Transcript – Episode 39

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Tony Beadle: I think that is the number one thing. It has to be that the group of people that see the vision, share the vision, can articulate it, and can build on it. So it’s one thing to have the idea and say, “We want to do this, we want to do that.” But somebody, or a group of us to say, “Okay, what’s the first step.”

Anita Walker: Hello, I’m Anita Walker, Executive Director of The Massachusetts Culture Council, and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guest today is Tony Beadle, the Executive Director of Rockport Music, and welcome to our program.

Tony Beadle: Thank you.

Anita Walker: Now Tony, I’ve known you for a while. But one of the things that I still sit in awe, when I think about, is the first time that I went to Rockport and I visited the Rockport Chamber Music Festival which was a fairly small organization that did, how many concerts a year?

Tony Beadle: They did about 20–

Anita Walker: Twenty.

Tony Beadle: –concerts every summer over a five week period.

Anita Walker: In like folding chairs, and the little art gallery acr–

Tony Beadle: In an art gallery across the street from our current location, and the amazing part was that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Sunday of every week, for five weeks was a concert. And every afternoon they’d set up 250 chairs, and then have the concert, and take them down, because it was going to be an art gallery the next morning again, with people walking through it. So that– that was an indicator of the love and devotion for the organization.

Anita Walker: So now, now, how many concerts a year?

Tony Beadle: Oh boy, I think we’re over about– average about 120 concerts and events, we call them, like Metropolitan Opera, National Theater Art– High Def broadcasts. And we just– we just keep going and don’t look back, every year.

Anita Walker: And you are in the beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center which if you haven’t been to Rockport, whoever is listening, you just drop everything, take the podcast with you. But get in the car, and head up there because I think it is one of the most stunning, beautiful facilities, but not just in– in and of itself, in the way it is so much of a fabric of its environment. From the main streets side, where it looks like it could have been there since the turn of the century, the other century, not the more recent one. To the way it really embraces the ocean out of its window. Talk a little bit about it.

Tony Beadle: Well, I think the– the Board of Trustees, when the search came– started of– because they wanted a new venue, and a great place to hear classical chamber music. They, as I like to say, “They dove for the top.” They tried to get the request for proposals to the leading architects in the area who had some concert hall experience. And the– the firm Epstein Joselyn Architects, was a new firm, although they had both worked with Raw– Bill Rawn and Associates. And they had– they had this unique aspect to their proposal and that was making the back of the stage a two story window. And not only that, they were– had exhibited very– a very sensitive approach to the street scape, as you pointed out, but also that the internal decora– decoration and the pertinences were all sort of related to the beach color spectrum. So when you go in there, you’ll see– you’ll see stones along the wall that some people, from time to time ask, did we get them from the beach. They’re not, they’re– they’re from Thailand, I think. And the colors– the color scheme of the place. But, they also, got– bring a great acoustician to come in and to develop the size and the space for acoustic purposes as well. So it’s really quite a miracle, and from– for me, it always shows what an idea has power over everything because who would have thought that this little organization would have built and paid for now, a $20 million building.

Anita Walker: So, let’s talk about how you get from Rockport Chamber Music, to the Shalin Liu, as an organization. To go there now, and to see the facility, even if nothing is playing, it’s just a great experience, because it is such a beautiful work of art in and of itself. Not to mention, the programming, which is probably a small part of your job.

Tony Beadle: It is.

Anita Walker: But what is it like to go from a handful of weekend concerts a year, to this regular, dynamic programming? What does it mean to your organization?

Tony Beadle: Well, when I joined the organization, they had a strategic plan. This is a great– a great example of a small organization really running true to– the way it should be run. And it was a volunteer board, there were I think maybe two, two and a half full time employees when I got there. And so my job was to exploit the hall and run the hall. And they– in this strategic plan, I don’t recall the exact number but I– I’m thinking they probably had the idea of like 15 to 20 additional concerts a year. And when you lay that out on a calendar, there’s an awful lot of empty time there still. So we had to think about how we were going to keep the oper– building operating financially. And you can’t turn off the heat in the winter, it has to be going. So you might as well be doing stuff. And, so I began to then think about that and to think about the fact that this is a new location, a new venue, no one on earth knew who or where it was, really, except for local people and the people that had gone to the Chamber Music Festival. So, that was a big challenge but every challenge is an opportunity, as we know. And I like to say to people that I was going to throw everything up against the wall and see what would stick in terms of the kinds of concerts we– we were going to do. And the problem is, most of it stuck. So it was– it is, first and foremost a classical music venue. Meaning, unamplified. However, it does lend itself very well to amplified music up to a certain point. So, jazz is fine, blues, is fine, popular music is fine. Where we draw the line, just because of the expected loud sound, is rock bands. And it’s sort of that’s a– in a way, that’s a clash of culture and there are other venues that do it better than we can down the road. So, we don’t– we don’t usually hire rock bands. It’s just too loud, because the building, the sound really amps up quickly, because it’s built for a string quartet. So, but everything– everything stuck. So, I thi– in the first year, I started out gently. I think I probably did 50 to 60 concerts. And then, every year as– as we– people got to know the place, and we got some traction, and at the same time, we’re building the brand. So we had great discussions about the brand of Rockport Music, and the branding exercise had happened before I got their even when they changed the organizations name from Rockport Chamber Music Festival to Rock– just Rockport Music because they knew they were going to be more than the Chamber Music Festival. And that was– that was great. But what– what nobody realized was that the– the brand, or the biggest feature, the biggest differentiator of our brand, compared to other organizations was the venue. So now, the brand is the building. And the– so what you have to do is build– find the differentiators you have from the other venues, and then also to associate the– the building with types of music or quality of music. And so we like to think– we try to find– as Arthur Fiedler would say, “We play…” about the Pops, “We play one kind of music, the good kind.” So that’s sort of like what we feel– that philosophy sort of permeates Rockport Music.

Anita Walker: And you mentioned the location, which is this idyllic lovely, seaside community. But it’s not particularly large. And so, where is your audience coming from on a regular basis?

Tony Beadle: Well, it varies on the time of the year. And you’re right, Rockport is a– if anybody wants to go there, and it’s a lovely trip to take up to– you feel like you’ve stepped into pasts. I tell people, I feel like I’m on the set of that old show, Northern Exposure or the Ghost of Mrs. Muir. But the audience comes from, in the summer, it’s about 60 percent or 70 percent off Cape Ann. So, there’s summer tourists, people who plan their vacations, greater Boston, metro area. In the winter it– it skews a little bit and it’s 40 to 50 each of Cape Ann and off of Cape Ann. But our biggest area of where we get audience is actually Metro Boston, after– after Cape Ann proper.

Anita Walker: What was your biggest fear when you took a look at this venue, and all the days on the calendar that you could fill in. What was your– what did you think the biggest challenge– finding product or finding people?

Tony Beadle: Finding product was not a problem. The thing was the economics of it. Because it’s strength is that it’s only 334 seats. And when you do the math of a ticket as you know– a ticket price only pays for half or whatever that– that percentage is of your overall cost. So I had a lot of overhead, because I had to keep the building running and everything and I had to buy– build a staff. I built a team, we have– we have about 13 full time employees right now. So my worry was that we were going to be able to find the resources for non-earned income because it’s not like you have a 2,000 seat theater. We’re 300. So, but we have to be competitive in pricing at the same time. We can charge more in the summer because it is a tourist destination, but the good news is that as it became to be seen as a more of a community resource, and that speaks to our education and outreach, and people that move to Rockport or to Cape Ann and they love the idea that they can hear some of the world’s great music, right in their back yard. That they’ve become donors and we have a great, very generous, donor base and <inaudible>.

Anita Walker: And you really built that up with–

Tony Beadle: With a little help from my friends and my board of trustees, and people who have been advocates for Rockport Music, and <inaudible>

Anita Walker: Well, first you raised the $21 million for the facility. So that was one test of the marketplace.

Tony Beadle: That’s right. Exactly. And so there– so right now, we’re in a fundraising capital campaign for the– we want to secure our future. And the generosity is all there. I mean, we’re still in a quiet phase, but it’s there, and people want to have this hall, and feel it’s very important. And the– the most amazing thing was– I was told, because I came when the building was about half finished, that there was a great uproar in Rockport, as you might imagine, when the whole idea came, and there had to be a zoning variance to get the building– the old– there was an older building there that had to be raised, and then a new building built. And the architects and some board members, every Saturday, would go up to Rockport and have an open house in the– in the old building, and just to tell everybody what we were gon– what we were about and everything. And when I got there, people were worried that this was going to be a rock palace or God knows what. And now, we are– mostly because I think we– we said– we did what we said we did, and what they promised. And that was to be open to the community and to be an asset to the community, and to try to help the community, which we do. I mean, we– we do a lot of– we do about one free concert a month, I would say. And not always, just the local amateur talent, it’s not that at all. For example, in December, I think, we had the Dover String Quartet. Well, they’re– they’re awarding winning, and they’re very busy playing concerts. But they came to Rockport and they did– three days in the– I think three days in the schools with outreach. And then they come and play a free concert to the community. So those kinds of– I don’t know if that– some we charge for. I think we actually did, most– in that kind of scenario, we have the concerts for free. But the– so that’s– it’s giving back. And the Rockport schools use our hall for their school bands, and jazz– it’s quite a developed arts magnet, you might say school there, high school kids come from other towns, because of the arts program there. And so it’s well developed, so we have a lot of– we give them the free use of the hall too.

Anita Walker: And then you also have your income stream from the rental of the beautiful venue for, I would imagine, every bride in Rockport want to have their reception there.

Tony Beadle: And beyond. And beyond. It is a wonderful place for a wedding ceremony and a small reception. And when I say small, probably 200 people can fit in there, or 150 for dinner. And we– so that’s a part of the business. We have had funerals, as I said, weddings, business meetings. We also have fundraisers for other organizations, where they have their own concerts and bring in– higher an artist, and bring in, and do a concert, then have a reception or a party. So that’s– that’s an asset too to everybody, because it’s available. And we also do a lot of business with the main hall as a recording studio. So we just had our artistic director, who’s leaving, David Deveau, did a recording last week with Borromeo Quartet, that’ll be out on Steinway Piano, they have their own label. So that’s his second recording for them, but we’ve had ESPN do video shoots there. The Disney Channel did, sort of a music video associated with some pilot, I mean, I don’t– I don’t know. We’ve had, as you might expect any location, many location people from the movies that are filmed up there all the time, come in and take a look. That hasn’t happened yet, but it will, someday when they need a concert hall.

Anita Walker: So, as you reflect over the last what, about 10 years, right– has it been that long?

Tony Beadle: We’re in our eighth year.

Anita Walker: Eight years. Again, I look at the trajectory and the success of that– of that move from the Chamber Music Society to what you are now, and the sensitivity and the way that has just been such a perfect fit for that community. And a community that somebody would have predicted, really there aren’t enough year round people to make a go of it. So as you look back, as you– as you write your memoir about this experience, not that you’re going anywhere, what are the big takeaways that you’d put on the table from– from that, moving from the little chamber society to what you have now?

Tony Beadle: I think this– I mean, this is all– this is– this might sound paranormal, or new age, but it’s really true. Like I said earlier that, as you think so shall it be. And this group of people were determined. I mean, half of them are still on our board, or associated with the organization, they’re– they’re determined to build a home and have a place for the Chamber Music that they love. And that is, I think that is the number one thing. It has to the be the group of people that see the vision, share the vision, can articulate it, and can build on it. So it’s one thing to have the idea and say, “We want to do this, we want to do that.” But somebody, or a group of us to say, “Okay, what’s the first step? Call Mass Cultural Council.” I think they did. You’re probably among– I think it was before you came, but it was among the first calls they made, maybe you were here, I don’t recall.

Anita Walker: Well, actually it’s when we started Cultural Facilities Fund, and they came in for a– a planning. They came in for a capital grant.

Tony Beadle: Right.

Anita Walker: And we– our staff, talked them into– one step back, get a planning grant which they did. And then they were the top scorer of the capital grant when they came in the next year.

Tony Beadle: Yes. Well there– there you have it because they probably spent a lot of time, and a lot of meetings. I mean, I remember when I got here, there’s probably umpteen meetings every week of things about the building, things about– just the usual nonprofit stuff. But then, you have a building in progress. And so it’s quite amazing. And I said, from– the other takeaway too is that I– I would say that, I was– I feel privileged that I got to build an organization without dysfunction, so a staff. Usually, you come into a job like this, you inherit dysfunction and you– you decide what you can live with, or what’s going to– what has to change or whatever. It’s the human condition, right? It’s now– no one is spared that. But I didn’t have to change dysfunction so much as to create it, and I have a great team, and I’ve had very little turnover. So I’m– I’m grateful. I’ll talk about my staff for hours if you let me and what a great job they do.

Anita Walker: Well, you forgot to talk about yourself and your own leadership that you provided. And the vision that you saw, when you stepped into a project that was as ambitious as this. And have seen it to its full blossom and bloom in Rockport. Tony Beadle, who is Executive Director of the Rockport Music, Creative Mind Out Loud.

Tony Beadle: Thank you very much.

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