There are those rare occurrences in life, when you meet someone so inspired, you know they’re bound to make a difference for the good. The Long Center for the Performing Arts’ CEO, Jamie Grant, is such a character. I sat with Grant and Long Center Trustee Lesley Varghese last summer to discuss diversity – or the lack thereof – in Austin’s performing arts community. We spoke of half-empty houses, failed ticket campaigns aimed at ethnic minorities and timid marketing strategies rolled out by some organizations who struggle with diversity.
Grant, less than two years’ removed from his native Canada, didn’t mince words when he spoke of Austin’s arts groups standing on shaky ground in the wake of a major demographic brownout. He didn’t shy away from talk of the arts community’s “problem” with the city’s underserved population. Sitting on the edge of his seat, he spoke of his experiences in Kitchener, Canada, where as head of the Centre on the Square, he encountered a similar issue. His response then was to build a bridge between French and English-speaking communities in an attempt to win new patrons.
During our visit, Grant promised to do something no major arts group in Austin had done, something revolutionary – on such a level, it would magnify the shortcomings of colleagues in the field.
On April 2, Grant put his promise to create opportunities for cultural inclusiveness into action, announcing that the Long Center, “Austin’s Creative Home,” has unveiled a high tech, bilingual website to effectively market to the Latino community. The move, in effect, makes Spanish one of two languages for arts commerce and ups the ante in the cultural arena.
“This is a major turning point for the Long Center,” said Grant. “This new look and new website not only create a cutting-edge, high tech presence for us online, but they also increase our ability to engage the community in meaningful dialogue. From learning about our history to purchasing tickets for our latest upcoming shows and events, we will be more accessible than ever to the Austin Community.”
The forward-leaning rebrand will begin to fill a void and more effectively address Austin’s diverse population. “I am very excited for this project,” said Monica Peraza, Vice President of the Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts and a Long Center Trustee. “The Long Center is the creative hub of Austin and was built with the intention of serving the entire community. Latinos are and will continue to shape the cultural landscape of Austin, so I consider the launch of a bilingual website an important first step in recognizing this phenomenon.”
Complacency is not the mark of Grant and his Long Center team, whose new website offers a fresh prospective and features a “responsive design” built by Creative Suitcase, the firm which led the project. “The fact that our new website is bilingual is a huge leap forward for us in terms of making our incredibly diverse spectrum of programming accessible to an ever wider audience,” said Grant.
Latino community leaders, such as Nora Comstock, President and CEO of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, agree and see the development as “wonderful news. I so love the idea of creating spaces that are multicultural/multilingual. This is a step in the right direction for the greater internationalization of Austin.”
It’s a smart investment and a bellwether of the new order for the arts in Austin. “The creation of a bilingual website acknowledges our culture as part of the culture of Austin,” said Susana Almanza, co-director of PODER. “The voices of Austin and their commemorations and holidays are all part of Austin. Adelante with the Long Center state-of-the art bilingual website.”
Visit The Long Center for the Performing Arts in Spanish at: es.thelongcenter.org