Arts and culture pros gather for a day of learning and inspiration
Take one film festival, add a dash of book club and theater performance, and sprinkle with Artists in Residence throughout the year and what do you get? Answer: The cultural essence at the heart of a JCC.
And how to nurture and expand the cultural offerings to better appeal to JCC participants and the wider community were at the root of the third Annual Gathering of Arts and Culture Professionals on Jan. 13.
The gathering brought together more than 50 JCC arts and culture professionals at JCC Association’s New York offices, where they spent the day talking about their work, their challenges, their successes and their vision for the future. The program was scheduled subsequent to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference in New York, and included professionals in New York for APAP, as well as those who could travel in for the day. Professional staff came from far and wide, including Vancouver, San Francisco, Houston, Baltimore, and Florida, as well as from Connecticut and New York.
“My thoughts are still swimming with some of the things we discussed,” says Esther Arbeid, manager of adult arts and culture and Toronto Jewish Film Society, at the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, Ontario. “This was the most useful professional development opportunity. I hope to return next year for another round with my JCC arts and culture colleagues.”
The annual event developed from a series of conversations with Randy Ellen Lutterman, JCC Association vice president of arts and culture, and JCC arts and culture professionals across the continent about the need to continue to grow and nourish a community of collaborators. The agenda for the day developed, similarly, through a collaborative exchange among the groups about topics that should be addressed. These included peer-to-peer break-out sessions about how and where to find great cultural programs for JCCS, facilitated by Lenore Naxon of the JCC of San Francisco; how to bring the best of Israel through the arts to JCCs, led by Marilyn Hassid of the Evelyn Rubinstein JCC in Houston; the challenges and opportunities of providing Jewish programming for interfaith, non-Jewish or unaffiliated audiences, facilitated by Arbeid; and the challenges and opportunities that come from producing, commissioning and creating new work, led by Shayna Kreisler of the 14th Street Y in New York.
As well, this year included a keynote speaker from outside the JCC Movement, Erik Gensler, president of Capacity Interactive, a digital marketing consulting firm for the arts, with clients that include the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Roundabout Theatre Company and New York City Ballet. Gensler discussed arts and culture digital marketing, and how JCC’s can retain relevance, be competitive in the field and continue to build community
Lutterman feels that the event has evolved to become a much anticipated professional development opportunity for this cohort of JCC arts professionals. “We began two years ago with a modest goal: finding a way to come together and be better connected,” she says. “The day now feels like a real touchstone for our arts and culture programmers, who come together to share resources, and expand the way they are thinking about the essential work they are doing.
“The day is filled with dynamic and important conversations, and we are finding creative ways to keep these going. We’re crafting a series of distance-learning opportunities, so that this group can continue to connect, collaborate and learn from one another.”
In addition to discussing programming and current trends, there will also be a focus on ways to co-produce, expense sharing, and other ways to collaborate. Some ideas include looking at talented MFA programs to find Artists in Residence for exploration of new work; looking for budget-friendly ways to bring Israeli artists to the J; using the JCC Movement’s Vision and Statement of Principles as a backdrop for arts and culture planning and in-depth conversation regarding content, controversy and diversity programming; better use of social media; programming for broad, diverse audiences; using JCCA.me as a clearing house for artists, and as a resource for block booking; and ways to use JCC Maccabi ArtsFest to create a next generation of artists and patrons.
The day’s programming left participants enthusiastic, brimming with ideas, and ready to return to their JCCs.
“Getting together with my JCC arts and culture colleagues was an inspiring, enriching and engaging experience,” says Randi Benesch, managing director of arts and culture, Gordon Center for Performing Arts of JCC of Greater Baltimore. “It helps remind me we are part of this larger community of professionals interested in infusing the arts into our Jewish communities in so many diverse ways.”