I’m very happy to welcome Matt Hinsley of the Austin Classical Guitar Society (among other things – he’s sort of a one-man juggernaut for the cause of music education and promoting the classical guitar, and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious and humbling) as the newest contributor the GSI Blog. Matt’s going to be filling us in on his activities, as well as conducting interviews with educators and guitarists and whatever else he feels like writing about. One of my favorite things about Matt is that he’s constantly finding new ways to bring the guitar to new audiences, and to bring new audiences to the guitar. This first post of his is a great example of that:
Reaching Out with Programming – Part 1 of 3: Austin Guitar Salon
This past season I decided to do some experimenting with our programming to see if we, at the Austin Classical Guitar Society, could find success and community connection reaching beyond our standard venues and presentation approaches. Here’s a report!
Our “standard” concert presentations include an International Concert Series (5 major events) with an average attendance of about 500, a Summer Chamber Music Series (3 major events) also with an average attendance of about 500, an in-home catered salon concert we call our Benefit Concert that seats about 65, and a gala fundraiser for education that, this year, had about 265 for a full dinner, open bar, and concert. We also have around 100 outreach events annually ranging from education performances to free community concerts.
I’ve become very interested, however, in partnerships, in pushing traditional classical music boundaries, and in salon-style events. I suppose the goal is not just in reaching new, and more, people, but is particularly in serving people better – trying to develop something for everyone, trying to meet our community where they’d like to be met. This is part one of a three-part series.
Austin Guitar Salon
The roots of our first experiment in expanded programming began in the car as I was on the way to a lunch appointment late last summer. I was riding through an old part of town and passed a stately mansion with a big historic building marker next to the front door. It struck me that it would be interesting to present concerts in a place like that! My mind started whirring and by the time I finished my lunch meeting (about a completely different subject), I had a vision: what if we could launch a new intimate concert series with mini wine and cheese receptions in historic buildings in Austin? It also occurred to me that such a series, while seemingly appealing anyway, might also be an opportunity for us to hire more local talent – something I’d been wanting to do.
So I called a friend of mine, who is a realtor dealing primarily in older properties in town, who I also happened to know was involved with the Heritage Society of Austin – the entity that advocates for historic structures in town. We had lunch and I pitched the vision. Not only did she think it was a really neat idea, she said she thought she and her business partner might even sponsor an initial series! She helped me set up lunch with the Executive Director of the Heritage Society.
In Austin there is a supremely cool new cheese shop called Antonelli’s. My wife and I had been in, because we love cheese, but I’d never met the owners. So I called John, who owns the shop with his wife Kendal, and told him I’d like to meet up and chat about an idea I had to partner with them. Happily he agreed, and we got together – over cheese, of course – and talked some things through. I should say that we have a perennial wine sponsor in Twin Liquors in Austin. They have been amazingly supportive, so going into my meeting with John I already knew I had Twin’s support for the series. I told them I’d like their involvement, that we could pay the cost of their product if they would set up meat and cheese receptions for 50 guests, but that I’d like them to be there personally – and that their involvement would be central in our marketing strategy. John and Kendal were in!
So by the time we met with the Heritage Society, the proposal was becoming clear: Would the Heritage Society help us locate and secure usage of three gorgeous historic homes, and also help us market and present three intimate concerts in the spring with wine and cheese receptions provided by Twin Liquors and Antonelli’s Cheese Shop? The answer was yes!
We decided to call the series Austin Guitar Salon. We hired three Texas-based acts: Tony Morris (the host of the popular internationally syndicated radio show Classical Guitar Alive!) with Renata Green (flute), Janet Grohovac, and the Texas Guitar Quartet.
All three concerts sold out well in advance. Many people commented on how much they enjoyed the opportunity to nibble and socialize and see new places. The artists played beautifully and presented programs that felt more relaxed and open then most in our more formal concert-hall settings. Audience members even felt comfortable asking questions. One patron, who has been attending our events for years, told me she enjoyed her first Austin Guitar Salon concert more than any concert she’d ever seen.
We set ticket prices at $50 ($40 for members, students, and seniors). Between sales and sponsorships the series brought in close to $10,000. So not a huge amount of money, but with at-cost pricing and local artists, volunteer power, and donated venues, our costs were very low as well. And I’d especially like to mention that the series brought about many non-monetary benefits including: folks had a great time, the intimate social setting allowed for making new friends both socially and organizationally speaking, we were able to hire new artists, and the partner organizations reached new people: cheese fans came out and learned about guitar, guitar fans came out and learned about historic homes, and heritage fans came out and learned about cheese!
Next in this series: Classical Cactus…
Dr. Matthew Hinsley is the Executive Director of the Austin Classical Guitar Society. A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the University of Texas at Austin, Hinsley has published two books: Classical Guitar for Young People, and Creativity to Community: Arts nonprofit Success One Coffee at a Time.
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