How would we start a jazz/improvised music performance collective that was truly inclusive and diverse* for performing musicians in Oakland? This is a serious question. I realize that some of these already exist (Oakland Public Conservatory, La Peña, The Sound Room), and there are jams as well, such as the one started by tenor saxophonist Tony Peebles on Sunday nights at Penrose in Oakland. Perhaps start with a list of any existing performance coops, and their pros/cons?

It seems to me you could have rotating responsibilities, similar to how you run a childcare/nursery coop. So if you put in enough hours in various positions, you “earn” your performance time. But in order to be viable, it should have some destination-quality perks: Good location, good libations, safe, good parking, good acoustics, nice stage/sight lines, pro sound. I guess I am also thinking of how you can blend the can-do attitude of the moneyed entrepreneurial class with the soulful sounds of the working musician class, for the benefit of the cultural appreciators.

Risks: Costs, momentum, excessive amateurism or the opposite, cliqueishness/exclusivity, poor self-management, poor attendance.

Benefits: Quality performance space, networking, growing an even more vibrant music community in Oakland to rival that of other great music cities in America (such as Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York, to name a few).

I suppose one approach is to make it similar to ImpactHub co-working model, where you pay a reasonable membership fee and then get performance benefits. But it would be cool if it were a non-profit where the proceeds are cycled back into the community.

In his wonderful book, The Cycle: A Practical Approach to Managing Arts Organizations, author Michael Kaiser makes a great comparison between pro sports and pro symphonies:

“I am always amazed when speaking with groups of arts leaders that sports are mentioned in a disparaging way: ‘Why are sports so popular while we in the arts are under appreciated, if appreciated at all.’ The word sports is almost always said in a sneering tone, as if it were one step above porn (I must confess, I am as big a fan of baseball and football as I am of opera and ballet).”

But we have a lot to learn from pro sports, he writes: “Most sports teams do a superb job of making a compelling product, marketing both the games themselves but also the team as a whole to fans, and making fans feel part of the effort. … I have found that healthy arts organizations have an internal engine that powers consistent success. These organizations are clear about their missions and develop programming that embodies these missions. That programming is anything but predictable. It is exciting, dynamic, and surprising.”

He says the risk factors for troubled arts groups are:

  • a belief that an endowment fund is all you need for success
  • lack of agreement on mission
  • poor programming or program planning
  • bad, expensive marketing
  • poor institutional marketing
  • cliquishness
  • weak boards
  • poor staff support for boards
  • no conversion of new prospects into donors
  • diverting funds away from programming
  • no discipline.

Pro sports does an amazing job of making audiences care about the minutiae of the particular sport and its accoutrements, while symphonies tend to seem incredibly dull and institutional (at least in their fund-raising activities). But more importantly, I was thrilled that Kaiser said you DON’T HAVE TO DO EDUCATION if you don’t feel drawn to it. So that’s a wonderful goal for an actual education institution, but it doesn’t have to be the only side hustle for musical/arts organizations. There are other ways to make money. Off the top of my head: workspace, composition space, rehearsal studios, recording studios, and of course performance space.

Forgive me if this idea is stupid or has been done to death. Feel free to share your thoughts.


*diversity = gender, age, economic status, ethnicity, language, style, genre, instrument, religion, handicap, ability…