Investing in Community by supporting the Arts
September 16, 2009
Montana’s natural majesty attracts most people to this area. But it’s often the sense of community that keeps them here. Such was the case for Bob and Rebecca Blickenstaff, who moved to Whitefish in 2005. And they came here not just for the sense of community, though Whitefish has that in spades. Rather, it was the arts.
“One of the reasons we fell in love with this area was because of the arts,” Rebecca said. “The Flathead Valley is just heavily populated by a wonderful performing arts community and that’s such a draw for us,” Bob added.
That’s why the Blickenstaffs commit so much of their personal time to the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. Bob, who retired from DuPont after a 33-year career, puts his business knowledge to use on the GSC board. Rebecca is a board member of the Whitefish Theatre Company. Bob was brought on to the GSC board at a time when the organization was experiencing rapid, new growth under the helm of executive director Alan Satterlee. Bob helped draft a new strategic plan that helped guide the GSC over the past four years. “That was something I just got really excited about,” he said. “I saw that this plan would work, and it is.”
Part of the GSC’s strategic plan was to develop a week-long summer festival, increase youth education programs, strengthen the marketing plan and move the GSC offices to a more visible location in downtown Kalispell.
The skills he learned in the for-profit private sector at DuPont helped him orchestrate a strategic plan for the GSC. After so many years in the private sector, he said. “You learn that you’ve been there before. You look at a problem and say ‘I know how to do this.’” One thing he wasn’t prepared for, though, was fund-raising. “That was a bit of a challenge for me,” Bob said with a laugh.
Bob and Rebecca share the same love for music and the arts, but they each have their own perspective on what classical music does for the community. For Rebecca, the arts provide an outlet for children that sports often don’t. Music and the arts are also a welcome escape in difficult times. “They bring so much joy,” Rebecca said. “You need this outlet in times like these.”
Bob and Rebecca agree that if it weren’t for institutions like the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, “We wouldn’t be here,” Rebecca said. Whether it’s working on a nonprofit board of directors to fund-raise or to create a strategic plan, the Blickenstaffs realize their work pays off in many ways for the communities the arts serve.
“It’s important that the community continues to provide those opportunities to young people,” Bob said. “When that bug bites you early in life, it will stick with you.”
It pays to invest in the community. The returns aren’t always financial, but for Kalispell Insty Prints owners Tamara Williams and Judy Larson, the returns show up in myriad ways. The business owners have invested in the Glacier Symphony and Chorale for 12 years by being corporate sponsors of concerts. They see their corporate sponsorship of the GSC as a way to culturally enrich the lives of the community.
When Larson and Williams bought their business 12 years ago and began looking at ways they would spend their marketing budget, investing in the Glacier Symphony and Chorale was a natural fit. “The symphony and chorale have been such a cultural hub in Kalispell for so long, any business, I think, would want to be a part of that,” Williams said. “It speaks to what we think is important. We give to what gives back to our community.”
Insty Prints uses their corporate tickets as perks for their employees, and each year they look forward to receiving their GSC tickets. When those Insty employees return to work the following Monday, their response is usually like this: “They can’t believe that such talent exists in the Flathead Valley,” Williams said. Those tickets open the door for their employees to a cultural experience they might not otherwise have had. “Our people learn that attending the symphony doesn’t have to be stuffy or formal,” Williams said. Insty Prints doesn’t give to the GSC with an expectation of financial return. “You never give because you expect something in return,” Williams said. Having their corporate name attached to the GSC is something that patrons recognize — and appreciate. “It does come back.”
From his corner office at Glacier Bank in Kalispell, Bob Nystuen has a finger on the pulse of the local economy. He can watch traffic and see firsthand what kind of year the local businesses are having.
Cars on main street — like economic booms and recessions — come and go. But Glacier Bank’s commitment to the Glacier Symphony and Chorale has remained steady over the years — and is even increasing. For Nystuen, president of Glacier Bank, supporting the GSC helps build a community that employees like his will find attractive.
A community rich in the cultural arts can help recruit professionals to the Flathead Valley, Nystuen said. “Arts and culture are an important part of attracting and recruiting good jobs,” he said, “and I think supporting the GSC helps with our economic outreach.”
For people already living in the Flathead Valley, the GSC provides an excellent opportunity for young people to become educated in the performing arts, Nystuen said.
Glacier Bank patronizes the GSC’s Festival Amadeus and is a regular-season contributor. The bank also promotes the GSC through its own media and public relations outreach. “It goes beyond just writing a check for membership or sponsorship,” Nystuen said.
The arts are such an important part of some businesses’ budget, that even in a recession they emphasize support of the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. In fact, some businesses have actually shifted their corporate marketing budgets to the GSC and other nonprofits, knowing that the arts are so important to a community.
One of the most popular ways of supporting the GSC’s annual season is a $2,000 sponsorship of a specific concert. For that amount, a business gets two season tickets to Masterworks concerts throughout the year and 8 tickets to the concert weekend that they sponsor. Business owners, even in a recession, recognize the value of the arts. “Those things can make the difference of attracting employees to the area,” GSC executive director Alan Satterlee said, “and they make this a better place to live.”
Having worked and lived in some of the top ski resort communities around the country, Dan Graves knows a good thing when he sees one.
And in the Flathead Valley, one of the great amenities we have is the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. As president of Winter Sports Inc., the parent company of Whitefish Mountain Resort, Graves’ support of the GSC has been unwavering. “The symphony and chorale are a wonderful opportunity to hear talented artists and musicians,” Graves said. “In a small locale like this, you often don’t have that opportunity.”
Even before Graves became president of WSI a few years ago, WSI had been an active supporter of the symphony and chorale. “My attitude is to continue that support,” he said. He’s had to make difficult decisions in the last 18 months regarding corporate giving to nonprofit organizations. While Graves has seen the number of donation requests from various organizations double in the last year and a half, the amount of money he has to give has not doubled. “The financial support of the GSC is still on my list and I’ll continue to support it,” he said. “We're lucky that it’s around.” •