Thursday, July 1, 2010

Michael Feinstein Foundation's 2nd annual competition hits high note

I've had the very good fortune of managing the Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy and Competition from its inception in 2009 and its consecutive year in 2010. High school students from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin were eligible to apply. Ten were invited to Indianapolis June 2-6 to compete for $500 scholarships and the chance of a lifetime: to perform in Michael's famous cabaret club, Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City.

PHOTO: The enormously talented 10 finalists of the 2010 Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy & Competition with Michael at the piano.

The Feinstein Foundation's goal:
Create a competition for high school students that will teach them about the music of the Great American Songbook and encourage them to continue appreciating it.

The Goods' approach:
-- Assembled a team of local and national experts to advise on the competition.

-- Developed a plan and budget for a 4-5 day Academy and Competition in Indianapolis and negotiated contract to secure partnership with University of Indianapolis.

-- Developed and executed a fundraising plan to attract as much funding as possible to cover expenses. This included sponsorship packages and fulfillment, mailings, strategic donor solicitations, and special events including a cocktail reception and fundraising dinner.

-- Developed and executed a communications plan to encourage student applications. This included a combination of media relations, mailings, online communications, and advertising targeting mainly teachers in seven states.

-- Created and managed the adjudication process including processing all applications, recruiting adjudicators, creating a system for scoring fairly and applicant notification.

-- Created, managed and produced the 4-5 day Academy and Final Competition including coordinating all meals, overnight accommodations, conference rooms, audio/visuals, and hired accompanists and other necessary staff or volunteers.

-- Promoted the events surrounding the Academy and Final Competition and managed RSVPs and tickets for all events, which included mailings, advertising, media relations, and online communications.

In its second year, the Academy and Competition really blossomed:
-- applications increased 400% and received from all seven eligible states

-- some of the best performers, teachers and music professionals participated as judges and coaches: including Michael Feinstein (of course), Sylvia McNair, Catherine Russell, Susan Powell, Richard Walters and many others from our own Indianapolis backyard: Dr. Kathleen Hacker, Steven Stolen, Shannon Forsell, Mark Gilgallon, Gary Walters and David Duncan.

-- the University of Indianapolis and its spectacular Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center provided the perfect venue for daily classroom rehearsals, master classes and the final performance. (And its staff were consummate hosts.)

-- Even though two states were added in this second year, the budget only grew 37% from the first year; cash sponsorships were five time higher and in-kind sponsors increase by four times over the first year.

The bottom line:
It's not quantifiable, but it's the magic that transforms these already incredibly talented young performers into stars who form a stronger bond of camaraderie than competition in just a few days. The time they spend learning everything about vocal performance and, most importantly, the uniqueness of this music, its stories of our nation's history and how it should be personally interpreted -- is completely priceless.

Don't just take my word for it. Read Indianapolis Business Journal arts commentator Lou Harry's summary of this year's Competition: "On a high note; Feinstein and company more than fine at the Great American Songbook Competition last week."

Watch a video of the 2009 finalists and winner produced by The Goods, Kyle Travers and WFYI Productions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Chew On This" creates city-wide community and meaningful conversation

On Tuesday, May 4, The Goods planned the first "Chew On This" city-wide dinner conversations for the Indiana Humanities Council (IHC). Nearly 150 people at 9 locations around the city were talking and Tweeting about food and how Indiana can best leverage its strengths around food.

PHOTO: One of several Chew On This tables at Recess.

The Indiana Humanities Council's theme for 2010-2011 is "Food for Thought" and its goal is to get people reading, thinking and talking about food topics as "a celebration of food and its role in our lives."

With restaurant or potluck options in various locations around Marion County and prices ranging from free/bring-your-own pitch-ins to $50 prix fixe menus, the public was invited to participate in this experiment in bringing friends as well as strangers face to face to share a meal and discuss: "How can we use Indiana's strengths in agriculture and artisanal food to position Indiana globally?" This was also tied to the book "Caught in the Middle" by Richard Longworth and a recent topic of the Indy Talks Series.

IHC goal:
Make this accessible and affordable for anyone to participate. Locations should be as evenly distributed around Marion County and offer a variety of cost options. Keep groups to 20 or less to foster the best small group dialogue.

The Goods' approach:
We researched potential venues, presented recommendations and negotiated venue agreements that clearly articulated what IHC needed from the venue (e.g. prix fixe menu, space for group of 10-20, payment arrangements) as well as what IHC would provide (e.g. promotion in Chew on This marketing city-wide, coordination of RSVPs, assigned volunteers to greet guests and manage on site issues on behalf of IHC). We ended up with six restaurants and three pitch-in locations. Some of the locations further from the downtown area attracted too few participants and were merged into other locations.

IHC goal:
Engage volunteers to lead the conversations and take notes or Tweet about the conversations.

The Goods' approach:
We recruited several of our friends and colleagues who are both passionate and knowledgeable about food issues to serve as facilitators and note-takers. The Goods created a facilitators guide with general information about the topic and the book and led orientation meetings to provide further guidance and gather feedback on the evening's agenda. Facilitators and note-takers were given a basic outline agenda to follow with suggested questions should the conversations need fueling. Note-takers were asked to summarize the discussion into a few categories and collect surveys from participants. Most locations had multiple people Tweet about the conversations, which were then shared among all groups, creating a real-time virtual conversation across the city.

The results:
Nearly 150 people at 9 locations around the city were talking and Tweeting about food and how Indiana can best leverage its strengths around food. Many participants asked for more... more information, more dinners, more ways to get involved. Given such a diverse group of participants, I was impressed with the level and intensity of the conversations. Regardless this diversity of people and venues, much of the conversations came back to similar issues such as quality vs. quantity of food, access and social justice issues, or education and outreach.

The bottom line:
We all live in silos and rarely have an opportunity to engage with friends and family in meaningful conversations that go beyond the surface. I loved how this multi-venue experience provided ways for anyone to engage face-to-face, sharing a meal and a meaningful topic together. Rather than having the experience via Twitter or Facebook, it was a tool to enhance the experience. (Although it's a nice bonus that others could follow online who could not be there in person.) Maybe you met someone knew. Maybe you found out something new about an old friend. Maybe you learned something that will inform your daily life. That's inspiring and worthwhile and an authentic living experience.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Must See Movie: Who Killed the Electric Car?

If you haven't seen this movie, you need to.

I saw it for the first time in 2008 and was blown away by how close General Motors came to creating a truly viable electric car. The EV1 was produced and leased via Saturn dealers in California from 1996 to 1999. Drivers LOVED it. "Fanatical" might be a good way to describe their enthusiasm for this car and its solution to our air quality woes -- particularly in California. By 2002, every car was confiscated and destroyed. The movie is an amazing documentary about this story, leaving the audience to determine whether consumer confidence or conspiracy was to blame. I've since learned about Indiana manufacturers' role in creating the EV1, which made me all the more interested in sharing this story with others - YOU - who might want to learn more about how Indiana is involved today and in the future of the auto evolution.

I'm really not trying to be biased, here. The movie is a great wake up call for all of us to learn about public policy and how we should be learning about and engaged in what Indiana can do to help lead the next electric car generation.

Thankfully, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is showing the movie THIS THURSDAY followed by a talk with the filmmaker, Chris Paine.

$7 Public » $4 IMA members » Free Students with ID
Ticket price includes both film and talk.
In the four years since filmmaker Chris Paine released the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, electric vehicles have been revived. See Who Killed the Electric Car?, followed by Paine’s talk on the latest progress on electric vehicles, the relationship between good design and sustainability, and new ways of thinking about mobility. After the program, see an electric car up close and learn about companies making electric vehicles in Indiana. Presented as part of IUPUI’s Common Theme Project with promotional support from the Hoosier Environmental Council and The Goods.

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts after seeing the movie!

For more information:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Applications Due Feb. 28 for 2nd Annual Great American Songbook Academy & Competition

I'm so proud to once again manage the 2nd annual Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy & Competition. This year, the Academy and Competition will be held at the University of Indianapolis in its exquisite Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

High school students from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are invited to apply BY FEBRUARY 28, 2010.

Ten finalists will be invited to Indianapolis for a five-day music academy on the history, music and performance techniques of music from the Broadway, Hollywood musical theatre and Tin Pan Alley era of the early to mid-20th century, known as the “Great American Songbook.”

Five judges, including Michael Feinstein and others to be announced soon, University of Indianapolis faculty and other music professionals will conduct classes and help prepare finalists for the final competition performance on Saturday, June 5, at University of Indianapolis’ Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

After finalists each sing two songs, judges will announce first, second and third place winners immediately following the June 5th performance. Second and third place winners receive $500 each towards continuing music education. The first place winner will be invited to sing with Michael Feinstein in New York City.

As a singer myself and someone who has grown up loving this music, it's an opportunity of a lifetime that I cannot begin to imagine if I were in their shoes! Yet, it's been a dream come true for me to help create such an experience that instills a love for this music in a new generation of talented musicians.

For more information or to download the application, visit

Photo: Michael Feinstein announces the 2009 winner, Julia Bonnett from Carmel, Indiana.