denis gullickson | talking titletwon | sept. 2019
Some issues back, this writer rolled out word of Green Bay's new arts and performance space “The Premier.”
Three-plus years in the planning, The Premier is a comprehensive, integrated facility where artists and performers of all walks can collaborate and cross-pollinate. Located at 520 N Broadway in the Railyard Innovation District, The Premier opened on May 1.
Since then — under the direction of the Green Bay Theatre Company Vice President, Michael O'Malley, and supported by the GBTC board — The Premier has welcomed more than 1,000 individuals representing 40 groups.
Approaching the concept of a working arts and performance facility as a fledgling theater company, we witnessed a problematic pattern across Green Bay's cultural spectrum: Creative individuals and groups were doing amazing work — but all-too-often “on an island.” Do good work, develop a following and then cling to them for dear life.
We knew there was something to be gained through collaboration, shared visions and resources, and coming together to promote all things cultural-Green Bay — with a locus at which to do it.
Three months in, we are nearly bursting at the seams in some areas. That, plus plans for our build-out, suggests that — in the not-too-distant future — we may outgrow the current 20,000+ square feet and be looking for further options.
Prominently represented at this time are an array of visual and digital arts, videography, photography, artisanship, dance, music, writing, songwriting, theater … and on and on. Woven into the mix are threads of community leadership, resources and diversity.
Here's an invitation to everyone to get in on the ground floor of what will be an integral, exciting part of Green Bay's growing cultural identity.
Affordable and Synergistic
“This is like 'Build it and they will come,'” one visitor recently said of The Premier.
“Yes,” we replied, “But it's also 'Come and they will build it.'”
Operating under that premise — some days have been a creative, revolving door as one community visionary after another has come to The Premier to share a whim or a dream or some crazy idea that “might never work.” We like those the best.
Evolving discussions have taken place over an afternoon as synapses have fired. Places at the table have been vacated and then assumed by the next person. No idea has been poo-pooed for being too big or small. No person with a creative impulse and a sense of artistic derring-do has been turned away.
Thanks to the magnanimity of Paul Belschner, CEO and President of the Base Companies, and Paul's partners in the Railyard Innovation District, the Green Bay Theater Company has had the luxury of developing a business model that works for everyone — established artists to those looking to plant their flag.
As a member of a Green Bay leadership delegation that has traveled to Indianapolis and Kansas City, Paul and his team have come back with some ideas for how to grow Titletown in the 21stCentury. One economic driver that has been firing elsewhere but a bit untended in Green Bay is arts and culture.
Paul's vision for the vital role arts and culture can play in a burgeoning Green Bay is a welcome breath of fresh air blowing in off the expanse of Lake Michigan. In the Railyard Innovation District — emphasis on “innovation” — he has provided us the space and the time to turn a vision developed through 300+ meetings and three years' time into a reality.
As a result, we can offer innovative, affordable space for the imagination to stretch out and create. Here's an “innovation invitation” to all artists, aspiring artists and anyone who has ever had an artistic idea dart through their cerebellum: Space at The Premier can be had for “about the price of a cup of coffee” for an hour. Longer work sessions, classes, meeting spaces are likewise affordable.
Paul asked us to create a “case study” that his team could take to other cities and — thanks to Michael's direction and GBTC board support — that “case” is being made. Our goal is for The Premier to serve as a model to other communities as in “here's what we are doing in Green Bay.”
At some point “down the road” — when The Premier is fully “humming” — we picture artists and photographers collaborating with authors … musicians developing projects with dancers and videographers … and who knows what else? To that end, our open-space concept encourages synchronicity and synergy.
Still, specific areas have been defined and are part of our planned built out. There is a spacious, open room in the building's southeast corner for dance and related activities. Another room is set aside for black box theater and other amenities. Digital and visual arts have found their area and a dedicated stage-space has emerged for music and other performance. Common spaces between these areas are meant to encourage conversation, inspiration and partnering.
The Premier is especially designed to serve as an incubator for thought, creativity, performance, branding and promotion. To that end, we have often stated that 25% of our business plan is “purposely unplanned.” That will be defined by users and uses as we evolve.
New Board Members, SAGE and Important Others
The Green Bay Theatre Company wants to recognize its new board members — all of whom have joined us through their passion for the synergy at The Premier. “Thank You” to Mary Emily Breuer, Amelie Eiding, Shania Gorton, Jon Kresin and Linda Roach. We love and value you all.
The list of groups who have engaged at The Premier is impressive and that has been primarily through word of mouth to date. This “soft opening” phase has been used to install the initial operating business model. As we shift to a sustaining business model, we will hold a Grand Opening event to further dovetail arts and culture entities with essential community resources.
One might suggest that our business model has been applying the “scientific method” to arts and culture. Seminal research stemming from a perceived problem led to developing a working hypothesis: Creative Green Bay was hungry for greater cooperation and cross-pollination and a home.
The experimental phase — with the vital aspect of observation — is now well underway and is indicating a conclusion that our beginning hypothesis was valid. Communication will be forthcoming and will be continuous. The Green Bay Theatre Company is committed to constant outreach to the community for participation, support and interaction as this grand experiment continues.
As mentioned, nearly 40 entities have utilized The Premier in some form since May 1. Some for a one-hour photoshoot, some for a full-blown charitable gala. The marriage of per-event users and permanent lessees has always been a principle piece of The Premier business model.
We will continue to recognize participants as well as patrons since we value both as integral pieces of engagement at the facility.
Providing great energy in recent days have been Cyclops Girl Productions and Empowerment Dance. Find their hard-charging video — shot in our space — at The Premier's Facebook page.
Just as potent is the verve introduced to The Premier by a group of art activists and entrepreneurs — S.A.G.E., as in “Share, Accept, Grow, Encourage.”
Led by Stacey Burkhart, SAGE's members are “succeeding in building a small business, working to turn a passion into a reality, or anxious to turn and idea into solid ground.” This collective dynamo is participating in events across Titletown from Ignite Green Bay to an inaugural art night at the Broadway Pocket Park kitty-corner from The Premier.
“We started this group,” said Stacey, “knowing that it's great to have a friend or two to bounce ideas off of, somewhere to ask questions when we want to try something new, and like-minded people to walk with us while we pave new paths in business.”
Whew! A perfect addition to The Premier with some familiar strains of thought echoed in those sentiments. Welcome SAGE! And, welcome, too, everyone. Watch for thumbnail sketches of the groups and individuals premiering at The Premier over the next several months.
Thanks to the guidance of Donald Salmon and Maria Zehren of the Winston Group for their support as well. It was Don's sage suggestion to locate this collaborative, cross-pollinating arts and performance center in the Railyard Innovation District in the first place. That, coupled with Paul Belschner's foresight and generosity, turned a vision into a reality.
Now, an idea once on paper has become an operating entity.
Working with the Winston Group, we will be reaching out to the Green Bay Community for involvement and support. More on that in the future as we offer our community additional ways to become involved at The Premier.
Meanwhile, contact us at greenbaytheater.org, email@example.com or on our Facebook page. Or call Michael at 920-606-5625 or Denis at 920-621-9304. Better yet, drop by at 520 N Broadway.
This column is written from the heart of NYC's theater district with an even greater appreciation for what is happening at Green Bay's own “Premier.”