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    Opera Memphis gets $30,000 grant from National Endowment for the Arts to expand 30 Days program

    Jon W. Sparks

    By Jim Weber



    The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded a $30,000 grant to Opera Memphis to beef up its annual 30 Days of Opera.
    The program, which presents performances around the city every day during September, started in 2012 as a way to reach more people and encourage them to enjoy opera. Many of the performances have a pop-up flavor, happening at festivals, farmers markets and even street corners. Others are staged at regular performance venues, such as the Levitt Shell.
    While the program has gotten grants before, this is double the $15,000 grant given by the NEA in 2013. “Then, the NEA trusted the idea, the basic concept,” said Ned Canty, general director of Opera Memphis. “Now it’s giving us a grant because they liked what they saw.”
    The NEA has invited Canty to Washington to make a presentation on the project. He will address NEA chairwoman Jane Chu and the National Council on the Arts at the government agency’s public meeting on March 27.
    The NEA invites arts administrators and artists to public meetings three times a year to discuss various issues, such as economic impact, technology and strategies for arts organizations.
    “This is the first time we’ve been asked to talk about it publicly as a model for other companies and arts groups,” Canty said. “We are especially honored because of the size of our company — we’re very small relative to many companies out there, but we serve a big chunk of the country.”
    Canty says 30 Days hits on several sweet spots in addressing the challenges faced by performing arts groups nationwide. “It breaks down barriers to the art form and plants seeds that might not bear fruit for years,” he said. “But also, people already in love with opera can learn more.”
    He said that as the idea developed, it was put through a Memphis filter. “Doing 30 Days every single day was about showing we have grit and grind and that we mean it. If we’re going to work at this, that’s what Memphis respects and loves.”
    Elizabeth Rouse is the president and CEO of ArtsMemphis. “It’s so critical for organizations to think differently about how they engage people,” Rouse said. “They have to get away from strictly getting people into seats and move to introducing people to a particular art form. Then they have to find a way for them to stay connected, and maybe going to a 2½-hour performance isn’t the way. The greatest competition isn’t other arts groups; it’s people who stay at home for their entertainment.”
    Rouse cites Hattiloo Theatre as another example of reaching out in a different way. “It’s been bringing folks into the venue for nontheater- based conversations. The approach to building community is bringing people in where they feel like Hattiloo is a place where conversations can be had about community. But they also get people into the theater.”
    Canty says the grant will be used to take the programs further. “Every year, we do more than 30 performances; sometimes it’s two a day. I’d like that to be the rule.”
    Canty’s presentation will be streamed online at 8 a.m. March 27. For information, go to arts.gov/event/2015/national-council-arts-march-2015-public-meeting.