Arizona ArtBeat: Ballet Arizona and Arizona Opera

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Ballet Arizona Executive Director Alison Johnston and Arizona Opera General Director Scott Altman talk about teaming-up with the Phoenix Symphony for a special performance early next year. They also speak about the new performance venues their organizations are building.

Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.
Ted Simons: Ballet Arizona and the Arizona opera are building new performance venues with revenue from the 2006 Phoenix bond election. Tonight we get a preview of the new buildings and we find out why the opera, the ballet, and the Phoenix symphony are teaming up for a special performance early next year. Joining us is Alison Johnston, the new executive director of ballet Arizona, and Scott Altman, Arizona's operas general director. Good to have you both here. Let's start, it's called a trio gala. Explain it for us.
Alison Johnston: trio, three arts organization, the ballet, opera, and symphony. The first time we've ever gotten together and done something as a consortium, if you will. It's the three groups, we're going to have three performances from each group. And we're combining our fund-raising efforts together for the first time. It's really exciting, and I think all our teams are working very closely to make this a success.
Ted Simons: I think people would be surprised to find out it's the first time that kind of collaboration has happened. What's going on here?
Scott Altman: It's an era of the rising tide, it help all ships, and it's thrilling because all three organizations share a mission to bring some great, great performing arts to the valley, and throughout Arizona. And this is an opportunity to showcase all three in one evening. And essentially pool our extraordinary talent and great resources to have a grand celebration and fund-raising event.
Ted Simons: It's also a way, when grants are down, the arts commission money, that funding is down, I guess you are almost forced to find new unique maybe different ways to get that money coming in. Correct?
Scott Altman: Absolutely. I think it's the wave of the future for a nonprofit arts organizations and cultural organizations to be very smart and be ahead of the curve, be very proactive in what those support streams are looking like for the future.
Ted Simons: Did it used to be more -- you saw each other as competitors, or it wasn't quite as easy to get together? --
Alison Johnston: I just think with the changes in the economy, and I think the focus on really bringing arts to a different level of Arizona has changed the mind-set. But I think in the past each organization has been very focused on their own donor bases, their own customer base and doing their own thing, and I think there's a dedication between Scott and Jim Ward and myself to really make this a success, because we want to see the arts move forward and we feel that's the way to do it for the future.
Ted Simons: In terms of the arts moving forward, Phoenix has had an interesting relationship with the fine arts. Ballet, opera, and the symphony. Do you see things changing? Is the nature of downtown helping that change? Or is it still a little forward, a little back?
Alison Johnston: I think that we're on the right path. I think the idea of revitalizing downtown and bringing arts organizations as kind of the leaders in that, kind of set the pace for us, which is really nice. So I think it's important to really focus on that, because we as arts organizations, if we bring something and we kind of elevate arts and culture in Phoenix, we're going to attract more people here, and that has a ripple effect from an economic development perspective.
Ted Simons: What are you seeing as far as developing the arts here in Phoenix?
Scott Altman: I think we're on the cusp of some really great initiatives going on leading into our new buildings, and particularly creating arts corridors, and it's critical that we work together and start shouting from the rooftop how great the arts and culture are here in Arizona. I think we've been as arts group sometimes complacent about doing that. But we are on par with every major city in the country. And it's really a family, it's the community, it's the arts groups, it's business, and everybody has to participate in creating a really terrific society. And that has to do with Vick a great arts and culture environment.
Ted Simons: And you mentioned new buildings. Let's get to those, because you both have new buildings. So where is this building, and give us some -- an example, how big is it, where is it? And the whole nine yards?
Scott Altman: If you're driving down Central Avenue, just shy of Mcdowell, we're directly across from the Phoenix art museum. It's a true new arts corridor that's going to be anchored with the opera building on one side and the Phoenix art museum next to the Phoenix theater, and just up the block the Heard Museum. It's about 28,000 square feet and we're in building process now for a major 6500-square-foot rehearsal theater that we'll be able to do events and produce out of. It doesn't mean we're leaving our symphony hall home, but we'll be able to do smaller and intimate work out of that building itself.
Ted Simons: It's a beautiful building. We're looking at the construction right now. Let's get over to Ballet Arizona now. You've got a new structure coming on as well. Groundbreaking not quite yet.
Alison Johnston: It's coming up in the incomes two weeks. We're looking to have an event on October 9th to commemorate that groundbreaking, and we are going to be on 29th and Washington. And we are in a Walsh brother warehouse about 45,000 square feet, and we're really excited that we'll be able to really expand our space in terms of the number of studios, we'll have more room for our school, we're going to have a black box theater that will seat about 300 participants, and that could be used for school events, for community events to do smaller performances. So we're really excited to have everything under one roof.
Ted Simons: Opening date?
Alison Johnston: You know, I want to say if all goes well, in May.
Ted Simons: And that's, again, both buildings are kind of retrofitting existing structures. Correct?
Scott Altman: We are. There's a new facility with our rehearsal hall, but we are retrofitting the Walsh brothers furniture building that was on site. That will be our administrative center and costume department and production, all of our administration. Again, under one roof in one building is pretty extraordinary for arts organizations.
Ted Simons: Explain, especially your situation, you had things all over town.
Scott Altman: All over the state. Yeah. It's very unique, and really wonderful. We had a magnificent facility in Tucson, and some administration up in Phoenix, so for the first time in recent history, we're able to put all that under one roof. And have a symbiotic relationship between our production department, our marketing, administration, development, and the point of this iconic building was to be a community center. And it was designed with that in mind.
Ted Simons: I want to talk to you about why, you're new to the position.
Alison Johnston: I am.
Ted Simons: Why did you take the job?
Alison Johnston: For me it was interesting, because I grew up and I was lucky enough to be exposed to the arts, I grew up in New York, so I had New York City right at my fingertips. When this position came -- was presented to me, it was an opportunity to really make an impact in my community, and apply my business skills to an organization that was really kind of on this bubble of growth and needs. Needs some leadership to go to the next level. So it was a great opportunity for me.
Ted Simons: Has there been kind of a conflict, I know there has in arts organizations in the past, between those on the business side, those on the creative or administrative-- there seems to be a little bit of this going on, but have tough times --
Alison Johnston: you know, I think I'm in an unusual position because I don't have an arts background and I work with an artistic director who is world renowned. So I leave it all to him. I don't even step on his toes. I think that makes for a really great working relationship. Because he lets me do what I'm good at and I let him do what he's good at.
Ted Simons: Sometimes the Twain doesn't meet.
Scott Altman: Sometimes. My responsibility at the opera is head of artistic and administration. And I have conversations with myself all the time. But what's exciting is the organization is growing, it's on a resurgence, an opera company produces a big opera and dissipates into the cloud. Now we will have a building in which to continue a presence.
Ted Simons: One more thing about that building. You mentioned across from the Phoenix art museum, Phoenix Theater is there. That -- is it by design to make that a hub for the arts?
Scott Altman: I'd like to think so. We're talking with our sister organizations Ballet Arizona and the symphony about doing mutual ticketing out of the site. We have a lot much exciting collaborative efforts that we're very vigorously pursuing.
Ted Simons: And you still need to get some money raised for the building. Correct?
Alison Johnston: We have about -- we've completed about 80% of our capital campaign. So we actually have the money to move in and to kind of do our phase one. And we want to finish up the campaign so we can finish up the studios and things in the building.
Ted Simons: OK. Last question for each of you -- the most exciting date this season.
Alison Johnston: Wow. I'm going to have to say -- for me personally or for the ballet?
Ted Simons: Either/or.
Alison Johnson: For me personally, I think it was my first ballet under the stars, which was last week. I had never seen anything like that. And we did ballet under the stars in Fountain Hill Park. I would say for me and the ballet it's usually probably the opening of "The Nutcracker."
Ted Simons: It always is.
Alison Johnston: It has -- it never gets tiresome, and we have people that want to see it every year, and then we have new audiences coming in. So I would say that's probably the most exciting. -It's the holiday season.
Ted Simons: One event, one date.
Scott Altman: Boy, that's a hard question. Opening night is going to be sensational. A date just came upon us, a mayoral proclamation, a year of Arizona opera. The trio gala will be a highlight of everybody's year, and we should be in our building sometime mid spring. That's going to be a date.
Ted Simons: And again, keep an eye on both -- both are on light rail tracks.
Alison Johnston: We both are. Absolutely.
Ted Simons: Good luck with the facilities. Good to have you both here.
Alison Johnston and Scott Altman: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Alison Johnston:Executive Director, Ballet Arizona; Scott Altman:General Director, Arizona Opera;

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