Pyramigo Profile: Blair Feehan
An Interview with our Arts & Culture Project Manager
Posted: Nov 8, 2016
What do you do at Pyramid?
I am the arts and culture project manager here. I work on Chris Nelson’s team and get to work with all sorts of nonprofits (arts and beyond). I try to roll it all up into “helping nonprofits tell their stories.” So whether it's telling their story through a new website or with a tagline or a name or fundraising materials or a communications plan, it’s all about helping them figure out how they want to talk about themselves and then getting that word out into the community.
Tell us a bit about your Pre-Pyramid existence and how you got here?
I graduated from Whitman with a degree in theatre, and knew I didn't want to do theatre for a living.
That’s good to get that out of the way.
Yeah, I've learned that lesson several times throughout my life, and now, of course, I run a theatre.
I started working for a former Pyramigo my first job out of college, actually, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, where I started their volunteer program and did marketing for them. After the Federation, I wound up running the marketing for a fundraising consulting firm, and working on capital campaigns (including partnering with Pyramid on KEXP’s New Home campaign) along the way. It was a crash course in fundraising because we had the opportunity to raise money for so many different kinds of nonprofits (arts, education, big, small, etc.)
And then after doing that during the day and then stage managing (managing all the backstage logistics) for local theatres a bunch at night, I decided perhaps it would be good to combine my day job and my night job and just work at a theatre full-time. So I worked at two art institutions in town doing marketing/fundraising hybrid gigs. After a few years, I found that I really wanted to come back to agency life: I didn't love being on the ground, and I missed all the different clients and projects that you get to work with at an agency, so now I'm at Pyramid and it's awesome.
How is being a project manager at Pyramid different than at other agencies, would you say?
I get to do so many different things here, which is one of the best parts about Pyramid. I like making sure the train stays on the tracks, with timelines and budgets and all that, but I also like getting to contribute content. It's fun bringing my development experience to some of the projects that we've been working on recently or to get to learn more about branding work or social media content, things like that. There are so many different hats that you get to wear when it's just a two-person team. it's a wonderful place to learn and also get to flex some of those skills that I developed over the years.
What are some of your favorite clients you've worked with in the past year you've been here?
Icicle Creek Center for the Arts has been a through-line client for my entire time here. We've had so many different phases of work with them. They're an arts center based out in Leavenworth and they have world class music, symphonies, dance, film, outdoor movies and student education classes. It's a really awesome resource for the Upper Valley. And there is no better place to go on a business trip than to Leavenworth, Washington. They're such awesome people and I love getting to work on so many different areas of a business I'm super passionate about.
That’s great, what’s something really awesome they are doing right now?
Well, I love that they stream the Met Opera live from over in New York. They had to install a special sound system, and the whole community comes out in their pajamas or in their fancy clothes for the Saturday morning broadcast. It's this great community event -- to have world class opera smack in the middle of a 2000-person town that sounds and looks awesome. And I just I love that they're able to bring New York's finest out to Leavenworth.
Coming from nonprofit theatre work, and now working in an agency, what have you noticed changing in the landscape of theatre, and arts & culture institutions in general, and what they may need to do to stay relevant?
People are reading less and less, and it's so hard to get across what a play is about or what a symphony is about, or why this performer is worth paying attention to, in one sentence. We used to have a lot more bandwidth to be able to tell people about why they should care about this show or that. In this day and age people just blow through their emails, so I think that's a big challenge because you have to cultivate investment in the arts and culture to encourage people to care about it. People don't just automatically care about it.
So how do you get people in for the first time or to see something that they've never seen before? And how do you get them to trust you on that with so few words? I think that's a big challenge.
Funding is also a huge challenge. It used to be that funding organizations would support arts organizations all the way through. You could get money to help keep the lights on just as well as you could to develop a brand new play or things like that, which meant that people's salaries were paid and there wasn't as much to worry about. There wasn't as much reliance asking for money from your donors all the time. And that is disappearing.
There's a huge influx of wealth in Seattle--so many people who could give generously, but don’t, and those large foundation gifts are drying up. Foundations just aren't as interested in supporting those "keeping the lights on" line items, which are critical to the success of an arts organization. Nonprofits -- all nonprofits -- have to spend more time figuring out how to raise money in other ways and can't devote themselves as much to developing new work or keeping their own trains on the track, things like that.
I think those are two big things that that are happening in this arts world. And, of course, people are aging. The arts and theatre are traditionally blue-haired experiences. Unless you're raised with it, it's a hard thing to get into art in your 20s and 30s and 40s when there's work and travel and marriage and kids and competing priorities. And so the theatre is going to have to really reinvent itself to become relevant to people who didn't necessarily grow up with it as this next generation of current supporters ages out.
Have you noticed more immersive experiences or interesting uses of technology with more theatres or institutions recently?
Definitely. I think theatres are really trying to take risks as often as they can to stay relevant. The old formula, pick a script, rehearse it, perform it for five weeks in a conventional theatre space, doesn't necessarily work as well as it used to anymore. There's a theatre up in Seattle called Seattle Immersive Theater, which took over a warehouse in Lower Queen Anne. When you go see Romeo and Juliet there, you are at the party where Romeo and Juliet meet. You wear your best ball gown and you are handed a mask when you go in, and you wander around to different rooms at the party. And that's a totally different experience. It's innovative, it's cool. It gets people in who might say, A. 'Oh my god, I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet 50 times' or B. 'I've never seen it and I don't care about it because it's, you know, boring--it's Shakespeare.' It shakes things up. I think so much of theatre’s problem, which I think has always been true to a certain extent, is getting people in the door. You don't want a gimmick, but you want to find a new way to present to people, especially with so few words available to you in your marketing materials. It's really hard to do. Whatever gets people in the door, because you don't understand it until you see it.
So in your free time, you started a theatre. Let’s touch on that.
I run an art space up in Seattle's Central District, it’s a 50-seat theatre and we're all about getting as many voices on our stage as possible. So music, dance, comedy, theatre, improv--anything you can think of that you can perform and load in and out of the space quickly. It's fun and we want to keep it as cheap for artists as we can. We're not drawing any salaries. The idea is that it's kind of a laboratory for artists to be able to play or workshop or rehearse or try something new or fail. We really want to create that space for artists, because as Seattle gets more and more expensive, it's harder to find places to make art cheaply. We opened our doors in late September and it's been awesome to see people getting excited about coming to a new place to make art in Seattle.
What sparked wanting to start this theatre?
Well, most kids want to be like a firefighter or a ballerina when they grow up, and all I wanted to do is run the theatre. That was my little kid dream. So there's always been some impulse to do this, but the space came to us. There was already a theatre in the space run by a friend of mine and my business partner’s, and he said he was done--ready to give it up. And so we said, 'Let's do this,' and took over the space.
Yeah. So what else do you like to do for fun. Trapeze?
Yes. I like to do trapeze though I wish I had more time to do it. I love to cook and bake, though I cannot make pie. I just can't do it. Any instructions that read, 'Don't overwork' make me sweat. I'm like, 'I’m going to work this till it's done,' which inevitably means “overdone” for me. So no pie.
And I love to read, I'm reading a really engrossing book right now called The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It's all I can do to not to be reading it at work.
Awesome. Any last words for us?
I don't think so.