The Promise of Live Performance: Building Community Arts in Nontraditional Spaces

Concord, NH

Contact Name
Andrew Pinard
Project Dates
March 2016 to present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2017
Business Planning, Event
Hatbox Theatre is a 99-seat live performing arts venue located in a former retail storefront at the Steeplegate Mall in the capital city of Concord, NH. Financed through private funding, Andrew Pinard put together a team that utilized salvage seating from a high school auditorium renovation, donated lighting and sound equipment and thousands of volunteer labor hours to develop the space. In its first year, there have been 172 performances with over 4,000 tickets sold. Programming is diverse with a cooperative programming model and revenue share. Its creative use of space and unique financial model garnered much attention from both local and national press. Discussion will include development of the space, programming and financial systems, and running a cooperative performing arts space.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The initial goal to was to develop an intimate performing arts venue to replace a former performing arts venue that closed in 2004. The loss of this venue meant that one defining criteria for productions was the need to cover expenses for the only other venues available in the community (800+ seating). The financial implications meant that up and coming artists/organizations had very little opportunity to produce original works or to practice their craft with more than occasional frequency. Other considerations included:

Affordable/family friendly prices.
Innovative, artist driven programming that is community oriented.
Collaborative opportunities for artists.
Foster new and original works with feedback opportunities from audiences.
Flexibility of space to feature multiple performing arts as well as new media: theatre, music, comedy, magic, dance, spoken word, live podcast recordings, etc.
Gallery space for visual artists.
Membership opportunities for richer community support.
Develop strategic partnerships with other arts organizations in the community with an emphasis on collaborative projects.

After the venue was established, the goal shifted to awareness and development of the venue as an ongoing cooperative performing arts space. While there are other performing arts venues, two of them are of a scale that does not lend itself well financially or logistically to an intimate performance experience and the third is associated with a community music school with limited opportunity for performing artists not focused on recital work.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Over a period of five years, many venues and business models were reviewed. Just before papers were signed on a 1,200 sq. ft. space, an alternative venue became available and the decision was made to relocate efforts in a very short turnaround (seven days). We expanded the performing arts focus from theatre to all live performance arts and adjusted the schedule accordingly. We also expanded to visual arts through our "gallery walls" that feature monthly exhibitions of local visual artists and facilitate the sales of their work.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Andrew Pinard, Founder & Executive Director.
Kevin Barrett, Initial Support, Programming & Publicity. Provides programming, box office and publicity support.
Matt Potter, Initial Support, Podcast/Web/Performance support. Sweat equity, organized online effort for both awareness and fundraising.
Meredith Potter, Community Resource. Box office/logistical resource.
Pearl Aznive, Facility Liaison. Interfaced with the ownership of the Steeplegate Mall to arrange for viewings and ultimate lease agreement.
Tim Sink, Concord Chamber of Commerce. Provides community support and feedback.
Barbara Newton, Adviser, The Players' Ring, Portsmouth, NH. Provided example for business model and serves as a continuing resource.
Van McLeod, Cultural Commissioner, State of New Hampshire. Provided advice and sounding board for development.
Ginnie Lupi, Director, NH State Council on the Arts. Continuing resource.
Doris Ballard, ConcordTV. Local public access television station with ties to the local high school.
Ryan Linehan, Kimball Jenkins Estate/School of Art. Cooperative cross promotional opportunies, collaborative projects, additional space resource for rehearsals, offsite performances.
Clint Klose, Concord High School/Concord Regional Technical Center. High School Theatre Director, creator of the Technical Theater program.
John DeGange, DeGange Sound. Technical support and resource in sound/AV development of the space. Continuing support.
Provide opportunities for students to have practical experience in an alternative space unlike their current facilities.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Support was provided through the local Chamber of Commerce Creative Community Committee as well as private individuals. The Heights/Loudon Road area is under development with new traffic/road development in the coming years. The venue was sited in an area of the city that has not previously had a live performing arts venue and is helping to redevelop an area of the city that has seen an increase in housing, refugee settlement and senior living centers.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The Players' Ring in Portsmouth, NH and thousands of small performing arts venues I have had the privilege of working in.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
Andrew Pinard has been a full-time performer for twenty-five years. Through his work with a number of organizations, he has been collecting the equipment and connections to develop a performing arts space. Beginning around 2011, Andrew and a few close friends began actively looking for potential venues. They looked at a number of communities ranging from Boston, MA to Laconia, NH. The search was eventually narrowed to the community of Concord, NH where Pinard had worked in each of the performing arts venues. The closure of an intimate (and affordable) 104-seat performing arts venue in 2004 left an unfilled vacuum. This, coupled with a high school auditorium renovation (2015) in which Pinard played a pivotal role in, surplus equipment was available and ready for a venue. A team was assembled and construction began in the new space on March 11th which opened on April 1st for its inaugural performance. There was a significant learning curve and the project required participation of many parties (City Planning & Code Enforcement, Mall Management, local Civic Leaders, the Mayor's Office, local vendors and individuals, local Media, etc.) to realize a successful opening and growth of the project.

In tandem with the construction phase, programming (productions and educational opportunities), marketing, administrative, and technical development were addressed and systems built to fill the other needs of running a performing arts venue.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
The scale of the space expanded slightly in the implementation. Accessibility issues became a high priority. The business plan, communication, and program management all needed to respond to a fluid, all volunteer, approach to development. This was associated with both financial realities as well as expansion of scope in terms of what performing arts were originally to be included. This expansion of scope has lead to broader awareness of creative opportunities as well as the introduction of different types of performing arts to audiences who might not necessarily be inclined to explore them.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Funding and timeline. The organization established as a single-member LLC to facilitate the lease. Initial capital funding (less than $15K) was provided by the member. Overhead costs were expected to be covered by said member, but due to community commitment, overhead has been covered by revenue since opening day. Additionally, certain revenue streams were not accessible to the project due to its particular method of incorporation. The lease arrangement required significant coordination with mall staff that were more familiar with the needs of retail spaces than performing arts venues.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The cooperative model used by Hatbox Theatre is one of revenue sharing. The organization provides the venue and selected productions receive 60% of the net revenue for their efforts. Dozens of groups stepped up and not only produced events, but helped to spread awareness and provided sweat equity in the initial and subsequent builds, as well as, ongoing support. The cooperative model has been very successful at connecting artists who have not previously worked together to collaborate on new projects.

Local media covered the opening of the facility extensively expanding awareness of the efforts.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Be specific about your mission, your project, your needs, your idea.

Be flexible and responsive to both challenges and opportunities that come up as part of the process.

Fill a need. Focus your energy and ensure success by tapping into existing needs that are not currently being met in your community.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Not only has this replaced the closed venue, but it has also dramatically increased the volume of arts programming in the community with weekly and monthly offerings that did not currently exist in its community. Production budgets and audience discretionary spending have an impact through use of local vendors and hospitality in the area. The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce committee Creative Concord has identified the value of the arts as an economic driver. Development of the venue and increased performance opportunities has already had an impact not only for Concord artists, but also as a draw to artists living outside of Concord seeking a place to do their work. Audiences and artists have patronized local vendors and service providers stimulating the economy. Featuring original works and regional artists has also had an impact on the excitement and engagement of both artist and audience. Foot traffic at the mall and local vendors has increased. New opportunities (Performance Lab workshops, Stand-up/Improv Classes) that were not previously available locally have sprung up. Perhaps most important, the community has expressed a renewed excitement and energy for the performing arts that has resulted in younger audiences and artists participating.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
1. It has filled the vacancy left behind by the previous venue.
2. Audience and community have embraced the new venue as exhibited through ticket and membership sales.
3. The space is receiving requests from producers for future seasons in advance of our pitch process and programming through June of 2017 was achieved through a single day "Pitch" process.
4. Monthly overhead has been covered since opening day through ticket revenue.

The venue and burgeoning cooperative community has had positive effects on artists and the community. Artist collaboration, volunteer hours for community engagement, incubation of new art works and artists, supportive role of the theatre and the audience have all resulted in very positive outcomes.
How did you measure this success or progress?
Success is measured through three metrics: use, audience traffic and financial sustainability.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
A number of civic and arts organizations have approached us about partnerships and other opportunities outside of our core mission (including leadership).

Expanded use of facility has raised the need for more volunteer resources to expand/enhance operations. Unanticipated facility issues that need addressing.
CCX Workshop Handout

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