For nearly 100 years, the Harlem neighborhood of New York has been renowned for being the birthplace of the cultural, social, literary and artistic movements that documented, heralded and celebrated African-American life. Thanks to The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance continues to thrive through the organization’s involvement with cultural events, including jazz concerts, theatrical and dance performances, film and gospel music festivals. Under the leadership of President and CEO Lloyd Williams, and supported by the Chamber’s First Vice President and noted Producer Voza Rivers, the Chamber has been at the forefront of promoting arts and culture for over 40 years of its rich history. It is one of New York City’s most vibrant and effective models of business and cultural tourism.
I have had the privilege of working with the Chamber since1986. At the time, I was serving as the Marketing Director for the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Based on our mutual goals and passion for the arts, we forged a partnership that became the model for my work cultivating diverse audiences. Our work together included the building of alliances to help promote DTH through neighborhood associations, churches and organizations, and we inaugurated the dance company’s performances during the Chamber’s landmark, cultural events, including HARLEM WEEK.
Today, the Chamber remains my gateway for introducing and creating access to the arts for the community of Harlem. They have supported appearances by cast members of Broadway shows; bestowed honors to artists during their awards ceremonies, and have promoted our efforts to expand access to the arts through both their digital and print media outreach. They also have helped community organizations develop fundraisers in partnership with cultural icons, such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and DTH, as well as Broadway and off-Broadway shows.
When I began working with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), I brought along my relationship with the Chamber. For the past four years, they’ve helped promote NJPAC events during HARLEM WEEK. NJPAC has also been invited to provide entertainment, most notably from the youth participants in the NJPAC musical ensemble, Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens. Jazz for Teens also has performed during the NYC Marathon for the past four years, encouraging thousands of runners as they fly past the 5th Avenue stage where they perform.
Why is a partnership like this essential? Experience has taught me that partnering with local community leadership is the most effective means for advancing access to arts, for both the potential audience and the sponsors of the cultural event. Community leaders are a dynamic constituency; these men and women often are eager to promote arts events to their organizations’ members and the community at-large. As Audience Development Marketers, we must help extend the invitation and aid in building the bridge for them to cross. The invitation becomes the basis for establishing trust, which results whenever there are successful joint-ventures that welcome, embrace and respect these diverse audiences. This win-win relationship can then grow beyond the boundaries of neighborhood venues, opening the doors to new arts-filled adventures for all stakeholders.
We also can’t forget the bottom line—my partnership with the Chamber has had a positive economic impact, for the community, the production or performance, and for the arts. When my company coordinates an appearance by an actor or the cast member of a show, or when the Chamber creates a promotional campaign in support of a production, tickets are sold. Consequently, the producers are not only happy, they also experience the value of these collaborations. This type of currency is invaluable—it helps promote and sustain the arts while making it accessible to a broad array of audiences.
I treasure the 31-year partnership that I’ve forged with the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and I am tremendously grateful for all that I’ve learned as the result of working with them. I also am appreciative that we’ve developed a great friendship. I encourage you to seek out your local Chamber of Commerce and explore how you can develop partnerships to increase access to arts and cultural events. Plan on rolling up your sleeves. Your goal is to lay a rock-solid foundation that will result in the building of a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship; a relationship that has the potential to be expanded or replicated in other communities.
Most important, have fun! After all, you’re extending an invitation to the party!
(Photo – Lloyd Williams & Voza Rivers)