Board of Trustees: Dec. 2015

Good morning. So much has happened since the last time I saw you in September. For one thing, I was officially sworn in by a distinguished US Senator, so there’s no turning back now—I’ve been installed, and I want to thank you all again for the confidence and trust you’ve placed in me and my administration over the past 15 months. Secondly, the School turned 50 and I turned 50, and it’s clear we’d both benefit from a major increase in R&R allocations. Thirdly, I grew a whitish beard during no-shave November, and am channeling my inner Santa Claus to celebrate the many gifts and blessings we’ve received at the School of the Arts, and to honor the many elves across campus who’ve been working tirelessly to raise the profile and expand the base of support for an institution that brings so much joy into this world. That is a gift we should hold dear not just around Christmastime, but in every season.

I want to acknowledge a special guest this morning, Ann Maxwell, who lives in Goldsboro, NC, serves on the UNC Board of Governors, and has agreed to be the board’s official liaison to UNCSA. Please join me in giving Ann a warm welcome.

When it comes to influence building across the city and state, we have no greater partner than the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. As you heard earlier during breakfast, the Kenan Institute is focused on three strategic initiatives. For those who weren’t at breakfast, they are Artist Leadership; Arts and Society; and Career Pathways; all of which align closely with our vision for the School of the Arts. On behalf of Kenan Institute Executive Director Corey Madden and her staff, I’m happy to report on some of their progress.

Thanks to the Kenan Institute, Winston-Salem was one of two cities in the nation chosen for the inaugural Community Innovation Labs developed by one of the country’s most innovative and influential arts service nonprofits, EmcArts in New York. This program illustrates the institute’s strategic priority to demonstrate the value and impact of the arts on our society. Together with the Winston-Salem Arts Council and the Winston-Salem Foundation, and with $200,000 in lead support from the Kresge Foundation, the Kenan Institute is pioneering an adaptive change framework developed by EmcArts to help our city address complex social challenges. The process begins with a series of convenings designed to subvert conventional political mindsets and civic bureaucracies with artistic and creative problem-solving. In plain English: they’ll be exploring and testing lots of new ideas to position artists and artistic practices at the forefront of community and economic development—which I assume all of you will agree is a no-brainer for a relatively Southern town with the tagline “City of Arts and Innovation.” The lab’s first workshop was held in November, and its second begins today.

Another Kenan project that aligns with its Arts and Society Initiative is a documentary solo theatre project directed, by Corey Madden, called And So We Walked: An Artist’s Journey Along the Trail of Tears. A Cherokee actress and her documentarian father retrace the steps of their ancestors from their homestead in Murphy, NC to their present home in Oklahoma. This original dramatic work brings together a host of cultural and historical organizations, and will culminate in a creative co-laboratory next summer involving two of the country’s most important Native American theatre groups, Unto These Hills from Cherokee, NC; and Native Voices of Los Angeles; along with faculty from the School of Drama. This project allows our faculty to flex their creative muscles, explore an important part of North Carolina culture and history, and expand our outreach to a demographic we might never have reached otherwise.

Please join me in thanking Corey and her staff for their efforts to raise the profile of UNCSA as a leading cultural institution in the South.

I also want to thank all of you, once again, for approving our institution’s Five-year Strategic Action Plan at our last meeting. And thanks to the leadership of Jim DeCristo, we have 12 committees working hard to meet our first-year goals, and looking ahead to what we might realistically achieve in the next several years. 

In the meantime, there’s one goal I’m very excited to check off my list: a new website that firmly establishes UNCSA in the digital age. Thanks to Claire Machamer and her digital media team, in the next few weeks we’ll launch an entirely new website on a fully responsive platform that functions across all devices: pcs, tablets, and smart phones, with compelling content that includes artistic photographs and stunning videos. 

Here’s a breakdown by the numbers to give you a better idea of the scope of this project:                                                                                                                       

  • 2988 photos to showcase the people of UNCSA and level of art and instruction that happens here
  • 290 student, faculty and staff video commentaries in our new virtual tour
  • 43 locations available for walking or driving directions in our virtual campus map
  • 15 in-depth feature stories to initiate an alumni story franchise
  • 4 new members of the Digital Media team responsible for maintaining and evolving our online campus
  • And 1 compelling new platform to tell our story like never before 

In my installation address, I recalled one of my first observations about the School of the Arts: it’s a storied institution that really needs to tell its story. The website will be one important channel to do just that. The other will be smart, laser-focused Marketing and Advertising campaigns. Over the past few months, our Marketing and Communications team, led by Katharine Laidlaw, has put together poetic creative executions for billboards and magazines.  With succinct text and a captivating hero image, we’ve been able to reveal so much more about what who we are, what we do, and why we matter. It’s a first big step toward redefining UNCSA for a new generation.

Once we’ve hooked them with messaging and images, we need to get them into our performance venues. To help boost attendance, Katherine has begun testing paid Facebook ads. Sorry. I know, I hate them too--but I love how they allow us to reach a very targeted local market of more than 100,000 likely ticket buyers, generating more than 6,000 clicks to our ticketing site over an 8-week period. For those who aren’t in the business of clickbait, that’s a response rate any agency would drool over.

I also love that performances with four or more run dates this year have each attracted an average attendance of 90% capacity or higher. One of those was an innovative collaboration between the Schools of Drama, Design & Production, and Music—an edgy play entitled Good. It’s not easy to excite people to see a tragi-comedy play about Nazi Germany that’s set to music. Yet two of the four shows sold out, including the night I attended where a throng of locals lined up like they do on Broadway hoping to score a ticket. This on a weeknight on a tiny little campus down South. 

On Halloween weekend, almost 1,400 people braved the awful weather to work in one of the two Carmina Burana performances at the Stevens Center. It was a big, bold, and beautiful rendition that brought the house to its feet the night I was there. 

Later this month we’re hoping for a huge turnout for The Nutcracker. As of Monday this week we were up $20,000 over our record-breaking year last year, and as of this morning, we have several shows close to selling out. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, please hurry. They’re threatening to auction off my Chancellor house seats. With our presenting sponsor, First Tennessee Bank, providing $25,000, that means more proceeds will go toward student scholarships. 

It’s that time of year when everyone is making a list and checking it twice, and I’m no exception. Mine is a list of small blessings, which, in the spirit of the season, I would like to count with you now:

  1. Our Advancement office gains momentum. Our small but industrious Advancement Staff reports a 71 percent increase in new donors over last year at this time. That’s 324 people making their first gift to the School of the Arts so far this year. Halfway through our fiscal year, and having just begun what is historically our biggest fundraising month, we are tracking ahead of last year in gifts to our Annual Fund. That is an amazing report for an understaffed advancement division, and I can’t wait to see what Ed Lewis and his team accomplish when they fill their vacant positions.

  2. The Kenan Institute is getting more to give more. I’m happy to report that the institute has raised nearly 95 percent of its annual goal of $135,425.
  1. We’ve deepened our ties to Penland. The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust has made a gift of a three-year grant in the amount of $250,000 to Penland School of Crafts to launch the Kenan Visual Arts Center Career Pathways Partnership, in collaboration with UNCSA and the Kenan Institute. This benefits our high school students in the Visual Arts program, who go on to the some of the best college programs in the world.

  2. The Chancellor made the cut. I was honored to join Steve Berlin, Ralph Womble, Don Flow, JD Wilson and many other friends and colleagues on Triad Business Journal’s list of most influential people in the Triad. I will be profiled by the publication after the start of the year, another terrific opportunity to raise the school’s profile among the business community.

  3. “America’s Quintessential Ballerina” has spoken. Our own Dean of Dance Susan Jaffe was recognized by the leading industry publication Dance Magazine in its monthly feature, Advice from the Board. She offered this advice for dancers to stay healthy during Nutcracker season: “Doing the same choreography over and over, it’s easy to lose focus, which can lead to injury. Do a good class each morning to get really aligned. And use the challenge to find more of your creative juices in each performance.” That’s good advice for performers who train harder than most football teams.

  4. We’re expanding NC-NY career pathways. As part of its Career Pathways Initiative, all eight of the Kenan Fellowship programs were represented at a convening by Lincoln Center Education in October. The conference sought to inspire dialogue and inquiry around current programs, to bridge the gap between school and career.

  5. We’re expanding our partnership with Lincoln Center. The School of Music, through its Chrysalis Chamber Music Institute, has cemented its partnership with Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Six musicians from CMS visited campus in October for master classes, workshops and a concert, and additional artists (including alumnus Richard O’Neill) will visit us in January for another round of terrific opportunities for our Chrysalis fellows. And in the spring some of our students will travel to New York for master classes and coaching at Lincoln Center. NC should be extremely proud.

  6. Our alumni are once again getting Oscar buzz. As we approach the new year and the season of awards, we’re proud to have our alumni connected with several Oscar contenders, including “99 Homes,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “I'll See You in my Dreams” and Our Brand is Crisis.” Our alumni have worked on some of the year’s biggest blockbusters, including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Bridge of Spies.

  7. Our alumni are represented (as usual) on major networks. We have a growing list of alumni whose work can be seen on the small screen, and we can add D&P alumnus Paul Tazewell to that list. He designed the costumes for NBC’s live production of “The Wiz,” which aired last night. Paul has been nominated many times for Tony Awards, and is the recipient of multiple Helen Hayes Awards and Lucille Lortel Awards, in addition to a Princess Grace Statue Award. And it should be noted that Paul designed the costumes for the hottest ticket on Broadway and possibly the world—the blockbuster musical Hamilton.

  8. The alumni are coming! This fall, we have been pleased to welcome back to campus such alumni luminaries as Gillian Murphy, Joe Mantello, Camille A. Brown, and Jordan Brown. Camille is one of two alumni recently named United States Artists Fellows, and Jordan, who has graced Chicago’s most prestigious stages, was master clinician for the recent on-campus meeting of the state chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

  9. We lit up the White House. In October, student, faculty and alumni of Design and Production traveled to our nation’s capital to light the White House for its annual Trick or Treat event for local school children and military families. Here’s a glimpse of the magic they created. This was a terrific opportunity for D&P, and we got a lot of mileage out of it. The national distribution of our press release landed on 224 websites with a potential audience of 12.5 million, and it was picked up by a few trade publications that service the entertainment technology industry. On Facebook, our posts reached more than 200,000 and the video has been played more than 40,000 times. And the best part is that we’ve been invited back.

There’s so much to celebrate, but the new year will bring new challenges, and chief among them is the $2 billion state bond referendum that will be on the March 15, 2016 ballot. More than half of the bond package will benefit higher education, with the majority of the funding going toward new construction for 14 UNC schools. UNCSA is designated to receive $10.9 million of repair and renovation funding, which we will use to repurpose the old library and to make urgent and mission critical upgrades to Performance Place. 

These funds offer a wonderful opportunity to fix challenges negatively impacting programs and operations on campus, and will allow us to reduce our backlog of deferred maintenance.  We need everyone’s help to develop support for the bond referendum so we can begin to transform one of our rapidly aging performance facilities, and we can take full advantage of the available square footage available in the old library. It’s my sincere hope that can one day stop converting walk-in storage closets into faculty offices, and that I will never again have to video conference General Administration out of a storage room in HR. Y’all know how scrappy we can be, but I’m drawing the line here and saying it’s time to come out of our closets—no pun intended.

So number one on my wish list this holiday season is your pledge of support for the bond referendum.

December 4, 2015