The Arts Council has essentially been resting for the past year, said McKeon. Its importance to the community has not lessened at all. After coming off a 10 year run where it accomplished so much for the arts in this area, this sort of down time is typical. It has been catching its breath and is now ready for its next phase.
McKeon, who started in late September, comes in as overqualified for the position. For the past 20 years she has worked at the international performing arts level. That included serving as the assistant manager of the New York Philharmonic and traveling with famed conductor Leonard Bernstein. A desire to enjoy small town living led her and her husband to move to Elk Rapids where he serves as a school band director.
McKeons time with the New York Philharmonic led to several contacts in the performing arts community resulting in her creating McKeon & Associates, Inc. Her company has consulted numerous arts organizations with strategic planning, project facilitation and operational management. Her clients have included the renowned Julliard School, for which she coordinated several international orchestra tours. McKeon has also worked with the American Federation of Musicians, Youth Music Australia, American-Soviet Youth Orchestra, The New England Conservatory and most recently as managing director and CEO of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA).
The YOA is led by artistic advisor Plácido Domingo with President Bush and his wife Laura serving as honorary chairs. The internationally acclaimed orchestra saw its operation strengthened under McKeon, who oversaw the annual $1.6 million development drive as well as the organizations $2 million operating budget.
With her credentials McKeon could easily serve as the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, so one must wonder why she would want to take on the challenges of the Traverse Area Arts Council?
I see this as a wonderful challenge to be a part of a community that celebrates the arts, said McKeon. We have tremendous arts resources in this region and I welcome the opportunity to work together with the numerous individual organizations in the area that are promoting the arts.
As McKeon assesses the current state of the arts in the Traverse region she points to the fact the area is plentiful with performances and exhibitions. She sees the role of the council to help facilitate events versus becoming another presenting organization.
We are fortunate to have Interlochen Center for the Arts, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Dennos Museum, The City Opera House, several galleries, neighborhood artists, theater groups and others doing an excellent job presenting performing and visual arts in our community, said McKeon. The Arts Council doesnt need to enter into the presenting arena. Our goal must be that of facilitator and promoter of the arts.
McKeon is spending her first days on the job meeting with area arts leaders and discussing what they need and expect from the Arts Council. She is building and repairing bridges between the major arts presenters and the Council. Early response has been positive.
There is no question that every arts leader I have spoke with sees relevancy and certainly a place for the Traverse Area Arts Council, said McKeon. What we need to do is assess how we are able to best service the broad umbrella of the arts we have here.
McKeon doesnt see the numerous arts groups in competition with one another but rather as partners in promoting the area as an arts-centered community. She feels this is essential to the image of Traverse City.
I was recently reading an editorial by Don Coe of the Winery at Black Star Farms where he wrote about the importance of the arts to the business community, said McKeon. This is often overlooked in the economic development process in many communities. It is a positive that the business community here understands the relationship between the arts and a healthy economic climate.
In addition to connecting with the players in the arts community McKeon also plans to develop relationships with the business community.
It is essential for the health of the arts here that we have support from the business community, said McKeon. We are exploring several options and partnerships and by the first of the year should have some exciting opportunities to announce.
At the root of her challenges is definitely dollars. During its period of rest the Traverse Area Arts Council funds dried up. The budget currently allows for McKeon to essentially be on the payroll only one day a week and there are barely enough dollars to employ a part-time administrative assistant. Lack of funds have forced the council to vacate its downtown Traverse City office and locate in McKeons home office in Williamsburg. Despite the financial challenges McKeon remains optimistic about the Councils future.
McKeon points to one community that is 50 miles up the road as a great example of a city that has centered itself on the arts.
Often we think we have to look across the country for examples, but Petoskey is a prime illustration of a community that has embraced the arts at its core, said McKeon. I know other communities in the area are looking to the arts as a means to stimulate tourism and economic growth.
Don Coe of Black Star Farms agrees and feels that Traverse City is the major economic center in Northern Michigan and should lead as the major cultural player as well.
It is essential for the health of our region that Traverse City embrace the cultural community, said Coe. It is why our wine region early on made a commitment to support the arts. We see a direct relationship in our success in having a solid arts culture here in Northern Michigan.
While finances are a concern McKeon feels confident in the communitys desire to support the arts and feels the funds will be there. A bigger challenge from her perspective is arts biggest competitor: the home.
We are at place in our society that people in general feel they dont need to leave their home to be entertained, said McKeon. I see that as our biggest undertaking as the Traverse Area Arts Council. DVDs, video games and high quality music recordings are keeping people at home more. It is important that we promote the importance of experiencing the arts in person and coming together as a community to experience it. We are loaded with artistic talent. We have musicians, actors, painters, sculptors and others who easily could make a living in the big city as artists but they choose to live here. Several of these artists have international reputations.
In order for McKeon to accomplish the Councils mission she will need adequate financial support and cooperation from the community. Petoskeys Crooked Tree Arts Council employs eight, while McKeon is expected to work miracles one day a week. Fortunately for the Traverse City Arts Council and the arts community in general McKeon is committed to her love for the arts and she is currently giving more than the eight hours a week her contract calls for.
To assist McKeon in her efforts either financially or with moral support contact her through the councils website www.traversearts.org or at her office 231-947-2282.