BY JAMIE MOSES
In North Carolina, 2006, when Connie Campanaro was CEO of The Carolina Theatre of Durham she witnessed something amazing. A small and well-loved nonprofit arts organization named SeeSaw Studios was counting down the days to when it would shut its doors forever. Coming from Buffalo this was a sad story that Connie had seen many times before. But then something different happened that Campanaro had never seen. McKinney & Silver, an energetic, forward thinking ad agency decided to step up and help–and not, as you might expect, by writing a check. No, they had a better idea.
The successful ad agency, led by Brad Brinegar, wasn’t interested in a one shot deal. Brinegar wanted to create something that would perpetually raise funds for nonprofits. The McKinney agency had deep relations with many of the corporations in the Durham-Raleigh-Chapel Hill area, known as the Triangle, and Brinegar knew just how to leverage those business relationships. Under Brinegar’s leadership the Triangle Corporate Battle of the Bands was born and several corporations fielded employee-musician bands to compete in the fun event. In its first year the event raised $100,000 and SeeSaw Studios was saved.
Since then the Triangle Corporate event has raised and distributed over $1 million dollars to nonprofits and is one of Durham’s signature annual events. Corporate bands have been fielded by GlaxoSmithKline, Burt’s Bees, Cisco, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, SunTrust, and many more.
The success and the musical nature of the Triangle Corporate Battle of the Bands resonated strongly with Connie Campanaro. In Durham she was President/CEO of a multi-venue film and performing arts facility, but Campanaro’s background and passion was firmly rooted in music. She spent several years as a music promoter with her own company B-Sharp Promotions, at the Tralf, UB Center for the Arts and various outdoor festivals. Campanaro’s worked with legendary artists like Lou Reed, John Legend, Tori Amos, Train and Billy Joel to name a few; so she knows about live music.
Right behind music is Campanaro’s passion for inventing ways to raise funds for nonprofits. She’s fashioned creative ways to incorporate sponsorship, products and services into events like the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, Edgefest, NC Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Art of Cool Fest and Broadway shows.
“I saw how amazingly successful it was,” said Campanaro. “I got to see how it worked and I studied the model, how it was marketed, the logistics of mounting the show, the element of competition and so on.”
The opportunity to bring such an event to Buffalo seemed to present itself after she and her husband moved back to Buffalo to help her cancer stricken father-in-law. Before making the move she secured a job as Executive Director with Western New York Grantmakers Association and once she arrived she joined the Board of Directors of Music is Art. She also volunteered time each week to help with MiA administrative work.
“I joined the MiA board just because I love MiA,” said Campanaro. “To me it represented the kind of organization that I would build if I had unlimited resources to start my own nonprofit. MiA promotes equal access for everyone to enjoy music and it provides opportunities to play and learn and reap the benefits of creative expression.”
“So I had this corporate battle of the band thing on my mind and when I saw that it wasn’t being done here in Buffalo, I went and talked with Artie Kwitchoff at the Town Ballroom in 2014. I thought the room was perfect for the event. I like the way the Town Ballroom is physically constructed because there are ways to put together different kinds of sponsorship packages. He’s got the box seats, floor seats, the tier with cafe tables and the Leopard Lounge and that fabulous stage.
“I built the event budget and hired an artist I knew from Durham to create the graphic image, a guitar dude, and a logo for the event. I thought it was important to have the visuals in place before I present the proposal to the Music is Art board. I shared what I had with Tracy Shattuck, the executive director. What I had was an idea, a venue, a budget, an event logo and brand elements. The MiA board meeting schedule was every other month which bought me time to get local endorsements and gather more data.”
Unfortunately, during that two-month period before the next board meeting Campanaro was notified that her job at WNY Grantmakers was going to be eliminated due to a merger. She was offered a position at Art Services Initiative, ASI, and she took it.
“When I took the job at ASI,” said Campanaro, “we reviewed the local nonprofit volunteer work that I was involved in. Tod Kniazuk, the Executive Director, told me I can keep my seat on the Homespace board but I must resign from the Music is Art board due to the possible perception of conflict. Even though grant-making was not my role, there was a policy prohibiting ASI staff from serving on a local cultural board. I was broken hearted the day I had to resign from the MiA board.”
Cut off from Music is Art Campanaro dug in as ASI’s new coordinator for Give For Greatness, a fundraising organization started by Artvoice and now under the ASI umbrella. But a third party organization, Fund For the Arts–that only commits to one year funding at a time, pays the Give For Greatness coordinator salary.
“I was frequently reminded that my position was temporarily funded,” said Campanaro. “So I had a sense of urgency about producing revenue as fast as I could.”
“My battle of the bands proposal received a chilly reception because it veered from ASI’s existing strategy of building a series of events arranged by business category. Give For Greatness was already the beneficiary of an annual Lawyers For the Arts fundraising event, which was demonstrating healthy growth thanks to the wonderful work of Ken Africano and many other talented attorneys. I was directed to mimic the Lawyers fundraising model to create a Doctor’s for the Arts, Accountants for the Arts and so on. It sounds like a wonderful plan, but I feared it would take three or four years to be fruitful – as it did with the Lawyers for the Arts. Time was a luxury I didn’t have.
“It seemed my proposed idea didn’t stand a chance. But I was kind of stubborn and insistent that we give the battle event a try. Eventually I got the green light coupled with caveats of obstacles and restrictions that included not using any ASI resources. If I wanted to do the battle thing, I’d have to build a team of volunteers and identify sources from my little black book, which I dare say was dusty after being away from Buffalo for 14 years. But hey, I’m up for a challenge. Having been a successful entrepreneur, I’m able to figure it out on my own. So I did.”
Her long-time personal friends and former colleagues from the 1990s stepped up to help. The event was every bit as successful as Campanaro believed it would be, but eventually she decided ASI wasn’t a good fit for her industrious temperament. Luckily MiA had a place for her and she is now where she always wanted to be; at Music is Art as the Director for Advancement.
Growing an organization is Campanaro’s passion. She has a job that she loves with few strings attached. And she can now do her corporate band battle where she originally planned it. Announced this week is the November 4, 2016 Battle of the Business Bands to benefit Music is Art. Tickets will go on sale at MiA Festival. The winner will get rewarded with perks like studio recording time, a gig on the main stage of the next MiA Festival and other cool stuff.
Since her event was done last year to benefit Give For Greatness, an Artvoice creation, Campanaro asked how Artvoice felt about Music is Art doing the same event.
Artvoice doesn’t have any problem with it. Give For Greatness doesn’t own the concept. From our point of view Connie Campanaro brought the event to Buffalo and she can repeat it wherever she wants. Also, people at Artvoice feel Give For Greatness has somewhat lost its way. The organization was founded when County Executive Chris Collins cut all funding for several dozen arts and cultural organizations in Erie County. Artvoice stepped up and created Give For Greatness to help replace those funds. The Artvoice fundraising coupled with contributions from the City of Buffalo and from the Oishei Foundation restored the $600,000 Collins cut from arts organizations. Thankfully County Executive Polencarz doesn’t share Chris Collins disdain for the arts.
G4G continues raising funds but something has changed. Give For Greatness is an Erie County initiative and all of the money raised comes from Erie County donors. Also, all the money raised by Give For Greatness when it was created was intended to go to those small organizations who make art or perform. Looking over the list of thirty organizations that received funds from Give For Greatness last year, the question from Artvoice is why are we funding the Cuba Circulating Library in Alleghany County, the Cattaraugus County Arts Council or the Lewiston Council on the Arts? None of these organizations are in Erie County and none of them produce art. Why are so many organizations on the beneficiary list not art makers? The premise was that art is what makes a city great, hence Give For Greatness. ASI services five counties but that does not mean G4G should be expected to do the same.
Simple math tells us G4G can’t possibly give meaningful support to nonprofits in five counties with the small amount of money it raises. Rather than the transformative effect G4G funds should provide to a small Erie County arts organization, funds are diluted across too many groups and counties to the point the money has little or no effect.
So at Artvoice we encourage Music is Art to adopt the corporate band event and make the absolute most of it. The corporate music event is a better fit for a music related organization like MiA than it is for a library in Cattaraugus County, and the funds raised can have a tremendous effect on this one organization rather than no effect on thirty organizations. If ASI pursues its own corporate battle we hope it will consider returning to the original scope of Give For Greatness with that event, with Lawyers for the Arts or any other fundraising event carrying the Give For Greatness banner.
So Bravo! To Connie Campanaro and the corporate battle of the bands she brought here. Live long and prosper.