VOL. 133 | NO. 13 | Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Orpheum CEO Batterson Honored For Excellence in Performing Arts
By Kate Simone
Brett Batterson, president and CEO of the Orpheum Theatre Group, has been named the North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents’ 2017 Presenter of the Year. The award honors individuals in the performing arts field for their excellence in exemplifying mentoring; setting an example of best practices, achievement and leadership in their discipline; and cultivating diversity, practicing inclusion, and creating equity for underserved members of the community.
Batterson received the award Monday, Jan. 15, at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals’ annual conference in New York.
Named the Orpheum Theatre Group’s president and CEO in 2015, Batterson oversees all Orpheum Theatre Group activities and programming, which he says ultimately means he has to ensure others have the tools and resources to do their jobs.
“I don’t actually produce a lot of work myself,” he said. “As I tell students when I give a lecture, ‘I am in charge of everything and don’t do anything.’”
Hometown: Davenport, Iowa, but I have been lucky enough to live in 10 states in my lifetime. Tennessee is the only state I have lived in twice (Memphis and 10 years in Chattanooga in the 1980s and 90s).
Experience: B.A., Augsburg College. MFA, Tulane University. Originally trained as a scenic designer for the theater, I segued to arts management in 1996. I have over 20 years of experience in arts leadership, with 10 years at Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit and 11 years at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
What talent do you wish you had? I wish I had studied a musical instrument as a child. I started on a few and didn’t stick with any; my musical talent today is negative five on a scale of 1 to 10.
Who has had the greatest influence on you and why? I assume you mean in my business career, as my wife and children have influenced me most profoundly in life. But in business, Dr. David DiChiera, founder of Michigan Opera Theatre, has had the largest impact on my career. He gave me the opportunity to step into arts administration, taught me much of what I know about the field and let me grow as a leader. He saw potential in me that I did not know I had. For that, I am eternally grateful.
What does the NAPAMA Presenter of the Year Award represent to you? It is affirmation of the work we do at the Orpheum Theatre Group every day. Not just my work, but the entire team’s work. It reinforces our belief that doing the right thing may not always be easy, but is ultimately for the best. We are proud of the programming we bring to Memphis and the impact it has on our city’s diverse communities.
One of the criteria for nominees was promoting diversity and creating equity for underserved members of the community. Tell us a little about how The Orpheum accomplishes these things. The Orpheum is taking a leadership role in the Memphis arts and culture sector. Having founded the Memphis Cultural Coalition, I am happy to say this roundtable of CEOs from Memphis’ major arts and cultural institutions has collectively launched a program to improve equity and inclusion across our sector. In addition, the Orpheum considers these issues in all aspects of our decision making, from programming to education to staff composition and board recruitment.
The criteria also included a mentorship aspect. Why do you feel it’s important to mentor the next generation in the performing arts industry? Mentorship has been the single greatest ingredient to my success. I have always sought out mentors in my past positions, soaked up knowledge from them and listened attentively to the stories of their experiences. I now try to provide the same type of mentorship to any staff members of mine who seek it. The best mentorship programs, in my opinion, are those that are informal in nature. I have never asked someone to be my mentor. I have just let them become my mentor by hanging around them and doing what I could to learn from them.
The Orpheum has a packed schedule in the next few months, so this may be a tough one: What show/event are you looking forward to the most? There is only one answer to this: ALL OF THEM! I have a really hard time picking one over another as I like them all or I wouldn’t have put them on the Orpheum stage. But, I am looking forward to “Too Hot to Handel; the Jazz-Gospel Messiah” in April as it something we are self-producing. The Orpheum has not done that before.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Not counting my family, I am most proud that I have been asked to serve as someone’s Best Man six times in my life. For most of us, asking another man to be Best Man in your wedding is the highest honor we can ever bestow on someone. The fact that six different people have thought me worthy of that honor at different times in my life is humbling and flattering.
What do you most enjoy about your work? The people. My fellow staff members, the board, our patrons, my colleagues at other performing arts centers. It is all about the people for me. That has always been my favorite part of being in the arts – spending time with really good people.
If you could give one piece of advice to young people, what would it be? Remain flexible in your career goals. The important thing is to work in the field you love, so if you set your aspirations on being a performer, be flexible enough to shift into arts marketing or fundraising. Flexibility in your career can allow you to make a living in the field you love, even though your first goals may not have worked out. I cannot tell you how many very talented people I have known who, through lack of opportunity or just plain bad luck, did not make it as an actor in New York and they end up miserable selling insurance or something in their hometown. It is so sad when this happens because not only are they in a job they do not enjoy, but the arts have lost their talent. Remain flexible.
David C. Mills Sr. has been named director of government relations at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Mills comes to UTHSC with more than three decades of work as a lobbyist and strategic communicator. In his new role, he will help craft state legislation to support Tennesseans’ health and welfare, and will work to advance UTHSC initiatives identified by the administration as priorities, including the university’s effort to combat the statewide addiction epidemic.
Blake Higgins, marketing systems administrator for Data Facts Inc., has been appointed co-chairman for the Make-A-Wish Mid-South associate board. The board, comprised of young professionals, supports Make-A-Wish Mid-South via event-based fundraising through the creation of awareness and by helping share the power of a wish. Higgins joined the board in 2014.
Agape Child & Family Services has added two members to its board of directors: Alma Eldridge, an outpatient program nurse with Lakeside Behavioral Health Systems, who previously served on the board and is returning after a few years off of it; and Sherica Hymes with Comcast NBC Universal and president of Polished Consulting LLC.
Hemline Tailored Brand Strategies received 2017 Platinum MarCom Awards in three categories – Website, Season Guide Book and Overall Brand Refresh – all for work completed for Ballet Memphis. The MarCom Awards, judged and administered by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, is an international creative competition that recognizes outstanding achievement by marketing and communication professionals.