In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Art at Work Month, our 10 in 10 series is spotlighting the best local people, ideas and events of the past decade.
When the Broadway Center Board of Directors chose David Fischer as their new Executive Director, in 2006, Fischer took on a mandate to completely re-engineer the organization. And the results have been stellar: Under his team of revitalized staff, Board and volunteers, the Broadway Center has tripled its audience. It is the provider of Washington state’s largest, most dynamic arts education program, and its portfolio includes serving as manager of Tacoma’s Theater District and its historic anchor venues – the Pantages, the Rialto, and Theatre on the Square. The Broadway Center’s guiding vision has been “to lead and energize the renaissance of downtown Tacoma,” and to make the performing arts as accessible to the community as possible.
“[That focus] hasn’t wavered,” says Fischer, “to be relevant and meaningful to the broadest base of our community and make a difference to the social and economic fabric of Tacoma.” So impressive has been his leadership that this year the Tacoma Arts Commission created a new category of the AMOCAT Awards just to honor him; Fischer is the recipient of the first AMOCAT Arts Leadership Award.
From the beginning, Fischer declared diversity and access to be the heart of the Broadway Center’s future. An important factor has been to achieve the difficult balance between bringing high-quality performances to town and offering “broad access to the community regardless of ticket price.” Though artist fees for Queen Latifah, Lyle Lovett, kd Lang and Buddy Guy demand that the intimate Pantages Theater ask for high ticket prices, a broader access was leveraged through a tiered pricing program ensuring that a minimum of 10% of every house be significantly reduced in price (usually 60% less than the top price).
In addition, the Broadway Center regularly offers many other programs at an average $22 per ticket. Access for the community is further enhanced by distributing free tickets. Since 2006, the Broadway Center has distributed, through its social service partnerships, more than 27,000 free tickets at a value of $1.1 million to those members of our community who could otherwise never afford to attend. Private philanthropy, individual donors and City government have all significantly increased their investments because of the Broadway Center’s authentic and earnest efforts to deliver on its promises.
Despite the success of the Broadway Center’s arts programming, “It’s incredibly risky,” says Fischer. “We make commitments to artists based on our belief that people will buy tickets and make contributions. We never know in advance whether our mix of artists and the services we provide to schools, fellow non-profit arts groups, and the City’s economic development will energize ticket buyers and donors. Mostly, we get it right. But, it doesn’t take much to ‘push us off the bubble.’ We spend a lot of sleepless nights worrying about the community’s response.”
Fischer says of his AMOCAT Award: “It’s an honor and an affirmation of the hard work done by dozens and dozens of good people here at the Broadway Center.” The Board, City leaders and donors offered full support for creation of the new model. “Toward that work, I asked new staff, such as Benjii Bittle, to join me in the work. I asked donors to ‘lean into’ capitalizing our vision. This award is acknowledgment that those efforts have made a difference….I thank all those involved in this crazy and complex non-profit endeavor. Our success means so much to the 250,000 people we serve annually.”
Of course, part of Fischer’s job is to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His favorite performance? “Queen Latifah – what a sweetheart and what a talent. We were her only performance in Washington State and it turned out [to be] a wonderfully diverse audience who were deeply appreciative of her.” Tacoma, enjoy your local theaters!
Enjoy past stories in our 10-in-10 Series: