Posts Tagged ‘Kennedy Center’

Liberty and Egypt I know it’s been a while (comparatively) since I last posted something on the blog but dang, it feels like just yesterday that I left on the 3-day camel trek to get back to SA.  8 hours from DC to Amsterdam, only to wake up and find, despite a working day having gone by, that you are faced with another morning.  Then 12 hours to Cape Town.

Crazy.

DC ended with the inevitable run of goodbyes.  And admittedly, on a *little bit* of a hangover from a Swapping phone numbersfinal night of Fellowship, it might have been slightly more emotional than planned.  The goodbyes started at the hotel where those who weren’t yet leaving (or most of them, at least – Federico!!) came out to wave the first airport shuttle off.  I was in this bus and so, much like last year, my final memory of DC is the stoep of 2424 Penn being awash with hugging and kissing.  (Just for the record, no one cried; we’re very cool and level-headed, us Fellows.)  Luckily I got to travel to the airport with a large group of the Fellows, so it felt more like we were going on an outing than getting ready to leave.  Despite the very long queue to check in at  Dulles Airport, we still had heaps of time to kill Final goodbyes before we all boarded our various flights and so turned to what we do best, besides Arts Management: eating!  We had the choice of two restaurants: The Tequileria or Something-Else-That-I-Can’t-Remember.  We chose the Something-Else as it seemed a little too early for the Tequilaria, even for us hardened folk, and were served by the world’s most unhappy, disinterested, sad waitress – perhaps she too had been saying goodbye to people all morning – until finally the call came for Lukas and Nada to board their flight.  The second round of goodbyes.  That left Zvonimir, Fation, Kheri, George-of-the-Escalating FellowsJungle and myself still with hours to kill.  However Zvonimir and Fation were going to a different boarding gate to the rest of us, waaaaaaaaaay on the other side of the airport.  Croatia and Albania.  Nowhere near South Africa.  So it was goodbye number 3, leaving Kheri, GOTJ and I.  And still we had time to kill.  Done with the shopping, eating, goodbye-ing, we made our way to the boarding gate and waited to board, praying to be able to sleep and sleep and sleep as much as possible in the tin can that is economy class.  Did we manage?  Who knows.  My flight is a haze of Everlast, Tetris and Slumdog Millionaire (finally), laced with a fair amount of discomfort.

Finally we arrived in Amsterdam where we (surprise) got something to eat and wandered around the airport stretching our legs.  Now, Dutch cheese rocks, right?  So, wanted to buy some in the Duty Free at Schiphol Airport.  I asked the Cheese Lady whether I would have any problems at customs on entering SA.  “Oh, no”, she says, almost condescendingly, “everything we sell in this airport can be taken on a plane with no problem”.  (Subtext: I am Dutch and we are very organised so you can trust me.)  I read the subtext and buy great wodges of cheese for people at home.  By the way, I would love to know how shops in Duty Free go about their marketing.  I mean, they have a captive audience who is everything you want them to be: Honkie & Klonkietired, bored and trying to get rid of their foreign currency on gifts they forgot to buy before they left.  It’s genius.  Imagine the money a theatre company could make entertaining bored passengers in transit… Anyway, it then came time for the forth and final goodbye.  Kheri and GOTJ were carrying on together to Nairobi leaving li’l ol’ me and my 12 kgs of cheese to keep each other company.  I had to wonder why the 2 South Africans had been split up.  I’m not sure if Johann would have been more entertaining than the cheese but at least I could have laughed at how none of the airhostesses could work out whether he was asking for the chicken or beef.

So I boarded the plane with a heavy sense of reality that the summer learning, fun and Fellowship was now…officially…over.  Sniff.  Then I passed out.  And the next thing I was conscious of, besides the smells of perfume and toothpaste, was the plane touching down, and I knew I was home.  No matter how good “away” is, there really ain’t no place like home.  Proudly South African, ek sê.

And by the way, you can’t bring cheese into the country, as my lovely customs official pointed out when he opened my bag.  I quoted the Cheese Lady several times; he pointed at the Forbidden Items sign repeatedly.  It was only after much begging and pleading and batting of eyelids that he let me go with my cheese in tow.  Which is a good thing.  One should never come between a tired women and her cheese.  It’s just not clever.

Kennedy Center So here’s to a great summer, a wonderful Fellowship and an exciting year ahead.  And as I look at FTH:K and all that we want to do and achieve in the coming year, I have to remind myself of David’s words:

Do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed.

A big ask but an important one – what good are you to anyone when overwhelmed??  Besides (says Michael):

It does not happen in a day; it does not happen without failure; and it does not happen without discipline.

Here we go, world.  Watch this space for miracles ;-)

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…it’s over!

 4th July - Fellows (smaller)

The classes have ended, the luncheon is finished, the Thank You gifts distributed, the debriefing session over, the last-minute shopping completed, and I find myself sitting quietly in my hotel room contemplating my return to SA.  It’s over.  Much, much faster than last year; much, much faster than I would have liked; and if it wasn’t for how great the programme has been, I would feel cheated.  The 2009 Fellowship has been more challenging than last-year’s programme largely because it has pushed us to be far more independent.  Last year was all about sessions.  We met with every staff member (it felt like) in the Kennedy Center.  Literally!  We were large human sponges sucking up the info that was being thrown at us from all sides, and most of us went home feeing totally overwhelmed.  This year, we had very few formal sessions, almost too few, and we were expected to be a lot more proactive and independent in our work.  I guess I wasn’t expecting this and so it was challenging.  In many ways, this year was about finding ways to apply what we had learnt last year, and as Michael says: the theory is the easy part.  Applying it is where it gets tough.

There are so many things I want to do when I get back.  One of the most important things is to make time for reflection.  To set time aside that can’t be used for meetings and admin and and and…all the things that have to be done on a day-to-day basis to keep the organisation running but that keep you from dreaming new dreams, planning new plans and generally inspiring you to keep going.  You can get so tied up in the daily grind that you lose track of what it is you are trying to do.  You know, head in the reeds and all that.  There’s so much to do when I get back.  Exciting and difficult.  And I want to do everything I can to not fall back into bad habits (obsessively checking my email, procrastinating on the jobs that need doing but that I don’t want to do etc) and really use this time away, this sabbatical, as a chance to click into a new gear.  More.  Focus.  Clearer.  Sharper.  Keener.  And I want to see the difference in FTH:K…am I impatient?  You think?!

And dang, I hope the weather is good to me when I arrive!  To go from hot, humid, lovely summer 8 pm sunsets to freezing cold (relative to the Russian Fellow), rainy Cape Town might just kill me! 

Anyway, the rest of this blog is dedicated to the wonderful Fellows, new and old, that have enriched my DC experience more than they know.  Today, I began getting scared to come back next year, knowing that this time 2010, there will be no “next time”.  The goodbyes will be final.  Kinda like the beginning of the end.  And then, not only will we no longer come back to the KC for this Fellowship, saying goodbye to our unlikely summer family, but we will also be on our own, standing alone, bravely leading our arts industries to new and better places.  And if that ain’t a scary, emotional thought, then I don’t know what is!  Although, that may be a little dramatic.  I don’t think our group of Fellows will ever be “alone”.  We are Kennedy Center Fellows and that means we share common goals, common methodologies and a network that has the potential to be the difference in Arts Management internationally. 

So, to my fellow Fellows, THANK YOU. I love you all.

The Three Musketeers Attentive disciples Denisse & Pavlina with Embassy representative Fation with his Embassy's representative Fation with his Embassy's representative 2 Yvonne with her Embassy's representatives Fation with ISF sponsors Federico & Natalie with Embassy representative Federico, Denisse & friend of the Fellows Fellows enjoy themselves too much too often! George with Big Tom Jiyeon, Patrick, Yvonne & Joyce     Papa Michael Patrick Lukas & Eva  Mohamed insists  My surrogate familyMama Caitlin Joyce with her Embassy's representativeMore discussionsNada with her Embassy's representative Nada with her Embassy's representative 2 Noora, Nada, Reem & the evening's generous sponsor   Patrick & Lucas Patrick, Caitline, Yvonne & TamerKheri & Reem Pavlina & Angela have a chat Pavlina, Denisse & Noora Reem with a friend of the Fellows South African - Palestinian sisters Tamer gives George some pointers Tanya doing what she does best The Czech contingency  Wendy with her Embassy's representative

As you may know – if you have been paying attention – that despite this blog being all from my point of view, there have actually been a number of Fellows around on the programme with me.  None of them as brilliant or amazing, mind you, but what can you do ;-)

Obviously I’m talking rubbish.  Both groups of Fellows selected by the Kennedy Center are amazing people doing amazing things in their various countries.  So, steel yourself for a whole list of awesome…

2008 – 2010 Fellows

NadaNADA MASSOUD (Head of Communication for the Al Bustan Festival; Lebanon; festival@albustan-lb.com)

The Al Bustan Festival is an international festival of music and performing arts that takes place annually during the months of February and March.  It presents a wide range of performances, from symphonic orchestra to chamber music, to operas, contemporary dance, oriental music, sacred music and jazz.  Since its inception in 1994, the Festival has been contributing to the revival of the cultural scene in Lebanon after the Lebanese war, and to date, has invited over 5000 international artists.  Each year the Festival is programmed around a theme, and in 2010 the theme will be Prima la Muzica (Music First).

Noora 2NOORA BAKER (Manager of El-Funoun Dance Troupe; Palestine; noora.baker@el-funoun.org)

El-Funoun Dance Troupe, established in 1979, is an independent non-profit organization that is volunteer-based.  The Troupe aims at developing and promoting contemporary Palestinian dance through reviving Palestinian folklore, deriving from it, building on it and adding to it El-Funoun’s unique dance style.  In 1986, El-Funoun established the Bara’em youth dance group to promote Palestinian-Arab cultural identity and to counter the marginalization and alienation of Palestinian children and youth through music and dance expression.  El-Funoun played a key role in establishing the Popular Art Centre in 1987, a community organization committed to raising awareness about the arts, and opening opportunities for community members to participate in artistic activity and expression.

Wendy WENDY CHUNG (Assistant Public Relations Manager of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; China; chungwyw@gmail.com)

The Academy is one of the leading institutes of higher arts education in Asia. It offers training in dance, drama, film and television, music, theatre and entertainment arts, as well as Chinese traditional Theatre.

Become a Facebook Fan or watch the official 5-min video on YouTube.

Zvonimir ZVONIMIR DOBROVIC (Program Director and founder of Queer Zagreb and Perforations festivals; Croatia; zvonimir.dobrovic@gmail.com)

The Queer Zagreb Festival deals with challenging norms within a transitional, traditional and generally speaking uniformed post-socialist society by presenting artists, academics and activists from all over the world whose works address these issues. Queer Zagreb has been taking place annually since 2003 in April / May and has become one of the main international festivals in Zagreb.

Perforations is a new festival dedicated to producing new work by Croatian and regionally-established, as well as young and emerging, artists. The first Perforations will take place in Dubrovnik and Zagreb in September 2009 and will present 25 new theatre, dance and live art productions.

Denisse DENISSE FLORES SOMARRIBA (Public Affairs coordinator of Cultura UDG [Cultural and Arts Department of the University of Guadalajara]; Mexico; denisse.flores@redudg.udg.mx)

Cultura UDG optimizes cultural infrastructure conditions, improves and creates cultural and artistic offerings for its student communities and society as a whole in Guadalajara and western Mexico.  It presents national and international performances and exhibitions, produces the International Book Fair of Guadalajara and International Film Festival of Guadalajara, and commissions and produces local Guadalajara artists.  The University of Guadalajara is a leading institution for culture and arts in Mexico.

She is also the co founder of the Female Sessions Festival, a multidiscipline festival that deals with social issues that have affected (and still affect) women throughout history, by presenting work by young female artists as well as artists that are recognized for their long artistic career.  Female Sessions currently takes place in Guadalajara but Denisse plans to develop it into a national project soon.

Johann JOHANN DAVIS (Marketing Manager for Jazzart Dance Theatre; South Africa; johann@jazzart.co.za)

Jazzart Dance Theatre is acknowledged as one of South Africa’s leading dance/theatre performing company with an enormous creative and critical output.  Its roots and philosophies are located in the widest range of cultural experiences available within South Africa. Jazzart has a demonstrated practice of being a politically aware, socially responsible and multi-culturally inclusive performance company since the late 70’s.

Become a Facebook Fan.

Mohammed MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEM (Director of Wekalet el Ghouri Arts Center; Egypt; dayem25@yahoo.com)

Wekalet el Ghouri Arts Center it is an architecturally stunning arts center in the Al Azhar area in Central Cairo. The center operates under the Ministry of Culture, and the Cultural Development Fund (CDF). Since finalizing restorations to the building in October 2005, it has become a hot-spot for organizing cultural events, festivals, workshops for children and courses in Arts History.

Katerina KATERINA KOUTNA (Marketing Director of Prague Spring International Music Festival; Czech Republic; koutna@festival.cz)

In its 65th year in 2010, the renowned Prague Spring International Music Festival is a springtime celebration of music.  With dozens of concerts of classical music, jazz and many other musical genres, providing a platform for artists of the highest quality, as well as symphony orchestras and chamber groups with an international standing.  The Prague Spring Festival also has a particular focus in showcasing younger performers.  The Prague Spring International Music Competition was established just one year after the festival itself, and is held each year in various instrumental sections.  Every year from 12 May to the beginning of June it brings over one thousand artists to more than forty thousand concertgoers and thus remains one of the most important cultural events in the Czech Republic.

Become a Facebook Fan or tune into the Festival YouTube channel.

Eva EVA KESSLOVA (Managing Director of the BERG Orchestra; Czech Republic; eva@berg.cz)

BERG Orchestra is a Czech orchestra that concentrates on programming new and 20th century music.  It regularly commissions new works with the best young Czech composers and performs these works at its concerts.  The mission is not only to promote new music but also to attract new audiences to it.  Very often, the concerts mix music with other art forms like dance, theatre, and film. BERG Orchestra performs not only in regular concert halls but it is constantly searching for new spaces to present its music.  Previous performance spaces include an old sewage plant, art cinema and modern art museum.

Angela ANGELA DELGADO VALDIVIA (Director of Cultural Activities at the Peruvian North American Bi National Cultural Center; Perú; cultura@cultural.edu.pe)

Based in Arequipa, this non profit organization is focused on promoting Peruvian and international contemporary art in the visual and performing areas.  It offers well-placed venues within a beautiful colonial house that have an interesting mixture of architectural styles.
This Bi-National Center, known as CULTURAL, also offers English as a second language and has one of the best libraries in town.

GeorgeGEORGE NDIRITU (Project Founder and Manager of Haba na Haba; Kenya; habanahaba@mysakenya.org)

Haba na Haba is a project linking creative arts with social improvement and community development activities.  Our mission is to provide education, and increase participation and appreciation of the arts. Haba na Haba is based in the Eastlands of Nairobi, Kenya, providing artistic activities to over 600 members.  Our activities include, Music, Drama, Dance, Fine arts and Acrobatics, and all activities are free and open to all.  Find out more on YouTube or click here and here.

Tamer TAMER ASSEM ALI (Director of Mahmoud Mokhtar Cultural Center; Egypt; tamer.assem@gmail.com)

Mahmoud Mokhtar Cultural Center was established 2006 in the premises of the great sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar.  The Center aims to activate dialogue between different artistic media and the spectator through national and international exhibitions, workshops and cultural events.  The Center has 3 main sections: the Nahdet Misr Gallery, the Cultural Garden, and the Museum.  The NAHDET MISR GALLERY hosts various exhibitions, art projects, workshops, and screenings of films, documentaries and video art.  The CULTURAL GARDEN hosts open air events like musical concerts, theatre, performance art, workshops in different media and open air exhibitions.  The MUSEUM of the great sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar displays a unique variety of the artists’ productions.

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Other 2008 – 2010 Fellows (I’ll update this post as the info comes in) include:

  • Dr Abdullah Hassan Alghaith (Kuwait)
  • Fatjon Dragoshi (Albania; Ministry of Toursim, Culture, Youth and Sports)
  • Jing Zhu (China)
  • Dr Mahmoud Abuhashhash (Palestine; A. M. Qattan Foundation)
  • Pavlina Svatonova (Czech Republic)

2009 – 2011 Fellows

JoyceJOYCE YAO (Programme Manager of The Theatre Practice; Singapore; joyce@practice.org.sg)

At The Theatre Practice we may not be all shine and swanky-polish, but our charm lies in our unwavering commitment to our vision and beliefs.  Born in 1986 and founded by Kuo Pao Kun, we are Singapore’s first bilingual theatre company.  Whether we are young or old, of supple limb or weathered step, our boundless energy springs from our passion for creativity and the arts. And on the road ahead, we will continue to objectively critique life, respectfully entertain audiences, and always explore new uncharted waters.  Follow our blog or become a Facebook Fan.

JudePATRICK-JUDE OTEH (Artistic Director of the Jos Repertory Theatre; Nigeria; josreperthea@yahoo.com)

The Jos Repertory Theatre is based in the city of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.  Our mission is to create unforgettable theatre for communities in and around Nigeria and to make Jos a way station for the performing arts in Nigeria.  Patrick-Jude runs the organization with five other colleagues and our core area of business is live theatre performances.  We also do a lot of work in and around communities aimed at education and awareness and we have started a touring program to five states in Nigeria taking in both schools and commercial performances.

The Great Falls & Lukas LUKÁŠ PRŮDEK (Head of Marketing and Production Department of Dejvicke Theater; Czech Republic; Lukas.prudek@dejvickedivadlo.cz)

Dejvicke Theater is a small drama theatre in the Prague district of Dejvice. Dejvicke Theater was founded 17 years ago as a Non-Profit Organisation by its director, Eva Merickova, and among Czech theatres, is considered as one which produces high quality performances with great and well-known Czech artists.

Kheri KHERI A. YUSSUF (Senior Project Administrator of Dhow Countries Music Academy; Zanzibar; admin@zanzibarmusic.org)

The mission of Dhow Countries Music Academy is to “preserve, develop and promote the musical heritage of Zanzibar”.  Its core business is offering access to music training, music agencies, recording studios, and outreach Programmes for schools and villages.  Its geographical scope includes Zanzibar, United Rep of Tanzania (base), East Africa, and Indian Ocean Islands and it has Main Partner Organisations in Egypt, Palestine, Norway, Germany.

Ji Yeon JIYEON PARK (Assistant Manager, Performing Arts Programming and Marketing of Daejeon Culture and Arts Center; Korea; jiyeonpark@gmail.com)

Since its opening in October, 2003, Daejeon Culture and Arts Center, a subsidiary organization of city of Daejeon, has gained its reputation as one of the most vibrant local performing arts organizations in South Korea.  There are four resident performing arts groups in the centre which include Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra, Daejeon Philharmonic Choir, Daejeon Metropolitan Dance Theatre and Daejeon Civic Youth Choir.  Daejeon Culture and Arts Center generally presents 90 performances from various performing arts genres throughout the year.

Federico FEDERICO BRAUN (Administration Manager of Tate Modern ; Great Britain; federico.braun@tate.org.uk)

The Tate Modern was established to increase public knowledge, understanding and appreciation of British art from the sixteenth century to the present day and of international modern and contemporary art.

Become a Facebook Fan or visit the Tate Modern YouTube Channel.

Other 2009 – 2011 Fellows include:

This is a direct quote from one of FTH:K’s major funders.  He made this comment almost flippantly while I was Facebooking him today (yes, they even use Facebook chat) and I laughed out loud at how…cute…it was!  But he’s absolutely right.  Arts organisations need to be careful to treat their funders as people, not as service providers if they want to keep their support, or even better, get a bigger gift from them next time round.  And this isn’t rocket science; it’s all about managing relationships, which we are all fairly proficient at given that we do this all the time in our personal lives.  Would you expect a friend to be there for you or to invest time in your life if you only contacted her when you needed something?  Sure, she might be there the first, second or even third time, but at some point she’s either going to tell you where to get off the bus, or happen upon another friend who reciprocates more.  And then you’re going to have to work 5 times harder to get her back, if at all.  Same principle applies to an organisation’s supporters, and I don’t only mean the ones giving the money.

My mother used to tease us when we were kids, saying our love was “Cupboard Love” – that we only loved her for what we could get out of her.  As an Arts Manager, I have to constantly remind myself to be careful not to exercise Cupboard Love when dealing with our sponsors.  For sure, the exchange is typically financial, and I’m not saying that we should all be cracking a beer and hanging out around the pool with our funders (a little distance is not necessarily a bad thing), but we should be thinking about the person in the job, not only the job.  I’d like to think that FTH:K has a good relationship with most of its funders but there’s always more to do to make them feel involved in the Company’s life and growth.  And quite simply, to demonstrate the appreciation that the Company feels daily for this support.  We just get so busy doing what we do and the next thing, I look up, and suddenly a year has gone by and I’m back asking them for money!  It’s not enough to assume that our supporters know that we love them and appreciate that we exist thanks to their support.  We need to show it.  It’s time-consuming and takes discipline, but it could be the difference between getting that grant and not.

And hey, some funders are actually really nice people too!

4th July - TinkIt’s no surprise that 4th July is a big deal in DC.  People take Independence Day seriously all over the States, right, so take the average American 4th of July celebration and times it by 20, and lo, you have the 4th of July in the 4th July - KC rooftopnation’s capital!  Every year, the Kennedy Center decks out its halls with an American feast, sets up its rooms with games, and offers up its terrace to tables of revellers both young and old.  It’s a real  family affair, and you can just as easily find an all-American hot dog as you can a fine crab dinner.  They have it all.  And we ate most of it!

4th July - Egypt & Albania celebrate The celebrations start with an Independence Day Parade from Constitution Avenue to 7th and 17th Streets, featuring marching bands, military and specialty units, floats, and VIP’s.  Then there’s the Smithsonian Folklife Festival which includes music and dance performances, 4th July - the Fellows with the Statue of Libertycrafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling and discussions of cultural issues. The National Archives celebrates with special family programming celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the White House Visitor Center offers games, crafts and other activities celebrating America’s Birthday.

Then the real fun starts, and on big screens 4th July - Tink & Abe Lincolnthroughout the Center, you can watch and listen to it all.  First, the concert on the Washington Monument Grounds (the U.S. Army Concert Band and the U.S. Army Band Downrange plays) then the Capitol Fourth Concert.  A 4th of July tradition in the nation’s capital includes a live concert by the National Symphony Orchestra (resident at the Kennedy Center) and several “pop artists” performing patriotic music on the West  Lawn of the U.S. Capitol 4th July - Happy 4th 3Building.  This year, the “pop artists” included Barry Manilow, Aretha Franklin, Natasha Bedingfield, and the cast of Sesame Street.  Seriously.  And there was a short address by Obama himself.  Of course, the highlight of the whole day & evening is the incredible fireworks display 4th July - Happy 4th 4that happens at about 9:15 pm.  The fireworks are launched from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and light up the sky over the Washington Monument.  It just happens that the Kennedy Center terrace is a prime viewing location.  It really is incredible!  OK, every animal for 30 kilometres is scared out of its wits, but hey, it’s Independence Day!  Needless to say, we had a blast!

Just for the record, we gave the Independence Day celebrations a 4th July - Noora & Denissegood run for their money the night before when we hosted our annual National Dinner.  We first did this last year to welcome two of the Fellows into the group when they arrived late to the programme.  The premise is simple: everyone cooks something traditional from their country and we all get together and nosh.  It was a great success last year and so we decided to do it again this year with the new Fellows as a way of spending some time with them.  They have been doing a lot of classes, as we did last year, so we have not seen them too much.  Michael had said 4th July - Katerina & Lucaswe need to network more and there’s nothing like a multi-national meal and a bottle of genuine Mexican tequila to seal a bond!  So we had food from Romania, Czech Republic, Mexico, Argentina, Croatia, Kuwait, Egypt (although, I’m not sure pasta counts, Mohamed!), South Africa, Kenya, Palestine, China, France, and many more that I can’t think of right now.  But there was lots.  And it was good.  Last year Johann’s bacon and banana pizza was treated with total disdain by all the Fellows but this year, after he “made” it again (bought a bacon pizza and cut some banana onto it) Fation took a bet with him that if any of the Fellows ate his pizza, he’d pay him $50 per slice.  (Did I mention that no one ate a single slice last year?!)  In the space of 1 4th July - Johann & Abe Lincoln minute, both Yvonne (Romania) and George (Kenya) had tucked into said pizza, and later Yvonne even went back for more!  As far as I know, Johann is still waiting for his $150…

Last year I made a lentil bobotie so this year, sticking with the banana theme, I made banana bread which, unlike Johann’s pizza (which I believe is still sustaining him in the way of left-overs) disappeared chop-chop, as all decent banana bread does.  Vive le banan!

Even though Friday was a Public Holiday here (4th of July falls on a Saturday this year) we still had a morning session with Michael.  Particularly cool about this session was the fact that we had all the Fellows together, both the first- and second-year groups.  As you may know, this is the second year of the International Summer Fellowship Programme and every year, a group of new participants is chosen.  So, we were the first group last year and are now in second year, with a new group of first years having been selected.  Next year, there will be three groups coming to the KC concurrently (first, second and third years), which is how it will continue for as long as the KC chooses to run the programme.

Is this making sense to you? (KC joke…sorry…)

So in this All-Fellow session, Michael explained that he wanted to call on a few of the second-year Fellows to talk about some of the things that they had implemented from the KC since their Fellowship last year, and what had worked/not worked.  First up, he calls on Zvonimir  who runs an awesome Festival (now two) in Croatia that (broadly explained) deals with the notion of “The Other” or “Queer” in a sense of everything outside the norm.  Zvonimir is one of those guys who is someone you learn from all the time because he’s good at what he does without being self-righteous about it.  So whenever you talk work, he oozes confidence and a clarity about how he does what we does without even realising it.  He spoke about getting rid of the many complimentary tickets that the Festival used to give out and that had become expected by everyone.  (Michael’s BIG on the abolition of comps, citing simply that your work is not worth no money at all, and if it is, you shouldn’t be doing it!) So Zvonimir explained that at first, people were a little peeved at being denied comps and some people pointedly did not buy tickets as a result.  However, after the Fest closed and they could crunch the figures, it appeared that while attendance was down, the Festivals still pulled in more revenue on ticket sales than ever before, meaning one of two things: 1) comping people significantly eats into your income; 2) that people were prepared to pay money to watch shows.  So, why comp someone who is prepared to pay to see your show anyway?  If they want to come, they will come.  And if you set up the understanding that you don’t ever offer comps, people will get used to it.  (Of course, your price point has to be appropriate.)  Michael also pointed out that Zvonimir’s fundraising had been made significantly easier by setting up a second Festival, so even though he is now needing to raise more money than before, the project and its impact is much greater so sponsors are more interested in getting involved.  Another teaching of Michael: don’t be scared of big projects; they are often easier to pull together if done cleverly.

Next in the hot seat was Noora who has a traditional dance troupe in Palestine (yes, it does exist) and does unbelievable work under pretty tough conditions.  Her group has been going for 30 years and has developed a solid support structure of people who would literally die for the organisation.  Michael visited her group earlier on in the year and was very complimentary about everything she is achieving there.  For this session, he asked her to speak specifically about her Board and the involvement of each individual on it.  She explained that every Board member does something specific for the organisation (on a voluntary basis) from performance, to technicals, to fundraising, to management, and you are only invited to sit on the Board after 7 years of service to the group.  The commitment of the Board Members is clear and is something many arts organisations would be envious of.  She also started a Membership Programme (paying an annual amount of money towards the sustainability of the organisation and receiving certain membership benefits) and reported that she is successfully getting it off the ground.  Noora is a do-er; one of those women that makes things happen no matter what the circumstance, and her passion, commitment and never-failing sense of humour is a pleasure to be around and learn from.

Just as I’m getting into this all, listening to my fellow Fellows talking about their successes, feeling proud on behalf of them, feeling lucky to know them and get to learn from them, Michael turns to me and says, “So Tanya, what have you been up to in South Africa?”  Now, I’m not expecting this because, with only a limited amount of time with Michael in this session, I am expecting him to call on one of the Czech Chicks, or the Egyptian contingency or Nada from Lebanon, all with so many successes and experiences to share.  But he calls on me.  What have I been doing in South Africa?  So, I start.  Now let me just say upfront that I exist in two perpetual states about the work I am doing for FTH:K: on one hand, I am really proud of what we are achieving. None of us are trained in management or administration.  I’m a trained dancer and theatre-maker now turned Arts Manager, after all, so I try to celebrate all our successes, big and small, always remembering where we started.  On the other hand, I am constantly impatient to see results, to be doing more, developing faster, getting securer; and too often I find myself fixated on that which we haven’t yet achieved rather than that which we have.  Pride vs. Self-Criticism.  And as I start speaking, it is this very conflict of pride and self-criticism that plays out.  My role in the scenario is that of Pride while Michael picks up the script for Self-Criticism.  I begin talking about our success in doing away with the expected Opening Night complimentary tickets, without much fallout from audience members.  FTH:K’s work is worth at least R20, it appears.  He lets me take a point here.  But on feeding back on our Membership Programme, Development Committee and staffing issues, Pride takes a series of knocks.  Membership is not growing fast enough; there are concerns around the Development Committee make-up; and all the Fellows get involved in a discussion around whether my take on employees (MUST potential management employees be avid theatre supporters in order to be successful at their jobs?) is correct.  Pride feels a little deflated.

The session ends and a number of Fellows, old and new, comment on how “harsh” Michael was on me.  And I’m left thinking: was he really?  Was I called to speak as a bad example?! (Akkk!!  Pride whimpers in a corner at the thought!) Or was Michael simply making use of my thick skin to direct difficult commentary through me, to the rest of the group?  It could be that, given he believes that SA and the USA have a lot in common in terms of arts environments, he had expected more growth in less time from me.  Maybe he wanted to be harsh with me to motivate me, eliciting the response of, “Well, I’ll show you…4000 members coming up!”  Maybe, quite simply, it’s just that my big mouth encourages people to want to put me in my place!  Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

And as I am mulling over this, with Fellows and a few shots of tequila, I remind myself of what this Fellowship is all about: learning, planning and networking.  Can I learn something from Michael’s criticism?  Yes.  Can what I have learnt from him help me do my work better in SA?  Yes.  Will my work in SA help achieve the vision and aims of FTH:K?  Absolutely.  So, what’s the problem?!  There is no place for ego and pride in this Fellowship.  It’s about developing and growing, and that may happen in challenging, sometimes de-motivating ways.  But hey, if you can’t take the heat, get out of Arts Management!  And I am reminded once again that the performing arts world is not for sissies…

In a session with Michael yesterday, we were talking about artistic programming and the current state of the arts in the States.  Of course we were.  These are two of his favourite topics.  It’s hard to pick out the “important” points that he makes when he talks because a) they all feed into each other in a most frustratingly symbiotic way, and b) he’s just so damn knowledgeable!!  Anyway, one of the things he said was that many smaller arts organisations are responding to current tough times in the US by reverting to more conservative artistic programming.  Stuff that audiences know and trust.  He sees this as problematic for a number of reasons, one of them being that a smaller organisation putting on Cats is generally not going to be able to compete with a larger organisation putting on the same (kind of) show.  Also, if an experimental theatre group decides to put on a more traditional piece in order to get more bums on seats, chances are they won’t do a particularly good job of it because that’s not what they specialise in.  Let alone the fact that they will disappoint their regular crowd, potentially resulting in even smaller houses.

Makes sense so far.

Then we moved onto a Marketing session with David who was taking us through the year that the Kennedy Center has had since us Summer Fellows were last here, and he noted that at the moment, US ticket-buying seems to be such: people know what they want to see and will only go and see that.  So some shows are doing exceptionally well, while others are doing really badly.  The in-between buyer, the one who is not 100% percent sure that they will enjoy a certain show but buy a ticket anyway, is hibernating.  So tickets are selling for the “sure thing” not the “maybe”. 

Hmmmm…

At first glance, these two comments seem to be contradictory.  On one hand, we are being encouraged not to go for more conservative programming while on the other hand, we are being told that the shows that are selling are the “sure thing”.  (Add to this the fact that FTH:K‘s most recent piece, QUACK!, has to be one of our most experimental yet!) 

So I  mull over this apparent contradiction, trying to work out how these points co-exist and where FTH:K falls into it all.  And I have a moment of clarity.  (Yes, imagine that.)  I realise that Michael is not saying that we should all be making crazy-ass work that explores the inner psychology of chewing gum and that no one understands.  He’s just saying: stand out!  Of all the times to be noticed,  it’s now: when the pie is smaller but the number of people wanting a piece of it hasn’t reduced any.  He’s saying, be noticeably sexier than the rest of the organisations competing for your audience members (and funders).  And David, in his infinite wisdom, is chiming in saying, be the sure thing!  Be the organisation that people know they will have a good experience with, be it conservative or experimental.  There’s an audience for everything, after all.  Just make sure that when your audience is deciding on which piece of conservative/experimental theatre to see tonight, you’re the obvious choice.

When I grow up, I want to be Michael Kitto-Mattson.