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San Antonio Arts Groups Develop "Big Ideas" At Geekdom Workshop

David Martin Davies
TPR News
Mario Ochoa of the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio delivers his pitch.

The halls of Geekdom are normally filled with techies workshopping the next killer app or the next innovation in cloud computing. But this weekend there was a different type of brain storm at the downtown offices.

Asia Ciaravino, president of the San Antonio Playhouse, stood in front of a computer project screen as she pitched their big idea to expert entrepreneurs. Ciaravino and five other arts groups just went through the three-day startup process where they learned to re-think their approach to business.

“Friday we all got together and we started ideation – so we started thinking about all the big ideas that we wanted to pitch. And then we did our initial dress rehearsal of a pitch that night. And then the next day we spent like 14 hours together," Ciaravino said. "We went out. We went on the street. We did market research. We talked to strangers. We interviewed hundreds of people. And we did another pitch on Saturday which was incredible because the change from Friday to Saturday was immense because of all the feedback and all the great stuff that people are telling us. And we all refined refined refined for our final pitch and presentation.”  

Ciaravino’s big idea was to find a way of dealing with their overcrowding problem at The Playhouse. Too many sold out shows means money is being left on the table. They would like to find a nearby building to move administration out of the theater building at San Pedro Park and also create an internal restaurant that would create a super ticket for a night of entertainment.

“We really want to go and get this building and do this humongous new concept and do the super ticket with restaurants," CIaravino said. "We also talked about doing one ticket for all arts organizations where you could just buy one ticket for the whole year and check into all these different performing arts organizations.”  

Mario Ochoa of the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio pitched his idea of creating a fine arts bar for San Antonio. Like a sports bar – but a watering hole for local patrons of the arts that will promote, cross pollinate and build excitement about local performances, galleries and art events.

“The big pitch was a fine arts bar called Muse that would integrate all the fine arts into one space," Ochoa said. "We’ll serve drinks. We’ll serve food. We’ll serve coffee. We’ll have flat screen TV’s not playing sports but playing fine arts from around the world. We’ll also have a stage that all the institutions in San Antonio can use to hold intimate performances.”

The San Antonio Symphony thought up a Young Maestros Club with a smart phone app as a way to reach younger concert goers. Ballet San Antonio's big idea was to reach-out to younger dancers with the First Position Society. And YOSA – the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio -- wants to build on their hit YouTube videos of pop-up concerts by having performances called Playlist Live, where the audience is encouraged to join in the singing.

Lorenzo Gomez, the executive director of the 80/20 foundation, one of the organizers of the workshop, said nonprofits are learning the tools that eager scrappy tech startups have pioneered and polished.

“When you talk about what we do at 80/20 and Geekdom we are in the business of entrepreneurship," Gomez said. "And so we want to give the gift of entrepreneurial thinking to organizations that we work with and we know that the performing arts industry nationally traditionally has struggled in the last ten years and so we wanted to create a safe place for them to think outside of their box and think like start-ups.”  

It’s unknown which big ideas will become realities – but the main focus of the weekend was to help the organizations to get creative and think aggressively about building profitable arts programs in order to reach a sustainable future.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi