A Conversation With New AT&T Performing Arts Center Board Chairman D. Roger Nanney, Part 2

The AT&T Performing Arts Center board of directors has elected a new chairman, D. Roger Nanney, a vice chairman at Deloitte LLP, who has served on the Performing Arts Center’s board since 2002. We sat down with Nanney to talk about his transition into this new role, and the center’s transition from a project under construction to an operating venue for the performing arts. You can read the first part of that conversation here. This is part two.

Front Row: How would you like the general public to see the Performing Arts Center? Is it a venue management organization or a programmer/presenter?

RN: There’s no single answer to that. The arts center was conceived to be an anchor to the district here and to help promote arts across the district. So we very much view ourselves as a facilitator from that standpoint. Our resident companies are a very important partner to us, and the reason we are here. This is the opera house, and the Wyly Theater is home to the Dallas Theater Center. And so we have that aspect of our mission, to make sure those resident companies are successful in presenting here at the center, and we very much view it as our responsibility to help make them successful to help make them grow. Also we want to bring unique and compelling programming for the city of Dallas and the community. When you look at TITAS, for example. We co-present with TITAS, and they are an incredible asset to have here. We see ourselves as being a way to help grow and support what TITAS is. So the short answer is I don’t think there is any one thing. We want the community to look at this as an asset that helps bring the arts to life in the city of Dallas, and helps to promote the success of our resident companies and all our other partners in the district.

FR: Going into the October board retreat, what are the priorities in reevaluating the first year and going into the second year and beyond?

RN: The primary activity will be to look at what happened this first ten months in terms of our operations. We’ll also need to look at what needs to be done from an operating perspective. Since we’re open now, and people can see and touch the center, when you think about fundraising, we will think about refreshing the business case for the center. We’ve got a lot of things we can talk about in terms of track record. Fundraising will be a priority. Operations will be a priority. I’m sure we’ll talk about the operating model. As well, we will have our resident companies in the room with us, and we will hear from them about their experience with the center and things that we need to do to continue to team together, to create success for them. There’s always a numbers aspect, and I’m sure we’ll begging to think about how we are going to address future operating needs, both the short term issues and how we are going to address challenges with the city’s budget, as well as longer term – how do we make sure we establish a strategy for funding the center that will allow it to operate and achieve its mission without having continued pressures. Keep your fingers crossed we get out of this great recession and get our economy back up and running to get the sort of success that we’d expect once we have an economy that is supporting what we are doing.

FR: Has the recession had a measurable impact on this first year?

RN: We did expect to have an operating loss for the year, and we expect that for two to three years. We definitely felt the impact of the recession. I think we felt it more so in some areas. One, fundraising slowed, and so it has given us a chance to take a breath and refresh our case for the center, but it also impacted our ability to fundraise for our capital project. The credit markets have been challenging. We raised bond money to complete the center and we’re going to need to continue to look at how we can manage our financing in way that will allow us to minimize our interest cost going forward. And with the credit markets having been so challenged over the last couple of years, that’s presented a challenge for us. So those are probably the biggest areas from a recessionary standpoint. The bright side is when you look at activity at the center – I would say if the recession impacted us there, then we are in for a great run because we’ve had 900 events and over 300,000 visitors, many of which were outside the city of Dallas.

FR: What kind of impact will the city’s budget cuts have on the center, from an operations and programming perspective?

RN: It is hard to say exactly the impact. In the short run it will obviously have an impact in terms of the amount of funding you need to raise to operate the center. And it will force us to take a hard look at how we can enhance our revenue streams and fundraising streams to compensate for what will be coming from the city. I’m very hopeful that that won’t be the case. The city’s funding is a reimbursement for operating costs – utilities and the like. To this point the city has been supported at the amounts that they have stated. So next year will be the answer to that. If with don’t get the full $2.5 million that was promised to the center from the city than we are going to have to find ways to offset that. And given the economic situation, if things aren’t improving, that will be a real challenge. It will force us to go into our reserves initially and then at some point we will have to do some more fundraising or it could impact how we program the center.

FR: There’s a learning curve opening a project as big as this. What are some things that after this year you can say, well that was a learning experience?

RN: Calendar management. Because of the fact that our resident companies take a large portion of the calendar, there’s still a large portion of the calendar that needs to be filled. And you constantly have to weigh the programming aspect and the calendaring around what’s the right thing for the community, what’s the right thing from an arts perspective, verses how do we maximize the revenue of the center to help support all the things we want to do in the center. And there are certain dates on the calendar that are excellent for producing Broadway shows, however, we may not have many of the days because those are peak days for our resident companies as well. So it is a constant collaboration and a constant focus to try to maximize the number of days you have in the year to have something happening in the center. And from a learning perspective, that’s why it was so important for us to get open in the fall and have these ten months of initial operations so we can get a sense for how do you take maximum advantage of the calendar that you have.

Photo by Andreas Praefcke via Wikicommons.