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  • Adam Shalleck

2015 PAMC Keynote Introduction of Dr. Joanna Woronkowicz

The Shalleck Collaborative sponsored the keynote and featured speakers at the Performing Arts Manager’s Conference, which is a gathering for just that: executives and managers of performing arts centers across the US and Canada, and, well, the people who love them (theatre planners, acoustical consultants and architects). With the sponsorship, I am given the mic for a few minutes to say a few words of my choosing and introduce the speaker. Instead of boring and self-aggrandizing ramblings I try to make a series of relevant observations with some light notes on the history of theatre planning and cultural anthropology. Following here is the Introduction to Dr. Joanna Woronkowicz at the February 2015 PAMC in San Francisco:

For this year’s keynote we are going to talk about performing arts buildings. Here’s a news flash: they can be very expensive to build, and that’s just the start of it.

In 2012, I was in the final throes of arranging a panel for another conference on seeing what could inform what we do in bricks and mortar for the business side of the performing arts. I was on a call with one of my panelists, our colleague Duncan Webb, an arts management consultant out of New York City whom you may know, and he was happy to have just been quoted in the New York Times. He had helped with a study that had been just published about a theatre building boom from 1994-2008. The study is called “Set in Stone”, published out of the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center and it covers an era of projects from $4 mil. to those costing hundreds of millions. Suffice it to say my ears pricked up: that had been the bread basket of my career; having spent all of my waking hours to help build them.

I read every word. The introduction was dire: that the facilities cost much more than planned and that often caused all manner of struggle for the municipalities and institutions. The patterns of things that we all had observed were laid out in a massive scholarly endeavor.

I wrote the authors, one of whom is our speaker, a thank-you note. We now had a tool, a thick docket of allegories, data and recommendations that could inform the next generation of theatres so their Owners have eyes wide open and make reasonable plans, so that we will make buildings that propel organizations and the arts.

The importance of fine architecture cannot be overstated, but I think we all can agree that it might be best if it serves the sustainability of the institutions. That's what any of us would want, especially our major supporters and tax payers as a result of their generosity. The major donors are interested: the “Set in Stone” study was funded largely by names like Mellon, Kresge, MacArthur and Rockefeller. We all have some perspective now on the crash. With knowledge and leadership, with as much courage and tenacity as it takes to build them, and the wisdom and talent in this very room, we’ll be doing better.

It’s appropriate to speak of this here: With 22 projects during that era, San Francisco weighed in at $1.2 billion - coming in second in cultural spending per capita to Pittsfield, MA, which had 6 projects in a population of 45,000 people; and second in total cost to the NY tri-state area. I am happy to say that for the most part the performing arts organizations here did thrive in their new or improved buildings – if you add museums the results were mixed. Insatiable in its appetite, since 2008 several more major halls amounting to several hundred million more dollars have been completed.

As member of the host committee I brought Dr. Woronkowicz into the mix for consideration originally as a panelist, but the committee quickly felt the import of what she had to say worthy of the keynote.

Joanna is a Scholar. She earned her Ph.D. from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago with a dissertation titled "Cultural Infrastructure in the United States: 1994-2008" from which the “Set in Stone” study was synthesized. If the world were just, after inquiring about 700 cultural construction projects, I would have awarded her two Ph.D’s.

She’s produced a tall pile of interesting publications in the related areas of nonprofit management, urban development, and artist employment. She has extensive training in applied econometrics and survey methods, and has done a fair bit of consulting. She’s now an assistant professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and the Lilly School of Philanthropy, and remains a research associate at the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.

Her contributions to the “Set In Stone” study have evolved into a book just published by Routledge (and available here) called Building Better Arts Facilities: Lessons from a U.S. National Study.

When I asked her about the reaction to the original work, she diplomatically said “it was mixed – we indeed struck a few chords,” confirming that these are for sure a complex and difficult set of subjects to broach.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Please welcome Dr. Joanna Woronkowicz.

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