In the first and second parts of this series I described two ways that we at the Austin Classical Guitar Society, have experimented with expanding our normal programming. Our “normal” programming is pretty broad: from several major series, to hundreds of annual outreach events, and a vast education program including middle schools, high schools, and opportunities for adult learners as well.
I’ve mentioned two new smaller series, one an in-home partnership with the Heritage Society of Austin, a local Cheese Shop, and a local liquor store to present intimate concerts in historic homes with wine and cheese receptions – that one we called Austin Guitar Salon. The second amounts to monthly concerts in a local live music venue that is more of a bar than a concert hall – that series is known as Classical Cactus. Both series have enjoyed sold-out audiences and have benefited greatly from strong partnerships and careful branding.
So in this, my third and final installment of a series devoted to reaching out with programming I’d like to talk about the effect creative partnership is having on one of our major series. A series that begins – at the time of this writing (Saturday morning, June 11th) – later on today!
We have a summer chamber music series that began in 2005. The series was started with two things in mind: an opportunity to present chamber music on the guitar (which we were not doing on our International Concert Series), and a chance to co-present with other area arts groups. The series has had many distinguished moments: we commissioned and premiered a new work by Leonardo Balada for guitar and string quartet performed by Eliot Fisk and the Miro Quartet, we commissioned and premiered a new work for guitar and string quartet by Jorge Morel for Jorge Caballero’s Axis Quintet, Los Romeros have appeared on the series, and many more.
This summer we’re trying something completely new. We decided to present an all Latin-American program we’ve called Pasión with performances by Rene Izquierdo & Edel Muñoz (Cuba), the Bandini-Chiachiaretta Duo (Tango) and Juan Carlos Laguna (Mexico). We’re presenting it, appropriately, at the Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin – a beautiful, though intimate, new venue.
It occurred to me as the series was coming together artistically, though, that it would be really fun to try and develop special receptions for each concert – paired with the regions of the music we’d be presenting. So create a Cuban-themed reception for the first one, an Argentine reception for the second one, and a Mexican-themed reception for the third. Austin is full of excellent restaurants. So I did some ticket and cost projection calculations and felt that, with moderate to strong ticket sales, we’d be able to afford $1,000 for a reception for each concert. I put together a proposal for area restaurants suggesting that if they would create catered, themed receptions (drinks not included) for 500, we would cover cost of $1,000. So the restaurant would not be making any money, but at least some of their hard costs would be covered. I also explained (in the proposal) that our partnership with the restaurant would be a central part of our marketing strategy for the series: the restaurant name and logo would be prominently displayed in all press materials, online, in blog posts, in press releases, in media appearances, etc.
We identified a number of restaurants we thought would be good candidates and set about contacting them. Of the 15 or so we reached out to, 3 ultimately got back to us. Happily enough, La Sombra Bar and Grill offered to do the entire series! La Sombra is an amazing new place in town specializing in pan-Latin American cuisine, so the fit was absolutely perfect!
In talking with the co-owner, Cameron, we decided not only to do the three originally-planned concert events, but also plan a special in-restaurant 5-course meal and concert as a special kick-off concert for the series with $75 tickets.
The restaurant has been amazing. Chef Julio has created masterful menus highlighting food from each region in the most creative ways. Our kick-off dinner was sold out last Monday evening. Tremendous talent (originally from Nicaragua) Isaac Bustos played the concert, and folks were mesmerized by both the music and the food! Here’s a blog post I wrote about the menu.
The buzz surrounding the series has been good. We’ve done a lot of outreach to Spanish-language media. We’ve been live on radio and TV this week, and featured in English and Spanish journals. Rene Izquierdo arrived Thursday and played live for us on the radio yesterday (hear the show online now), and Edel Muñoz arrived last night! They’ll play two shows today (Saturday, June 11), one at 4PM and one at 7:30PM and the Cuban reception will take place in between!
I’ll close with La Sombra’s motto: siente la pasión!
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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