Scottsdale Arts offers glimpse into return on public investment

Love Photo

The LOVE sculpture at the municipal complex at Scottsdale City Hall is one of several public art installations overseen by Scottsdale Arts. (File photo)

Scottsdale City Council gave Scottsdale Arts $4,648,687 this fiscal year and on Tuesday, Sept. 12 the local governing board heard about the return on its investment.

Scottsdale Arts President and CEO Neale Perl delivered to Scottsdale City Council his annual debriefing of where the dollars go at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

“Last week ticket sales for the center’s new season exceeded $1 million, this represents 43 percent of our earned revenue budget for the performing arts even before the season begins,” he said, prefacing his outline to local leaders. “Due to our spectacular artist lineup and strategic marketing efforts this is a 12 percent increase in revenue compared to this time last year.”

Since 1987 Scottsdale Arts has been the advisory arm for all things arts and culture to be offered throughout the city of Scottsdale. The organization is primarily led by its chief executive and a 22-member board of trustees, city officials say.

Scottsdale arts facilities and efforts are:

  • The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St.
  • The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 E. Second St.
  • Scottsdale Public Art.

In fiscal year 2017-18 Scottsdale Arts is expected to carry a total operating budget of $10,982,632 compared to a year earlier when that number peaked at $11,229,304, according to the fiscal year 2017-18 adopted budget approved by Scottsdale City Council.

Neale Perl

The No. 1 expense allocated at Scottsdale Arts, records show, are employee salaries and benefits accounting for $5,700,707, while artist fees total $2,770,777 and administrative costs are $1,604,657 this fiscal year, numbers show.

In his presentation Mr. Perl outlined key new hires tapped to further bolster the offerings of Scottsdale Arts and a new focus on what he called, “creative aging programs.”

“I am pleased to report that we have engaged Amy Nesbitt to oversee programming for our performing arts division,” he pointed out. “Every day over 10,000 people turn 65 in the United States. Our education and outreach team is responding to this demographic and need in our community through our new creative aging programs.”

Mr. Perl points out Scottsdale Arts is expanding its partnerships with other municipal entities.

“It is our goal to engage our older adult audiences in initiatives that foster social, mental and physical wellness,” he said.

“We are excited to be expanding our partnerships with the city’s senior centers in field trips and interactive workshops. In addition, Scottsdale Arts has developed a new program for people living with early-to-moderate stages of dementia as well as their partners. The goal of the memory lounge is to have an enjoyable social outing that fosters living in the moment while engaging the arts.”

Earlier this year Scottsdale City Council approved a $650,000 subsidy of taxpayer dollars to support a public art event born through the minds at the municipality of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Public Art and the Salt River Project.

That confluence of ideas has been affectionately conceived as “Canal Convergence.”

“I am pleased to report on the record attendance we experienced at Canal Convergence earlier this year,” Mr. Perl said. “As you can see participation has grown over the last five years to 80,000 — an eight fold increase since its inception. We are grateful for your investment to growing this into a signature event for our city.”

Local tourism aficionados have eyed dramatic expansion to the Canal Convergence event this fiscal year.

“We are working closely with our PR firm Off Madison Avenue and Experience Scottsdale to make that happen,” Mr. Perl said.

Scottsdale Arts has allocated $822,100 this fiscal year for its marketing budget, allocating $552,475 to advertising and $232,150 in anticipated printing costs.

“SMoCA has enjoyed record attendance this summer — 39,000 visitors through the end of August and as many as 1,600 people on one day,” he proclaimed. “Many of those attendees are under the age of 30 and it was there first time in a museum of contemporary art. We have enjoyed record social media engagement with the public on all platforms in excess of the prior 12 months and continues to grow.”

On left is Kim Curry Evans and Scott McDaniel, on right. Both professionals have been hired by Scottsdale Arts. (submitted photos)

A return on investment

Steve Baker, Scottsdale Arts director of marketing and communications, says the way entities get their message out is changing.

“We certainly believe in advertising on TV, but there is no silver bullet in one medium,” he said in a Sept. 21 phone interview.

“You have to look at the whole gamut that is at your disposal. There are more ways to get your message out. Putting a post on Facebook — you can boost that post for a very little amount. There is no silver bullet, but there is what I call ‘golden shrapnel.’ You have to look at a lot of different avenues and they need to work together.”

Ocean of Light: Submergence – A Squidsoup Project closes Sunday, Sept. 24. (Submitted Photo)

It appears Scottsdale Arts has discovered the ability to re-target its audience and utilize sophisticated social media and digital initiatives to entice local patrons of the arts.

“They have to work together — sometimes they are doing it on a subliminal level — that is the way it happens seamlessly, but to get that right is not an easy thing,” he said noting a scenario where a confluence of messaging via email, text and or social media promotion can become the vehicle for advertising a certain exhibit.

Mr. Baker says a simple social media campaign can transform an exhibit into a phenomena outlining the strong social media effect of SMoCA’s Ocean of Light exhibit.

“This has become a phenomena just from us sharing and posting — this is the happening place to go,” he said of the power of providing content people want to see and participate with. “It is just generating exciting activity on its own.”

While Scottsdale Councilman David Smith says the new popular exhibit or trend is a great piece of local arts promotion the real purpose of the arts is to make sure Scottsdale maintains its legacy effort to be a cache of arts and culture.

“They are a part of our heritage and who we hope to continue to be,” Mr. Smith said in a Sept. 20 phone interview. “I am using the arts in the most broad sense, but part of the mandate of this organization, is to manage and populate the public art program, which in the aggregate becomes pat of our artistic cache in the city.”

Mr. Smith says the second objective of Scottsdale Arts is to maintain a 501(c)3 designation with the Internal Revenue Service allowing the entity to take on community donations.

“That could only happen if they were apart from the city,” Mr. Smith said of the public-private partnership that has been in existence since the 1980s. “The reality is there is no reason to assume this activity could be done more efficiently or economically in-house. Scottsdale Arts is not a contractor but they are our partner. It is a partnership designed to do something with a skill set that is more refined and more appropriate than that being on city staff.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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