The Music Hall’s next steps
Last month Portsmouth was named one of the most romantic cities in all North America. Add that to its treasure chest of top national rankings — one of the most historic, top 20 in lifestyle — and it’s a compelling story, an irresistible place to visit, live, work or, simply, to be. Behind the scenes, other factors contribute to Portsmouth’s success. The Music Hall last month announced a $13.5 million capital campaign and the coming Music Hall Loft, a center for performing arts and education on Congress Street. With this announcement, and news that $9 million in contributions has already been raised (80 percent from individual donors), the work of the arts in driving regional economic growth became more transparent.Filmmaker Ken Burns announced his support of the once-in-a-generation campaign at a Feb. 27 event and heralded The Music Hall as a “beacon.”A day earlier, civic leaders and experts in arts, economic and sustainable development gathered for a symposium in The Music Hall’s new raw space on Congress Street. They shared local, regional and national perspectives on how performing arts centers further economic development. Sandra Gibson, a Washington, D.C., arts advocate and president of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, discussed how performing arts organizations are a civic force engaged in the work of building community. Gibson’s research documents how the creation of civic arts centers “sparks economic revival.”Chris Dwyer, senior vice president of RMC Research and a Portsmouth city councilor, pointed out that “a strong arts and culture sector improves a city’s edge in the competition for the most desirable employers and the newest generations of workers, through branding a ‘sense of place,’ inspiring community loyalty from civic and business leaders, and contributing to the development of a skilled workforce.” Ask restaurant owners in town and you’ll learn their business is red hot on a Music Hall performance night. CEOs tell us they use The Music Hall as a recruiting tool for new employees. The Music Hall is one of the top 10 employers downtown, with 19 full-time equivalents, plus on-call hourly technical crews.Since 2004, The Music Hall’s membership has grown from 900 to more than 3,000 members. Ticket sales have rocketed from under $1 million to an expected $1.7 million this year. The growth has been felt region-wide as The Music Hall’s economic impact has swelled to $5.5 million a year in show-related spending. When the Treasure the Future capital campaign and its projects are completed, that impact should surge to $6.6 million annually in 2012. The full restoration of the theater, modernization of the backstage, establishment of an endowment and extension into the Loft will transform The Music Hall into a performing arts center for the 21st century. During my many years working in “for profit” institutions, we gathered insiders and experts yearly at “sales conferences” and “global leadership conferences.” Last week’s symposium was The Music Hall’s own national strategy meeting.At its completion, The Treasure the Future campaign will not only bring great cultural advancement to New England, but will afford the arts center a sustainable business model that runs as a sturdy engine for economic growth for generations to come. Margaret Talcott is director of strategic communications at The Music Hall and associate producer of the Writers on a New England Stage series. This article was originally published in the Portsmouth Herald.