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Collaboration Sets the Tone for Three Local Arts Organizations

Female presidents of Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera Santa Barbara share interests and knowledge

The Granada Theatre, the Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera Santa Barbara have more in common than meets the eye. In an unusual turn of events, the presidents of all three organizations are uniquely involved with each of the other organizations, forming a triangle of shared interest and knowledge that is creating a much stronger focus on collaboration and mutual dialogue.

Sarah Chrisman, returning president of the Granada Theatre, also serves on the board of Opera Santa Barbara, and is a long-term supporter of the Santa Barbara Symphony. Paksy Plackis-Cheng, newly elected president of the Santa Barbara Symphony, also serves on the board of Opera Santa Barbara and is uniquely involved with the Granada Theatre due to the symphony’s season of performances there. Joan Rutkowski, the newly elected president of Opera Santa Barbara, spent many years on the board of the Santa Barbara Symphony, is one of the founding board members of the Granada Theatre and serves on committees for both organizations.

In many ways, these three “powerhouse women” are showing just how critical collaborative thinking has become to the well-being of local nonprofit organizations.

“We have so much in common,” said Chrisman, who was re-elected as president of the Granada Theatre in May. “Not just in our donor and subscriber relations, but also in our common goals for audience development. All three of our organizations aspire to reach new audiences and promote the performing arts as a vital part of the quality of life in Santa Barbara.”

“The crossover is exciting,” said Plackis-Cheng, who was elected president of the symphony in July. “My hope is that the three organizations will collaborate even more in the near future. The community deserves more integrated, artistic excellence and vibrant arts organizations.”

“We are one community, working toward a common goal,” said Rutkowski, who was elected president of Opera Santa Barbara in June. “The more we work together, the stronger each of our organizations become. It’s not just about shared programs, but about shared knowledge, experience and wisdom which can then enable us to engage in more diversity and thus reaching a larger audience. Financial support comes when our product is of the highest quality and our community contemplates what will be available for future generations. We all have enjoyed such a wealth of culture; we want it to be here 25 years from now.”

Also contributing to the feeling of collaboration is the fact that all three organizations are housed in the same office building — the Arts & Culture Center on the corner of State and Sola streets in downtown Santa Barbara. Purchased by the Hutton Foundation in 2009, the building contains the offices of some of the community’s largest arts organizations, which in turn has greatly increased dialogue among the various organizations.

“It is amazing how accessible my colleagues are now,” Opera Santa Barbara General Director Steven Sharpe said. “Previously, I would have little or no dialogue with the directors of the symphony or the Granada Theatre. Now, I see them on a regular basis, and the level of dialogue between our organizations has grown tremendously. I learn so much from my colleagues at the other organizations in our building, and I know that the members of our individual Boards feel the same way.”

Adding to the legacy of collaboration are some of the “mentors” who have shaped the interests of the triumvirate of current board presidents.

“One of my greatest mentors was the late Harriet Miller,” Chrisman said. “She taught me the importance of getting involved in my local community, and just how much one person can make a difference. She was such an inspiration to me personally, and deeply contributed to our community during her lifetime.”

“It is an exciting time in our community,” Rutkowski said. “We have learned so much during these challenging economic times, and one of the greatest ‘takeaways’ is the fact that we are stronger and more effective when we work together.”

As Helen Keller once wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” These three women are proving that organizations seemingly in competition with one another can become stronger by working together toward a shared goal and a common vision.

— Steven Sharpe is general director of Opera Santa Barbara.

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