Interview with Sue Buratto, Arts Entrepreneur

Sue Buratto serves as the Director of Education and the creator of the Children’s Education Program at the Bass Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.

1. What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts company (as a business pursuit)?

Sue: It took a great deal from me to learn how to build a business plan—all of my experience was in the arts and education.  It is something I am learning almost every day.  However, it is a HUGE part of the process. I learned from mentors.

2. What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?
Sue: Find mentors you can learn from, study other education programs out there and decide what things you wish to do and what things you definitely don’t want to adopt.  Get buy-in from as many people as you can in the community. Ask for advice from everyone you can find; you may not always take their advice, but you should have at least heard it. Sometimes meeting with individuals with whom you have nothing in common begins to fine tune what you actually believe about what you want to do. And sometimes they will surprise you and there will be something in which you can collaborate or learn together.
3. What do you believe are necessary qualities, if there are any, for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop?

Sue: An “artist” has to realize that many people don’t believe the arts are necessary. It is important first of all to distill why you believe the arts are important and why your artistic endeavor is necessary.
4. What challenges did you face with the Children’s Education Program? Have those challenges lessened over time?

Sue: It was very difficult to get teachers to buy in to what I proposed. I had to educate the teachers as well as the students. The teachers had no understanding of what audience etiquette was and so, could not teach their students what was acceptable in basic terms and what wasn’t. When I wrote up a piece for the study guide entitled “Ten Commandments of Audience Etiquette,” that prompted howls among some.

The other big hurdle was funding: any time you hire a symphony orchestra or a ballet company to do something, it costs a great deal of money.  There are always expenses one doesn’t count on—for example, stagehands who can’t load in until after another set loads out and that is overtime, time and a half pay, when that conflicting show was not on the schedule last year when you wrote the budget. Getting funders to appreciate and support those kinds of issues can be daunting. However, once your program is appreciated and accepted, those hurdles become fewer.

5. What has been your proudest moment so far as a member of the Performing Arts Fort Worth team and as an entrepreneur?

Sue: There have been many! Recognizing a child two years ago as the millionth student to come to the Hall for a free program was a good day.  Having a full house of high school students stand and cheer the group Chanticleer after a concert of cerebral Renaissance and 20th century choral music the way they might have a Pink Floyd concert and afterwards stand in line for their autographs. Those are all good memories.

6. How has the Fort Worth community encouraged and inspired your success?

Sue: We always have a waiting list for our programs and spend much of our time turning away groups, unfortunately. We always wish we had more time in the Hall and more money to produce additional programs. I believe the community demand speaks volumes.

7. Where do you see the CEP program in 5 years?

Sue: Producing a much fuller schedule of programs for all grade levels—1-12, having a summer camp that serves 700 students and giving away twice as many scholarships, fellowships and awards. These are dreams. We shall see.

8. Does the Children’s Education Program operate under a 501c3 status? Do you find this model helpful for the organization of the program?

Sue: CEP and Bass Hall are 501c(3) organizations. I know it is not always the best plan, but it has been for us.

 Interview by Penny Shumway    

Penny Shumway is a junior honor student in Southern Methodist University’s Communications Studies and Arts Entrepreneurship programs.


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