Laura Knochen-Davis won’t become the executive director of the Broome County Arts Council until January, but that doesn’t mean we at Broome Arts Mirror won’t have any questions for her until then. She’s still very busy working and teaching at SUNY Broome, so we invited her to a quick “online press conference,” answering by email questions posed by BAMirror volunteer reviewers.
GEORGE BASLER: What do you see as gaps in the local arts scene (such as the lack of opportunities for a young audience)? How do you plan to address this?
LAURA KNOCHEN-DAVIS: I would like to see more young adults get directly involved in every aspect of the arts community. It might be as simple as just asking them to participate on a committee or be involved in the various aspects of a production. We need to show them that their voice matters and is appreciated.
I am impressed that many of our arts organizations are currently doing this, but, as a community, we need to look at what else could be done to fully integrate the various generations and interest groups to cohesively build a stronger arts community and, hence, a stronger community for all.
BASLER: How will you work to attract young people to opportunities here? I realize this is a tall order considering the demographics of our population.
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: Business analysts consistently work to identify if a company’s business model or product/service should adjust to a changing market (including its communication/promotional strategy) or if it is a situation of “pull-marketing,” which would draw customers/audience into their business. The answer is “yes” to both. In saying that, Greater Binghamton has a tremendous array of opportunities to experience the arts. But what else can be done? How should it be done? How should it be promoted/communicated?
In September, LUMA was a dynamic, innovative art experience enjoyed by thousands. What I learned from that is there is a thirst for the arts and for the community coming together in an exciting new way.
Thus, as we move forward as a community, arts organization or individual artist, we need to continually grow and learn, not only in our craft but also our role in serving the artistic needs of our customers/patrons, potential customers and community.
LEE SHEPHERD: What is being done to combat the aging of our arts audiences, i.e. enlist younger people in appreciation of classical music and other art forms?
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: This is a nationwide challenge. Some of the best practices include making classical music and art events an exciting evening catering to a younger audience and incorporating classical music as part of fun, non-traditional programming in the middle school.
From my knowledge of the arts and arts education in this community, this is happening to some degree but may need to be taken to the next level. Because of my experience working with students at SUNY Broome and Binghamton University, in addition to having young adult children who were actively involved in the arts, I have a solid foundation when working with others to identify strategies that may reveal new and successful initiatives for uncovering a stronger appreciation for the arts and what they have to offer.
With that being said, when I start six weeks from now, I look forward to discussing this topic with the local art organizations to identify what is currently being done and what else they think needs to be done to address this conundrum.
NANCY OLIVERI: What did you consider your predecessor’s most effective trait as executive director, and how will you ensure that her legacy is preserved while putting your own stamp on the role?
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: Sharon Ball is a woman of great integrity and passion. Her style of leadership is one of transparency while facilitating relationships with donors and board members to effectively advocate for the arts by building a strong foundation. Additionally, her communication style is informative as well as engaging. She is certainly going to be a tough act to follow.
Sharon is in the process of providing me the tools to continue the systems she, Mary Jo (Kelleher, BCAC office administrator) and the board have put in place. I have an eclectic art/corporate/academic/entrepreneurial background, which I plan on drawing from to make sure that there is no question that “The ARTS means Business.”
TONY VILLECCO: Do you see yourself as having an “open door policy” as far as local artists/performers stopping in with questions or needing assistance with grants, etc., or do you prefer more of a regimented routine where people may have to schedule an appointment? How quickly would you return a phone call or email?
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: I look forward to working with the local artists/performers and plan on offering walk-in hours. However, to best serve an individual, it is certainly more effective to make an uninterrupted appointment so I can prepare for our meeting and provide the assistance that is needed.
As a rule, when I am assisting someone or in a meeting, I do not take calls or text messages. However, I follow up by the next business day at the latest, unless there is some extenuating circumstance.
BARB VAN ATTA: What you think are your strong points coming into this job? What are you bringing to the table?
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: As a Certified Business Advisor, I have helped numerous businesses start and run profitable organizations in addition to owning a commercial sculpture studio with my husband, Brian. I know how to provide a business or organization the tools it needs to be successful. As a business trainer/presenter/instructor, I may present some of the programs myself but will look for experts in the field to serve as presenters and provide resources for artists and organizations.
Additionally, I have been actively involved in many different organizations and have developed a lot of connections. There are opportunities to expand the reach of the arts community that may not have been explored in the past, and I welcome the chance to begin those conversations.
VAN ATTA: What is your vision for the role of the BCAC in the community and the role of its director?
KNOCHEN-DAVIS: My vision is to increase funding, resources and enthusiasm for the arts while building strong relationships. We are a society that embraces innovation and community revitalization. The basis of any new initiative takes creativity, hard work, a vision and collaboration. Isn’t that what the arts are all about?
When I begin my role as director in 2016, I look forward to bringing arts, business, academia and municipalities together to collaborate while feeding off each others’ strengths for the benefit of all.
— Barb Van Atta