ally Bank, OC Tanner and Cyprus Credit Union, among others. (As a mid-sized performing arts groups, RDT does indeed seem to have more success with regional and local corporations.)

Salt Lake City-based EDA Architects is one of them. “In the creation of a work of architecture,” says partner Robert “Bob” Herman, “which—like every other artistic act—seeks to create a transformative experience for those it engages[,] EDA strives to produce work that inspires and looks for collaborative relationships with other creatives to elevate our ideas and our work. We often describe our work in terms of ‘time and space’ and ‘choreography of movement’—an obvious association with dance and RDT.”

Robert Herman, EDA Architects
Robert Herman, EDA Architects

EDA is perhaps the best example of the kind of creative partner RDT is looking for as we attempt to help re-brand and valorize what Americans for the Arts and others are calling the “Creatives Industry.” As with RDT, EDA is animated with the impulse to imagine, innovate and execute a human experience based on artistic standards. The firm is community-driven, and its 15 architects along with its other staff are highly collaborative.

“We believe that a strong arts environment in Utah creates a more sophisticated and engaged population,” continues Herman in an email exchange, “a more discerning market for our services and a greater attraction for the recruitment of the kind of high quality staff we seek.” Because of this community-centered approach to work and creativity, EDA engages RDT in more ways than cash sponsorships. Employees often attend our concerts and galas, and RDT will host their company as a group in our studio for a brown-bag open rehearsal where they can see our creative process at work and, conceivably, compare notes.

The beauty with arts groups partnering with enterprises built on a shared passion to bring innovation and aesthetics to the community is obvious. RDT understands as a repertory company both the economic as well as intrinsic value of what we offer. And don’t forget the community-building component of all of this, the whole of which, as Aristotle reminds us, is greater than the sum of its parts.  Arts groups would do well, according to Herman, to “enumerate the economic impacts that strong arts assets have in creating an attractive business and tourist environment, a vibrant downtown, and enriched educational opportunities for school children and University students.”

This leads me back to cultivating other creatives, including tech companies. Social networking isn’t just a Facebook post or tweet, it’s still about face-to-face engagement through volunteer opportunities that even cash-starved startups can participate in. That startups are often missing on donor lists, “doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the arts,” Petty reminds me. “What they do have is … time to give back. They’re trying to figure out how to give of their resources. More employees are willing to donate their time, to volunteer in these organizations than perhaps more established companies.”

And, lest we forget, a lot of these startups and tech folks are young themselves, and we’re finding out that millennials and GenX’ers want a deep social component to their lives where work and play routinely merge, as well as to intimate involvement in civic service. “Younger entrepreneurs have a certain hipness to them,” continues Petty, that dovetails with the arts.  “There is a certain aesthetic in software.” He references StartFEST, a gathering of tech-oriented folks “who are really not that geeky,” and which “always has an arts overlay to it, like local bands, local artists, painting murals on the wall. The point is there is a certain vein there” that resonates with the creative set in places like a dance company or a museum.

Again, this is not to say that many companies and corporations, large and small, don’t have money to give through their marketing budgets (sponsorship) as well as through their corporate responsibility initiative (grants). When approaching banks, for example, RDT always fronts populations and neighborhoods in  our requests that qualify as LMI (low-to-moderate income) or Title I (in the case of schools). This because banks, both commercial and industrial, are required to participate in the Federal government’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). It does mean that cultivating long-term relationships; telling one’s story through compelling means (and not just through one’s art form); and finding transactional ways of partnering is de rigeur when it comes to interfacing with business.

That’s why RDT is a dues-paying member (through ticket trade) with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the economic development corporation, a non-profit that works with the Governor’s office to relocate businesses to the state. These organizations are not only sites to network with exciting new startups and relocating businesses, but it’s an opportunity for artist types to learn the language of commerce, and begin using that vocabulary to, again, tell one’s story.

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Photo by Nathan Sweet Photography
Photo by Nathan Sweet Photography

 

The BCA 10, an annual award to American businesses which generously give to the arts, is a good example of how the vocabularies of commerce and art come together, sniff each other out, listen to one another and … well, start dancing with each other, sometimes for many long and romantic years. I’ve had the privilege of nominating Zions Bank for one of these awards in the past, and it is always inspiring (and validating) to have a powerful bank president or CEO stand up in black tie in front of colleagues and talk about what the arts mean to his or her organization. (To hear Richard Davis, CEO of U.S. Bank at the 2015 awards, click here.)

Finally never forget what RDT likes to call one’s “Sense of Place” a theme which has deeply encouraged the Company’s selection and performance of repertory and which speaks to the character and spirit of the land, the environment and the community. This is one of the reasons EDA, dedicated to building LEED-certified structures, resonates so well with us. “We appreciate being recognized,” says Herman, “as a partner with organizations (like RDT) that contribute to the culture of our community, which—in turn—enhances our own organization’s sense of community engagement. We also hope our contributions help leverage other support of the valuable work of RDT.”

Petty would concur, even though he speaks in more general terms about the regional climate that speaks not just to artists, but to new businesses: “I will say one thing that I know is different about the groups I work with is that venture-backed tech startups … have a real local affinity for Utah. Whenever a startup is successful here, it’s great for the company because there’s this sense that Utah is trying to prove itself in the world. There’s that mindset here that we all just love and thrive off of … economic development raises all boats, and we want to be one of those boats.”

… As do the arts: and, we desperately want to be more than the dinghy being tossed about on economic waves. We want to be seen as a legitimate, sustainable engine of commerce as well as a service organization. We want to reach the population at large, a community that in our media/entertainment-driven world, doesn’t seem to know that they are hungry for what the arts and creatives have to offer.

And what do we offer? The opportunity to live the existential questions of life through an art form, the vaulting notion of beauty and the meaning that grounds us all, that helps us understand why we do the rest of what we do … what we might call “business as usual.”

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A fiction writer and essayist by trade, David Pace is the Director of Development at Repertory Dance Theatre. You can visit his personal website at www.davidgpace.com