December 16, 2020Anne Choe
The first job I got in operations was probably attributable to my experience in theater (even though it was on stage not back stage). Over the years, I got more experience and managed a couple of venues. When I was the Booking and Operations Manager at the Kaufman Music Center, I had the opportunity to work for Joe Levy, who I describe as my first "grown-up boss." Even then, he embodied the qualities of leadership, empathy, and strategic thinking that have carried him through his career in Venue Management. I caught up with him recently for a webinar about the operational skills and practices that are crucial in re-opening and managing venues in this moment. He is a very engaging speaker and you can listen to our entire conversation, but here are my highlights from our chat.
Before any member of the public walks through the doors, your staff will have been laying the ground work weeks to months in advance. Your staff are people too and will have the same concerns that your visitors have, but you are also asking the staff to take care of those people coming into your buildings.
Bring them in as soon as it is safe to, and give them a little extra leeway to wipe away the cobwebs— both literally and figuratively. COVID-19 adds a new layer of mental stress in areas like de-escalation, so make sure the staff have the training and access to skill development they will need from day one. Your team is your greatest resource for the most effective and safe operation of your venue.
Joe implemented a "good catch" program whereby the staff would fill out a card when they saw something that needed attention like a light fixture out, a railing coming loose, or a door not closing properly.
In a weekly meeting, Joe would read the "good catch" and the card would be submitted for a monthly drawing to win a $25 gift card. It gave the team a sense of responsibility and he was able to deputize all 5,000 employees as stewards of the building with $300/year.
Many of our venues have been mothballed and will need a thorough update as we re-open. Test, trip, and trigger all your building systems—but with the thoroughness of "test to fail." You want to force it to break down so you can prioritize when you might fix that particular system. Some areas will be critical and others can wait until the off-season.
As you reopen, remember the things that will have fallen into disuse such as floor drains and sink traps, as well as keycards that may have gotten deactivated. There may be additional guidelines for appropriate air circulation that will need to be incorporated into your reopening process. Review and update your Policies and Procedures and make sure you've added COVID-19 layers.
Pre-visit communication is incredibly important, now more than ever. As the public starts to enter our spaces, the shared responsibility for the health and safety of everyone (audience, security, custodial staff, audience services, performers, etc) needs to be clear and concise.
The Children's Museum of Manhattan has a graphic on their website that is a great example of pre-visit communication, which lays out what the public can expect from the venue and what the venue expects from the public.
Joe reminded me that we may not all be in the same boat, but we're in the same storm. I think his tenants of communication and precision will carry us through the storm and beyond to create a safe and welcome space for gathering… now that sounds heavenly, does it not?
Anne Choe is the Senior Business Manager for the JCA Artifax team. ArtifaxEvent is a venue and event management software for arts centers and museums that centralizes your organization's calendars and operational details. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.