Season 3, Episode 9

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“We need to advocate for the performing arts as a central part of any comunity of humanity basically, and what it means. It's just as important as the sciences; it's just as important as business; it's just as important as all those other things.”

Matt talks to Lori Laqua, Managing Director of the SMUIN Contemporary Ballet Company in San Francisco. 

The pair discuss the state and importance of the performing arts and artistic expression; the changing landscape of how we consume art; and how and what it means to have a career in the arts. The two also share a mutual appreciation for men in tights. 


So, I think in COVID  we have really learned a lot and we've learned about food insecurity and, , people not even having internet at home to have their kids use a computer to do homework and all kinds of things that I don't think all of us necessarily realized. And, I think I read today that 7 out of 10 Americans are, at this point, living paycheck to paycheck. Okay. Knowing all of that, you fundraise for the arts. You are not feeding hungry people. You are not providing a bed for homeless people. So, tell me why as a donor, I should make a contribution to a performing arts organization like yours.

Lori Laqua:

I think it's two-fold. I think that you walk the walk and talk the talk and, during COVID I actually took five months of Mondays, and worked at the local food bank as a volunteer. Other people were working at other things; dancers were making masks and they created 400 masks that they took down to the homeless shelter, and  really expanding the definition of what it means.

It's not just about the product on stage, it's about the people who are involved in it. And that's kind of how we've done it. What does it mean to do that? And it means that we are real people; we're authentic about it.

And we walked the walk, we talked the talk, and I think partnerships with other organizations. We just did a, LGBTQ+ night with our Christmas ballet and a portion of the proceeds, and all the proceeds from the after-party, went to Project Open Hand. And so, we got a whole new list of partners that we're working with over there, and new friends that we've made over there.

And we actually got some people that were like, ‘I didn't realize you were doing that. I didn't realize that you were contributing to the larger societal issues and other nonprofits,’ and that those partnerships become important to who we are as an organization. But most importantly is to who we are as individual.

And I do think people are giving money to individuals, not to organizations per se, but the people who make up that organization, and we have a good bunch right now. And our fundraising  has not suffered during COVID; even people that were buying tickets, but we had no tickets to sell.

They were now giving donations and they've continued with that. And I think that's one of the things that, with anything, whether you're raising money for a new space station, if it's really about the passion and about the people; people are going to give. That it's not just, ‘oh, it's another ballet company.’

Does the world need another ballet company? Do people need more social services? Yeah, they do. Especially in, in times like this. And, so we as an organization and we, as individuals participate in that, and I think that that speaks volumes for what we're doing. And when our dancers were making masks, there were four of them and they were just, they had their little sewing machines out, they were going--400 masks later.

The homeless shelter was like, ‘oh my goodness, thank you. Thank you. Thanks.’ So how can we contribute? I mean, we're all charitable organizations. How does one charitable organization do for another one? We have Class for a Cause,  we were doing it about once a month. We just did one last week it was about food poverty, and we gave to our neighborhood food pantry.

So, we raised 600 bucks for the food pantry. And they told us that it would, it would provide food for a hundred families for six months. And it was just like, wow, we were excited. I mean, we were just like, that is fantastic. What are we going to do on the next one? We've done election issues, we've done all sorts of things, different causes.

And it's just, it's so rewarding. And I think it makes our employees, our people, I hate to call them employees. I don't feel like we employ them. I feel like they've, we've all gathered to on a, on a common cause, but it's really allowed people to engage at their own personal passions in addition to their outer passions.

So, it's been good for that. And I mean, what is COVID in the end? I mean, everybody looks at it as like, what did it do to your ticket sales? Well, you don't even have to scratch your head on that one; it cratered them. So how do we find other relevant ways of being part of society and, and that's what we do.

And that's what people end up giving money to as well.

Project Open Hand Members of the SMUIN company volunteered to provide nutritious meals to sick and vulnerable neighbors in the Bay Area. 


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With offices in Los Angeles and New York, Envision Consulting works exclusively with nonprofits all across the country on executive and supported search, strategic planning and partnerships, and other organizational transitions, with diversity, equity and inclusion integrated into all of our practices.