Chamber-music series aims to grow

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A group that was formed in 1992 to showcase the C.B. Fisk pipe organ at Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro and now sponsors an annual chamber-music series is poised to expand again.

Music for a Great Space, which is presenting six concerts in its current season, plans to work closely with other local chamber groups and with the public schools and other organizations.

The nonprofit also plans to step up its marketing, look for additional venues in which to perform, and launch a formal annual-fund appeal.

“We hope that engaging a wider base of community members will lead to more ticket sales and more donors, and therefore a greater financial stability,” says Nicolle Alexandre Sherwood, executive director.

Prompted by a request by the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro that its funded affiliates have strategic plans, Music for a Great Space has been working to develop its plan with Doug Borwick, coordinator of the arts and nonprofit management programs at Salem College in Winston-Salem.

The nonprofit presents six concerts a year in a season that runs from September through May.

Concerts, ranging from organ and chamber music to instrumental and vocal music, are presented at Christ United Methodist and, starting in the 2005-06 season, at Temple Emanuel.

The organization operates with an annual budget of only $50,000 to $60,000, and generates revenue from ticket sales, grants, contributions, fundraising events, advertisements in its printed programs, and concert sponsorships.

It sells about 75 season tickets, with each concert attracting roughly 200 people.

Twice a year, the group has presented programs to elementary-school students from the Guilford County Schools, including Sternberger Elementary next door.

Based on its work with Borwick and on surveys of people attending concerts in the 2005-06 season, the organization expects to set itself the twin goals of becoming more widely recognized and increasing its financial stability, Sherwood says.

Preliminary plans, to be reviewed by the board in coming months, call for developing collaborative relationships with other chamber groups in the region and looking for additional venues in which to perform.

Music for a Great Space also wants to expand its educational programming, and address hurdles to student participation resulting from scheduling conflicts and a lack of access to transportation, Sherwood says.

“We’re looking to make it more accessible to Guilford County students,” she says.

In the 2007-08 season, for example, the group will invite a high school to host one its visiting artists, who would offer a mini-residency of roughly four days, working with the school’s choral department, performing for students, holding master classes, and performing with students.

The group also wants to develop relationships with other community organizations such as retirement communities.

And it will test new marketing tactics, including asking board members and other supporters to invite guests and provide them with discounted tickets, and promoting a concert with a targeted newspaper-advertising campaign.

The surveys showed that most people attending concerts learned about them through newspaper ads or word of mouth, Sherwood says, while ticket sales have tended to rise when the group is involved with the community.

In the long run, she says, the new strategic plan “helps the organization run more smoothly and makes the organization more accountable.”

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