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Chad Herzog: Investing in the Arts

Chad Herzog, executive director of UA Presents, spoke to the community group, CreativeMornings, at Centennial Hall on Feb. 21. The month’s theme was “Invest” and “whether we acknowledge it or not, every choice we make is an investment either for or against ourselves.” His comments that day resonate now, while so many arts organizations and nonprofits face such uncertain futures in light of COVID-19.

Here are excerpts edited for clarity and brevity from his presentation.


I’m not a performer. I’m not somebody who enjoys even standing here on a stage like this. But I have made a career of bringing people together as a cultural curator, working with artists and audiences, investing in the power of the arts to build stronger communities. And that’s what brought me to Tucson.

If it weren’t for the University of Arizona deciding to reinvest in the arts (and some might say taking a risky investment in the arts by hiring me), I wouldn’t be here today. I’m very excited to be working at a university that has a strategic plan which includes arts and culture throughout the entire document and for the leadership of President Robbins and Andy Schulz, our vice president for the arts, who both believe in the necessity that we all have the arts in our lives.

The good news about a risky investment in arts and culture is it can mean a great payout for the community: we take the risk, you get the reward. But how are we going to do this?

In the past, people invested in the arts by building cathedrals for the arts. But moving forward, we’ll invest in the arts by taking the arts to our communities and our people, rather than expecting people to meet us in our temples and engage in our rituals. Centennial Hall will remain our stage, but we’ll also shift to make Tucson and Southern Arizona our stage.

How we focus on the work we bring to Tucson is also changing. We are going to be targeting students in the university community and the million of us that live here year-round by bringing live performances from around the world. We will also be looking at the artists here in Tucson and taking them to the world, highlighting their work and focusing on them. Here at the university we won’t just educate our future doctors, lawyers, and business people, but also our next generation of culture goers by giving live arts experiences. Our future leadership depends more and more on emotional intelligence and the ability to listen deeply, to have empathy, and articulate change.

We’ll be investing in the future of new work by commissioning new projects, giving it a chance to be produced, to be experienced, and more importantly to be to be seen. Performances will be less about the 8 p.m. start time and more about the experiences surrounding us, experiences we can and will have together.

Why even try to make a risky investment? We are inundated by panic stories about the death of art and dwindling audiences. But the arts today are more important than ever and critical to the health and economic growth of our city of Tucson. For every dollar spent attending a performance, it generates $5 to $7 to our local economy, restaurants, parking, hotels, piano tuners.

In Arizona, we know that 48% of us attend arts events. 51% of us read literature. Over 34% of us perform or create and 78% of us have consumed arts and culture by electronic media.

We attend events because we want to socialize, but we have no time. We go because we want to experience, but then there’s the cost. We go because we want to learn, but we have no one to go with. How do we flip this?

And let’s not forget, it’s not just about the numbers. Every dollar signifies an interaction, not just a transaction, from bartenders to Lyft drivers to ticket takers. It takes a lot more than the artists that put on the performance. Investing in the arts makes us proud of where we live. It makes us better and more whole people. It makes us better neighbors, friends, activists, bankers, doctors, and creatives.

The arts invite us to look at our fellow humans with generosity and curiosity. If we’ve ever needed that capacity in history, we need it now. We need it today. Investing in the arts empowers people as shown here. A theatrical piece called haircuts by Canadian theater company, Mammalian Diving Reflex. I’m going to just play this little video:

Investing in the arts is democracy and empowerment. If you really want to give political power to young people, give 10-year-olds a pair of scissors and go sit in a chair.

The last piece that I want to share with you as I close is a piece by Craig Walsh an Australian artist. Craig comes into communities and identifies people within that community who deserve their own monument. These are people that have flown under the radar, people that we should know about, people that have changed our place. People we should be celebrating.

As the video plays, I’d like to share an experience of mine that resonates over and over about the importance of investing: investing in ourselves and, of course the power of the arts.

A while back I was invited to join a think tank focused on entrepreneurism We were brought together to listen to—and interact with—high-level thinkers from all walks of life. Surprisingly, this was not a time designed to talk about startups or financing: it was—and is—a time where we listened to world thinkers talk about the human brain. Global warming. Democracy. International warfare and terrorism. AIDS research. Race and equality. And the arts.

This was a somewhat different meeting for me. Often when I meet with arts people around the country, our discussion is often dominated increasingly by prospects for survival—how will we compete in a market-driven world? How will we keep ourselves on the funding agenda? What will it take to raise an endowment?

The issues were not how we will survive financially, but how we will change the world. How we will solve global warming. How we will solve AIDS. How will we leave the world a healthier, ecologically balanced, less poverty-ridden place. How will we remove the hate and create an equal, just place. Indeed, the unspoken agenda was that there is nothing that we cannot do, and as hard as it may seem, in 2020, truly anything is possible.

Some may call this crazy.

But what became clear to me is that within this world of infinite possibilities, there are new possibilities for us to invest in the arts.

I was encouraged that this group wanted to be in a room together. This community insists on coming together because of the unique value of live, face to face, collective experiences, to conspiring—meaning to breathe together, to breathing the same air. And throughout the day, a minor chord, a palpable hunger throbbed in the background. This group was desperate to slow down, to lead less frenetic lives, to find the courage to live for their passions. More and more, they placed a premium on contemplation, on captivation, on focus and extended surrender to single experience—experience that would captivate, resonate emotionally, at its best enhance spiritual value—to the very things that we in the arts do.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone that believes more in the power of investing in the arts than I do. I am honored to be part of this community, and our city, and I look forward to our work together.

This city that we live in is very special … to live in a city with so much soul, to be in a place that has so much character and care and so much heart that we wear on our sleeves is something special. I am very proud to call Tucson in my home. And I’m very, very glad to be sharing it with all of you. Thank you.

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