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The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance has a new president... and $5 tickets to the opera and ballet


The DPAA wants to make performing arts more accessible across the Miami Valley

The Dayton Performing Arts Alliance has a lot going on right now. They have a full slate of shows, and they’re selling $5 tickets to some ballet, opera, and philharmonic performances. They also has a new President and CEO, Patrick J. Nugent. He spoke with WYSO’s Jason Reynolds about his plans for the alliance… .

NUGENT: I believe to the core of my being that the arts are for everyone, and I want to put Dayton on the map as a place where that's really true. So, the point of the $5 tickets is, first of all, we do have a lot of seats in our auditorium that I think is an asset, not a liability. And so we want to market these $5 tickets to carefully selected groups in our community who we want to feel welcomed and included. Just like in Europe. You know, if you go to any major European city, you can go to the symphony, the ballet, the opera for five bucks and get seats because the arts are for everybody and we want anybody and everybody to feel they can come to our performances without barrier.

REYNOLDS: Another goal of yours is to raise awareness, especially in underserved communities and through education. How do you do that at a time like this, when performance is so complicated by the pandemic?

NUGENT: Well, our job is to help anybody we possibly can, no matter where they're from, to fall in love with these art forms. That's what we do. And so we do it in any way that we can. Our education programs, which serve 75,000 kids across 14 counties, are the first line of helping people fall in love with the art forms. And so, in a selfish sense, they're training our next generation of audiences and performers.

But beyond that, when a student learns to play a musical instrument or gets involved in dance, it opens new neural pathways that are otherwise not opened by any kind of activity except learning a foreign language, and those neural pathways are then available for other things. And when you have large numbers of kids in a school learning instruments and dancing, it improves the performance of the school.

REYNOLDS: What's a concrete example of that? What's what's one program you can give us a visual of? Like where the rubber hits the road?

NUGENT: We have a ballet school. We have a whole system of youth orchestras. And we have a program called Cue the Music, which serves one elementary school right now on the East Side of Dayton, Ruskin, where large numbers of kids perform or learn to play classical instruments and they perform in small and larger ensembles. And then those kids have a tendency then to go on and do really well in high school. They go to places like Stivers, the Performing Arts Academy in Dayton, and kids who go to Stivers overwhelmingly go to college.

So we would like to see Cue the Music taken to other communities as well. It's part of an international system called El Sistema that works with kids from underprivileged, underserved, under-resourced neighborhoods in exactly this way to boost their academic performance and get them off to college.

REYNOLDS: What worries you about the DPA or arts in Dayton moving forward? If something work related keeps you up at night, what is it?

NUGENT: It’s that not enough people in the community fall in love with these art forms, and there's so much potential here to do that.

It is the case that rebuilding from COVID is probably going to be a three year process. It's going to take our audiences a while to come back to their full strength, and we have to make gambles about how quickly they're going to come back because we make budgets based partly on ticket sales. Although, as in all performing arts, the preponderance of our funding comes from philanthropy. It comes from donors. Som for every dollar that you pay to sit in the seat at one of our performances, donors are paying two or even three dollars to help you sit there. And so philanthropy is more important than ever, and a big part of my job is reaching out to donors and inspiring their support for what we do.

REYNOLDS: What drew you to Dayton and to the DPA and its model in particular?

NUGENT: Well, the first thing I should say is I came here because my wife got her dream job here, but I really like the work of leading a company like this. I like vision, and strategy. I really love fundraising.

And the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance is a model that exists nowhere else in the country where we've combined ballet, opera and Philharmonic Orchestra in one single organization, a single integrated organization working together for a shared purpose that was really inspiring to me, and I feel really privileged to be part of it.