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Moving the Culture of Tulsa Forward, Part 2

A Tessitura consortium opens up communication and collaboration in an culture-rich city

Dana A.

Dana AstmannContent Manager, Tessitura Network

TitleMoving the culture of Tulsa forward, Part 2


Read/View Time7 min

Tulsa, with a population of 400,000, boasts a highly active cultural scene for a city of its size.

“For a city of this size to have a symphony, an opera, a ballet, and several museums is not necessarily typical,” says Angela Carter of the Tulsa Symphony, “and the city prides itself on its arts and culture.”

Holbrook Lawson, Board Chair of ahha (the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa), notes that in the late 1960s, Tulsa became one of only a handful of cities to pass a Percent for Art ordinance. “Any time a public building was renovated or built,  1% of the construction costs had to go to art,” Lawson says. That ordinance helped create a city steeped in culture.

Hardesty Arts Center
Photo courtesy of ahha 

That also means that the members of the consortium share many of the same donors and visitors.

Collen Lahti of the Tulsa Ballet recalls that some people felt cautious in the consortium’s early days. “It was like, ‘We don't want to share information with the other organizations. We all have the same donor base and we all have the same patron base.’” But, she continues, the consortium “has actually helped us collaborate more because all those walls are being broken down.”

Richard Koernig of the Tulsa Opera agrees, citing an example of researching best practices in fund setup. “The Symphony is the same size as we are, and so I called my counterpart at the Symphony. She went over the way her funds were set up, and it helped me in figuring out what I wanted mine to look like.”

Cody Palmer, Web Developer at the Philbrook Museum, appreciates the increased troubleshooting brainpower that the consortium offers: We have nine [organizations] using and working on that same software. If there’s a problem, we have just as many people aware of that problem and working to fix that problem. Additionally, we have all sorts of resources between us.”

The consortium “helps us collaborate more because all those walls are being broken down.” 

Scott Black, Managing Director of the Tulsa Ballet, attributes the collaborative atmosphere in part to the data sharing model. The members of the consortium can see which other organizations an individual patron is connected to, but they can’t see individual activities — such as ticket purchases, donations, or memberships — at organizations other than their own. “There is a control in place where we don't see each individual person’s data, but we have a way to tell the story of what’s happening within the arts community of Tulsa,” Black notes. “We’re not just all living in our own silo. I think that’s promising.”

Photo courtesy of Tulsa Opera 

I don’t know if the average person is aware that we share a database,” says Carter. “But I think that they feel that we all know each other and like each other. I think that does trickle down. It conveys this sense of community that I’m sure people notice.” Her colleague Annie Chang, Development Associate at the Symphony, agrees: “I think they pick up on our good vibes between each organization, that we are constantly working together.”

“If we can use the Consortium membership as a way to encourage participation among everyone and not feel like we’re in competition,” adds Black, “I know donors appreciate that. I know our board members appreciate that.”

“We have a way to tell the story of what’s happening within the arts community of Tulsa. We’re not just living in our own silo.”

Rather than competition, says Chang, “It’s more a source of pride that so many people are supporting all of us at the same time.”

“And we share challenges,” Carter notes: “Proportionately we all have the same struggles in town.” For example, she mentions that they might discuss how each organization approaches corporate giving in Tulsa. “The issues are the same, because we’re all living in the same place and talking about the same people. It’s helpful.”

Carter, too, appreciates the openness among the organizations: “It’s a very collegial atmosphere,” she says. I think that’s because of the TAMC staff and the fact that they are impartial. They’re a third party — or an eighth party, I guess. They’re not affiliated with anyone, and they take very seriously the security and privacy” among the organizations.

Sharing Data

“The biggest benefit” of the consortium, says Richard Koenig, “is accuracy in the donor information.” Cody Palmer agrees: “You have a bunch of different eyes looking at all the same data…. If somebody over here updates their email, we can update it across the board, or if somebody updates a phone number, an address.”

Scott Black explains: “There’s a process in place. If we’re changing information that is shared, a little symbol shows up on their constituent header, so it’s like a stop sign: ‘Before you do anything, remember this is a shared constituent.’ We have an online communication platform set up where we can say, ‘I found out so-and-so died, I’m moving that record to inactive,’ and everybody's able to chime in and say, ‘Go ahead.’ So there’s never the concern that some random person changed data without letting anybody know.” He continues: “The donor community here is so small. When somebody passes away who’s a member of the Tulsa arts community, it’s going to affect all of us. So why not just change it one time?”

The consortium always considers “how better data can help member organizations achieve their mission.”

Another challenge that a growing consortium can face, particularly in a close-knit community like Tulsa, is duplicate patrons. “Data hygiene is always a priority,” says Brian Parker of the Tulsa Arts Management Consortium (TAMC). “TAMC has established tools which allow us to analyze our database and limit the number of duplicate constituent records.” So when new organizations come on board and their patrons are imported into Tessitura, the procedures are already in place to streamline and optimize the data.

“They have the data so well scrubbed,” says Holbrook Lawson, “that when the Arts & Humanities Council came on, they knew immediately what was bad data and kicked those out. There wasn’t a migration problem because the consortium staff are so on their game.”

While it takes work to maintain clean data, Parker points out that the shared data is an enormous asset to the group. “TAMC is a firm believer in data-driven decision making,” he says, “and actively seeks out new ways to analyze the data of the shared database.” The consortium always considers “how better data can help member organizations achieve their mission.”

Shared Resources

The shared resources within a consortium can help expand the usage of Tessitura. For example, a couple of Tulsa organizations expressed interest in improving the way they used Tessitura to track their education programs. “We all have education programs,” Cody Palmer recalls thinking. “What can we get that will benefit us all?” In response, the consortium staff organized a “group effort… to create a custom registration for all of our education classes,” Palmer says.

Photo courtesy of the Philbrook Museum of Art 

The Tessitura customization streamlines the collection of data for education programs. For example, when a customer registers a child for an art camp, they don’t just purchase a class as though it were a daily admission; they enter the child’s name and birth date, and the online purchase path validates the child’s eligibility for the class. In addition, the purchase path can ask for specialized info such as allergies and can require the parent or guardian to sign a waiver. All the information is automatically  stored in Tessitura.

Previously, says Palmer, “We were doing all kinds of hoop jumping to get the information we wanted from the people that signed up” for the Philbrook’s art camps. After registering for a class, customers would be sent an online form. “And it wasn’t 100% guaranteed that the person would actually receive the form and fill it out,” Palmer remembers.

Tulsa Ballet also uses the customization. Katie Hathaway of TAMC explains: “It allows a parent to go online, purchase a ballet class, and right there on TNEW it can create a constituent record for the child and adds that child as a recipient to the class.” In addition, “There are custom questions that are built by the organization. You can have different forms, you can have waivers, and all that is written directly to that child’s constituent record. It is an amazing resource.”

The staff opted to work with Tessitura Network consultants to implement the customization project. “Working with Tessitura’s consultants was really a great experience,” Hathaway says. “There’s so much knowledge.”

In the online education registration path, “You can have different forms, you can have waivers, and all that is written directly to the child’s record. It is an amazing resource.”

Email is another example of how Tulsa organizations are working together; the consortium uses WordFly, which integrates with Tessitura. Cody Palmer notes that the Philbrook acted “as kind of a beta test, if you will, for the rest of the consortium.” Other organizations are beginning to take advantage of the functionality on their own schedules.

Parker commented that the Philbrook Museum has been “automating as much as possible the process of keeping in touch with their constituents.” Palmer explains that they’re using WordFly for e-newsletters, special events communications, and membership reminders. “When memberships are about to expire, we send them an email 60 days out: ‘Your membership is expiring on this date.’ And then we send them a follow-up at 30 days. Once it’s expired, we send them another one that says, ‘Your membership has expired. Click here to renew.’ And that’s really useful. We’ve seen a lot of returns from that.”

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra 

Mission-Driven Collaboration

Tulsa organizations are working together on more than operational projects. Their collaborations extend to mission-driven artistic programming as well. Angela Carter notes that the Tulsa Symphony is the orchestra for the Tulsa Ballet, “so we partner with them all year long.” In addition, many Symphony musicians are also part of the Tulsa Opera orchestra. “We’re all very close knit,” she observes.

Annie Chang describes how the Tulsa Symphony and Philbrook Museum partnered recently to present a screening of a documentary featuring a musician from the Symphony. “We [presented] it at Philbrook in their theatre, and cross-promoted it through their channels, and we ticketed it through TNEW.” The venture “was really fun. It was completely full of people that were patrons of both our organizations all coming together.”

An event co-presented by the Tulsa Symphony and Philbrook Museum “was completely full of patrons of both our organizations all coming together.”

Phyllis Sanders, Records Management Specialist at the Philbrook Museum, noted that the collaboration sparked enthusiasm among Tulsa donors. “They were excited,” she said, “when we asked people to support a shared event.”

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Ballet 

The Tulsa Ballet and the Philbrook are undertaking a large-scale initiative, partnering on a joint commission of a new ballet to be performed in the coming season. A press release calls it “the first major collaboration between Tulsa Ballet and the Philbrook Museum of Art.” The project features new choreography by the Ballet’s resident choreographer Ma Cong, a new musical score by Ryan Lott commissioned by the Philbrook, and original artwork.

Scott Black points out that, behind the scenes, this collaborative artistic venture is also a joint fundraising project. While each organization will fundraise from its own patrons, consortium staff will be able to create centralized reports to synthesize the data from both organizations.

“It brings people together. All of this — creative ideas, and friendships, and networking — is taking place because of Tessitura, but that’s not the point. The point is the art.”

Carter likens the Tulsa consortium to the annual Tessitura Learning & Community Conference (TLCC). “That’s about community and relationships, and it brings people together. And on some level, it has nothing to do with the application itself. People talk about [the software], but that’s a very small piece of it. All of this other great stuff —creative ideas, and friendships, and contacts, and networking — is taking place because of Tessitura, but that’s [Tessitura’s] not the point. The point is the art.”


This article is Part 2 of 3.

Read Part 1 >

Read Part 3 >

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