Summer isn’t the only “opera season” in Cincinnati. Since this is National Opera Week, we thought we’d shine a spotlight on how Cincinnati Opera is reaching out to new audiences and communities all over the region. Community and school tours provide people of all ages a chance to discover how this classic art form can bring us together.
Cincinnati Opera Outbound
Cincinnati Opera has been presenting school and community performances since 1970. In 2012, the program took on the name Cincinnati Opera Outbound, with a goal to get beyond the walls of Music Hall and engage with people in their neighborhoods.
This October, Cincinnati Opera presented Pirates of Penzance, a 45-minute program that toured to schools and community centers across the region. With its zany wordplay and physical comedy, the classic operetta serves as a great introduction to opera for children and adults alike. The production toured to 17 schools and 7 community venues, reaching local communities from Westwood and Sharonville to Covington and Mason, and even as far away as Louisville. Cincinnati Opera estimates that the tour was seen by over 7,500 people.
Getting in on the Act
With Pirates of Penzance, Opera Outbound decided to try something new and create a participatory experience as part of the show. In addition to the professional singers, almost all of the performances included a chorus of children playing pirates, wards, and policeman. Nineteen members of Cincinnati Children’s Choir served as the chorus in community venues. “I really to want to thank the Cincinnati Opera staff and singers - they have made our Cincinnati Children's Choir kids feel so special during this entire process,” said Sandy Thornton of Cincinnati Children’s Choir. “It would not surprise me at all if this experience encourages these families to attend more opera performances in the future.”
At school performances, the chorus members were recruited from among the students, giving them an opportunity to explore opera first-hand. This chance to perform changed the dynamic of the show for everyone involved. “Not only are those sixteen kids so excited to perform alongside professionals and having fun doing it, but the kids in the audience are also more engaged because they are watching their friends,” says Kemper Florin, Opera Outbound Manager. “School teachers spent weeks helping to prepare and some parents even attended. Everyone was more invested in the program and, I think, got more out of it.”
“Community programs like Opera Outbound and Opera Goes to Church are an essential part of our mission at Cincinnati Opera,” says Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director Evans Mirageas. “We truly believe that opera is for everyone and for all ages, and these performances farther afield offer us the opportunity to connect with Greater Cincinnati residents who might not venture Downtown.” Cincinnati Opera also presents free performances each year outdoors in Washington Park and the Cincinnati Zoo.
The spring Opera Outbound touring show, Pursuing the Dream, will feature stories and music around common stories of immigration, family, loyalty, and social justice. The show is designed to be a companion piece for Morning Star, the new opera having its world premiere at Cincinnati Opera in 2015. Community and schools performances will run April 25 – May 9.
By supporting arts organizations like Cincinnati Opera that make their home in Music Hall and Downtown Cincinnati, ArtsWave also supports inspiring experiences like Opera Outbound in neighborhoods across the region. Expanding the reach of music beyond the concert hall… that’s ArtsWave in Action.
Find out more about how others are celebrating National Opera Week by following #OperaWeek on Twitter.
Among ArtsWave’s many civic partners is Agenda 360, the region’s action plan related to nurturing talent, increasing jobs, and building economic opportunity for residents. ArtsWave and Agenda 360 work collaboratively on research, strategic initiatives, and advancing collective action with other nonprofit service organizations.
This month, Agenda 360 invited ArtsWave to be part of its Diverse by Design discussion around opportunities for employee leadership development. ArtsWave’s BOARDway Bound board training program, which has placed nearly 300 business professionals on arts boards over the last decade, was featured in a new publication aimed at local human resource professionals. Over 80 HR representatives in attendance learned about programs like BOARDway Bound, and how they add a level of employee retention being sought by many executive leaders. Many of them had never before considered utilizing these types of programs for this purpose.
ArtsWave has collaborated with Agenda 360 on other projects, as well. In 2012, the two organizations commissioned the region’s first Arts Engagement Index, designed to provide baseline data around public participation in a variety of creative pursuits and activities.
“We partnered with ArtsWave on ‘Snapshot 2012’ to better understand the relationship between arts participation and quality of life,” said Mary Stagaman, Agenda 360 executive director. “What we didn’t know before this project got underway was how clear the correlations were between arts involvement, civic engagement, and social connectedness. In the future, we want to dig deeper into the exciting implications of these findings to be sure we are fully leveraging our arts and cultural assets in realizing Cincinnati’s potential as a world-class region in which to live and work.”
Thank you, Agenda 360, for your partnership in creating community through the arts!
BOARDway Bound Connects Business Professionals to the Arts
This September, ArtsWave welcomed 37 local business professionals as the 11th class of BOARDway Bound. This innovative arts board-training program provides participants with the tools they need to be an active and engaged volunteer, and then matches them with a local arts organization for an observership. 90% of past program participants have joined the boards of the organizations with which they were matched. To date, ArtsWave’s board leadership program has placed nearly 300 volunteers with local arts boards.
ArtsWave identified the need for a board training program eleven years ago through a series of conversations with small and mid-size arts organizations. Smaller organizations often had a hard time recruiting Board members. Enthusiastic volunteers hesitated to join arts boards because they thought that they lacked the expertise or means to be good Board members. At the same time, local companies needed more ways to connect their high-potential employees to leadership training and opportunities. ArtsWave created BOARDway bound to provide that training and make the connections needed to build capacity for those organizations.
BOARDway Bound takes the mystery out of arts board service. Information on best practices, industry trends, and the Greater Cincinnati arts scene is shared over the course of six sessions, as well as through videos and a document library. The workshops include presentations by arts leaders, panel discussions, and case studies. Topics range from fundraising and marketing to understanding arts budgets and non-profit governance.
The highlight of each session is the “speed-dating” night. Each candidate has six minutes with a staff and board representative from each of 40 different arts organizations. Both the board candidates and arts clients are also armed with one-page data sheets on their perspective matches. It’s a whirlwind networking event that requires a map and a bullhorn. “When we were trying to determine the best way to give each candidate the opportunity to meet with each arts group, the most logical method was the speed-dating format,” said Mike Boberg, Director of Signature Arts & Business Programs. ”It is three and half hours of exhausting, fast-paced action, but it pays off in the end with solid final matches.”
This summer, ArtsWave created a LinkedIn group for BOARDway Bound alumni that allows them to easily network and share stories from the field. “I was interested in BOARDway Bound because I wanted to give back and become invested in the arts and the region,” said Amanda McDonald, Assistant Director of Constituent Development,CCM at The UC Foundation and a member of last year’s class. “The lessons that I learned specifically in governance and financial oversight proved not only invaluable to my career but provided me with the knowledge to be an effective member on the Board that I joined and to lead that organization to serve the community.”
Interested in participating in BOARDway Bound? The spring class will begin recruiting soon. Contact Mike Boberg, Director, Signature Arts and Business Programs.
Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus is amazing for many reasons—it’s the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere, it serves as the chorus for the world-class Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is made up of many volunteers. Over 100 men and women ages 18 to 70+ rehearse at least three hours each week from September through May to bring choral masterworks and new commissions to the region.
The May Festival Chorus draws its membership from all over the Tri-State and from all different backgrounds, bringing people together who might never otherwise have met, but who share a passion and dedication for vocal music. Many chorus members have been singing with the choir for several years—or even decades -- and the friendships and partnerships they make in the process enrich their lives and our community in surprising ways.
ArtsWave learned in Snapshot 2012 that people who agreed that they feel socially embedded in the community participated in arts activities 36% more often than those who did not. In other words, the arts help people feel more connected to the community and allow recent transplants to find reasons to stay in the region.
Lauren Peter began singing with the chorus eight years ago, shortly after moving to Mason. She enjoys singing with her husband, Justin, a former member of the May Festival Youth Chorus, and says that the process keeps her connected to her artistic roots. “Many of our closest friends are in the chorus. There are several people we socialize with on a regular basis...and former chorus members that we've remained close to. For many of us, it's like a second family.”
With such close connections, it’s no surprise that 98% of May Festival Chorus members report creating new and lasting relationships with people whom they may not have met otherwise. 92% report that their involvement in the May Festival Chorus is an important part of their decision to remain in the region.
Lawrence Coleman, a chorus member for 15 years who lives in Kennedy Heights, also finds that the May Festival Chorus has connected him to a wider community. “I've recorded, had other singing engagements and opportunities, all because I've been connected to the May Festival Chorus and the people in it.” Lawrence also sings with the contemporary gospel group Fo Mo Brothers, performing at churches throughout the region and at the Midwest Black Family Reunion. He also volunteers with District A arts collaboration in Kennedy Heights, all the while meeting new artists, collaborators, neighbors, and friends.
When asked about how singing with the May Festival has influenced his life, Lawrence says, “It has really confirmed my belief that all people are basically the same even though there can be very stark differences. I have friends in the chorus from very different walks of life. We come together for the single purpose of making great music. People of different backgrounds and schools of thought can do more than coexist. We can learn to celebrate our differences when we have a common goal.“
From building friendships across the region to adding to Cincinnati’s long tradition of excellence in vocal music, the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus is an excellent example of the Ripple Effect of the arts.
I often get asked why my husband and I would leave our life on a Caribbean island behind to move back to the United States.
The short answer to this question is similar to the reason why you would choose to stay in a place like Cincinnati: you miss things like concerts, museums, theaters and libraries if they aren’t readily available. After a while even staring at the waves doesn’t compare to the energy that comes from living in the Greater Cincinnati region where there are more festivals, performances, concerts and exhibitions than there are days of the week.
I’m not alone in thinking that access to the arts improves the quality of life in a place. In fact, recent research done for ArtsWave in partnership with Agenda 360, revealed a correlation between those Greater Cincinnati residents who take part in the arts and those who express a positive view of Cincinnati. People who expressed satisfaction in this community and who saw opportunity here were 30% more active in the arts than those who did not feel satisfied or see opportunity.
This past week, as part of the Leadership Exchange trip to Atlanta organized by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, I was struck again by how integral the arts are to places that are growing and thriving. “The arts feed the ecosystem” of a region, said Dr. James Wagner, president of Emory University, as he reflected on building an innovation pipeline.
Sure, it’s true that in this day and age we can access a huge variety of entertainment options wherever we have an internet connection. But that doesn’t substitute for being able to experience a live music event in a historic concert hall with 3,000 other inspired neighbors, or discuss a provocative play with friends after a performance, or see how the choices of curators challenge our assumptions about the world through works of visual art. All of these experiences can only happen in a place that supports a wide variety of arts organizations.
Living with this abundance can make us take our arts scene for granted. But outsiders see the advantage clearly – Doug Hooker, head of the Atlanta Regional Commission, remarked that Cincy’s support of the arts is instructive for their city. The fact that Greater Cincinnati is home to so many world-class arts institutions and cutting-edge cultural experiences is one that could and should be exploited still more by site selectors, HR recruiters, college admission offices, and tourism agencies.
The arts in Cincinnati are a differentiator for those making location decisions, and they are can be a great reason to put down roots. The arts help make Cincinnati “sticky” – a place that talented people don’t want to leave.
What role do Cincinnati’s arts activities play in your decision to be here and stay here? Tell us at on Twitter or Facebook using #ArtsRipple.