The 2011-12 season of the Johnson County Community College Performing Arts Series opens Friday night with the Miles Davis Experience: 1949-1959. In addition to archived footage of Davis, interviews with his contemporaries and beat poetry performances, the show features jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire performing Davis' songs with a quintet. Akinmusire is a rising figure in the jazz world, and his presence underscores the JCCC series' newfound aptitude for identifying exciting performers from around the globe and importing them to suburban Kansas. (Also lined up for this season: Poncho Sanchez, Munich Symphony, Rob Riggle and, this Saturday, Peter Frampton.) We recently spoke to Emily Behrmann, the series' general manager, about what has changed over at JCCC and what to expect beyond this season.
The Pitch: The JCCC Performing Arts Series turns 21 this year. How have things changed, in your estimation?
Behrmann: We used to have less events, and we used to be more focused on classical shows and chamber music. In the late '90s and early '00s, when the economy was really booming, we started to get more support budgetwise. So there were more shows. And I think the college realized that this program was an asset, that it was an asset to be engaging people in the community and bringing people together through these performances.
How do you go about selecting the acts? It seems like the Series' offerings have changed in just the past couple of years even.
The artists are chosen with the help of a Program Advisory Committee, all of whom are season- and single-ticket holders. Some are also members of our Friends of the Performing Arts Series. We also listen to our audiences. We do surveys and ask what people would like to see. Our patrons aren't shy about offering their suggestions about the programs, and that's a wonderful resource for me. I look forward to talking with our audiences about what they like, what they don't like, and why. We've also been making a concerted effort, in the past two years, to program shows for our more traditional college-age students.
In what ways?
Well, we had a downturn in ticket sales a few years back, and so we started to look more closely at the programs we were offering. What we saw was that our audience was beginning to age. And we appreciate that audience. But we understood that if we didn't start bringing in shows aimed at our students, and people in their 30s and 40s, we wouldn't have much of an audience at all down the road. We also offer students $5 tickets to the shows the week of the show, but we found that many students weren't aware of that. So we started promoting it on campus and quickly saw a 46 percent increase in $5 tickets sold.
Do you have a budget from the school or do you raise money, or what?
We rely about 40-50 percent on ticket sales. But, yes, we also have a budget from the college. We have some sponsors. We have some friends of the series who make annual donations. We get grants from private foundations.
Have you been affected by the defunding of the Kansas Arts Commission?
Absolutely. For the past eight or nine seasons, we'd been receiving an annual grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance that we no longer qualify for. The National Endowment for the Arts can't match any grants because the state no longer has an arts agency. It ends up being somewhere between $7,500 and $15,000 annually that won't come our way. Which doesn't sound like a whole lot, but that can be around 10 or 12 percent of our arts-education budget.
How difficult is it to attract some of these world-class artists to suburban Johnson County?
I think when artists hear "Overland Park, Kansas" they sometimes assume they'll be singing in a cornfield or a Quonset hut somewhere. But they're always very pleasantly surprised by Yardley Hall. It's very comfortable and it has great acoustics. It's a nice intimate setting — there's no seats where you feel greatly removed from what's happening onstage. There's a very warm, resonant quality to the space.
Is Peter Frampton really going to play for three hours?
He's doing the entire Frampton Comes Alive LP, and he wants it to sound exactly like the record. Then he'll come back and do other songs not from that record. And he'll be talking with the crowd — he's a really amiable guy. And it's almost sold-out, so get your tickets now!