Levitt Pavilion Dayton’s Lisa Wagner

On this episode, Rodney learns about Lisa Wagner’s leadership style, artistic brand and approach to making the Levitt Pavilion Dayton a true destination, especially for the Dayton community.

Show Notes

[00:00:00] Welcome to Rodney Veal’s Inspired By, a production of Public Media Connect, the regional partnership of CET in Cincinnati and ThinkTV in Dayton. Rodney Veal, our host for this podcast, is an independent choreographer, interdisciplinary artist, and all around fan of all things arts and creativity, and he’s excited to share another great conversation with you.

Thank you for listening, and if you enjoy the show, please subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

[00:00:31] Rodney: Hello, everybody. I’m Rodney Veal, the host of Rodney Veal’s Inspired By podcast. Today, I’m super excited because I get to have a conversation with a, with someone who I find the most inspiring human being on the planet, who’s doing incredible things in our community.

She is, I consider her. I, she’s, she’s, she’s blushing right now. I consider her the unofficial mayor of downtown Dayton. She is in charge of the living room of our community, which is the Levitt [00:01:00] Pavilion, Dayton, and I get the stream on her full caveat. I’m on the board of Levitt. I get to work with Lisa, but she is just an amazing person.

And I can’t wait to share her journey, her life story, what she’s doing with Levitt, the future and all sorts of things. So without further ado. Welcome, Lisa

[00:01:19] Lisa: Wagner. Oh my gosh, Rodney. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for being you. I, I mean, my goodness. Um, I’m so humbled and honored to be with you and I love every minute I get to spend with you.

So, um, thank you. Those were very, very kind and generous words. I appreciate that. And coming from you, it’s even more humbling.

[00:01:43] Rodney: Well, you are, I fan boy out when I fan boy out, it’s, it’s honest, it’s authentic, and it’s real. So

[00:01:49] Lisa: it’s reciprocated. So I’m your fan girl.

[00:01:52] Rodney: Oh, here we go. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun.

So explain Love at Pavilion Dayton. So that, that is a, as a basis [00:02:00] to this conversation and we’ll go back in time. Describe it like, so that people understand why it’s so important.

[00:02:07] Lisa: Well, so I, I always love to start with the story and the story is. About Mortimer Leavitt, who is living in New York during the depression.

Father is selling goods off of a cart outside of Coney Island and. You know, Mortimer was always drawn to live entertainment, but they were so impoverished that he could not afford access. Mortimer leaves school, goes into the garment industry, ends up becoming a hugely successful man, you know, kind of back in the day when we had the American dream and that rags to riches, Mortimer was the epitome of that, that dream and that story.

And he and his wife, Mimi always. gave philanthropically in New York City to give access to children in need to arts experiences. Fast [00:03:00] forward, they have a home in Westport, Connecticut. They’re going to create an amphitheater, um, where there used to be a landfill. They were going to develop an outdoor amphitheater.

And they asked Mortimer if he would come on as a donor. And he said, absolutely, but under one condition, you can never charge a ticket. And I, and honestly, I believe that what he and Mimi saw happen, that was in the 1970s, so that what I think what they saw happen over the next few decades really touched his heart.

And that is that when you take away a barrier to access, What happens is that it creates and attracts people from all different backgrounds, all different life experiences, all different races, religions, you name it. And what happens in that is there’s like a social friction because we don’t know each other.

We’re new to each [00:04:00] other. Our life experiences are different. But then with the universal language of music, And sharing in that vibration and dancing together, uh, sharing our picnics on the lawn together and becoming a community, it creates social bridging. Which now is bringing us closer together. And what we hope that does in the long run is create social capital, which strengths will strengthen our community and bring us together and make us better.

Um, the legacy became a found. He wanted to. Kind of create a legacy and, and formalize and professionalize the foundation. And he really wanted this to be in 30 cities across the country. Um, I will tell you that I think the right size from the Levitt Foundation’s perspective is probably 12, but the way we get into 42 cities is they have another [00:05:00] granting program.

So there’s their permanent venues like Levit, Dayton, Levitt, Denver, la Arlington, Sioux Falls. Bethlehem and Westport, and then there’s another granting program that goes into rural communities, smaller communities, still bringing free music that once a week where we do it three times a week. So, all together, we’re in 42 cities across the country with this incredible mission of building community.

Through the power of music, one free concert at a time. And as you know, cause you were at that kitchen table at the very beginning. Yes, I was. Kind of was born out of a conversation about, you know, kind of grieving City Folk Festival that was able to bring. So many different genres, cultural experiences, and give, you know, kind of opportunity to regional and local artists and, [00:06:00] um, our incredible founding board, um, took on that.

mantle and, and ask the Levitt Foundation if we could be considered as a site. They were incredibly impressed by the arts and cultural assets in Dayton as well as, you know, being at I 70, I 75 gives us incredible access to touring artists. So, which helps in negotiating great fees and um, And so we launched and out of all those cities that I mentioned, Levitt Dayton raised the 5.

1 million dollars to build this venue in the middle of downtown Dayton in record breaking time. There are still people who were supposed to open before us that have not opened. And poor, poor little Houston. They, you know, they had Hurricane Harvey came through, but, um, there’s They’re still working at it and um, and [00:07:00] we opened in 2018 and you know, it, I gotta tell you, you know, when we, when we opened in 2018, the entire staff was kind of like, is anybody gonna show up tonight?

Like I, you know, I mean, cause I’m, I came from a ticketing world. Right.

[00:07:19] Rodney: It’s finite. You know, it’s like, you know exactly who bought a ticket to show up at the shoes. So

[00:07:25] Lisa: this was like completely a leap of faith. And when we had 1800 people on the lawn on opening night and everyone was giddy, they couldn’t believe that this was actually happening.

People were hugging one another and excited. And, and so. Levitate was born. And you know, we, we really, as a team, we, we really took that audience experience and what we wanted Levitate to feel and be very seriously. [00:08:00] While the construction’s going on, you know, of course we’re building a team, we’re hiring staff.

but we went out into the community and we had a community advisory group, which you were part of as well. And, um,

[00:08:14] Rodney: And so a lot of people from real walks of life,

[00:08:17] Lisa: which was, yeah, it was very important to have diverse voices because. You know, our goal was always we wanted everyone to feel invited. We wanted everyone to feel welcome here, and we wanted everyone to feel that this was theirs, that there was an ownership, that this was their venue.

And culturally, we knew that that looked differently for people. So having as many different voices around that table to help us define what that experience would feel like was And I think that that set us on the path for success. I think, um, and I, and I think that still permeates and everything that we’re doing even now.

And that’s just being good listeners. The example I’ll give [00:09:00] you is we knew in 2020 that it was imperative. That we do a community celebration for Juneteenth. I’m new to Juneteenth, which makes me angry that I don’t, I didn’t understand all of that, the importance of that. So going to a trusted. Partner, Sierra Leone, Poet Laureate, Community Treasurer, to help curate what that would be like is a more authentic approach.

And so she goes to the elders of the community, asks for their blessing, talks about the design of what she wants to do to make sure that she’s Being authentic in the representation. So this is the, these are the kind of the foundational pieces of who we wanted to be as an arts organization. Um, and it, and so I’m just giving you examples of, like, how that still [00:10:00] permeates in our work.

We’re, we’re doing the same. In 2024, we’re doing that same kind of work with our indigenous community. Sorry. I’m I’ll claim I’ll raise my hand as the most ignorant person. I didn’t know we had a big native American community in Dayton,

[00:10:16] Rodney: Ohio. Exactly. And that’s, and you’re not the only one who’s raising her hand to that.

And so one of the things that I, there was, there’s a word authenticity. And I think that that and respect and listening. Because this is, this is, this is more than just music. I mean, I think that that’s the undercurrent. I think a lot of people go, Oh, it’s great. We’ve got lawn chairs. We have, we could bring our drinks and just have a good time, but there’s.

I always firmly believe that, that, that an arts experience is more on the surface is one thing, but below the surface is so many other things that speaks to us as human beings in our humanity. And that’s what you drive home. And I think that they don’t think that’s hard to do because you have to be aware [00:11:00] of it.

You have to be aware of the humanity that is at stake.

[00:11:05] Lisa: Yeah, wow. That’s. That’s really powerful. I, um, you know, I, what resonates with me is I remember many, many moons ago being at a conference and somebody said, you always remember your first live arts experience. You probably don’t remember the first book you read or the first, you know, um, and it’s true because there’s something really compelling, uh, to be in the moment of, it’s really being in the moment of creativity and, and being present while art is being created.

And, you know, I, I thank you for saying that it’s just not, it isn’t just the music it’s, it’s so hard to describe what happens, but, but the best representation, I hope I can paint for your listeners is that, you know, coming out of the pandemic in [00:12:00] 2021, of course, being outdoors was ideal. And, and we were of course opened as soon as we were able to be open.

And seeing people cross the lawn and run into each other’s arms and hug each other and You know, the emotion was kind of overwhelming, and the key word that comes up in my brain is connectivity. We need, as human beings, to be connected to one another, and we need to feel valued. We need to feel seen, and what Levitt Dayton provides is the opportunity for us to kind of have all of those things.

You know, I’ve had so many people say to me, you know, like what this place means to them at the space in that they met someone and it changed their perceptions [00:13:00] on a cultural issue because they were able to have a dialogue in a safe space, not be judged. And and have an exchange and so that’s a bigger kind of graphic, right?

In terms of bridging those types of gaps. But the, but on the more microscopic piece is, like you said, the shared humanity of getting to know the people that are sitting around you and then it kind of becomes church and you look forward to seeing each other and. You know, so many of our retirees who are saying, this is the only time I get out of the house and this is the connectivity of being around people.

It’s so important. The young families who could never afford to go to a live experience, right. With their kids and their, and the kids are running around enjoying this beautiful outdoor space, but [00:14:00] then. Also, you know, getting to see people that might look like them on stage and realize that, Hey, maybe I could create, you know,

[00:14:11] Rodney: I, I belong, I belong in the, I belong at the table.

That phrase, I hear a lot, a lot of times as I think about how. And I think that that was a difficult part of, of talking to people about Levitt and Levitt’s mission in Dayton, because they were not used to a conversation about not just the commerce of art. This is about what the impact of the arts can.

Be and manifest itself in ways that you can’t is that phrase, you know, you, you plant the tree that you will never enjoy the shade of. Yes. But we’re planning a tree and actually getting to see people enjoy the shade of, and that’s pretty cool. I mean, we don’t know what they’re going to do once they got the shade, [00:15:00] but that’s okay.

We don’t have to know.

[00:15:02] Lisa: Yeah, I, I really, um, think it’s really interesting, you know, of course, creative placemaking and third, third space. Those buzzwords have been kind of floating around a lot. But what I think is really interesting is the, um, strength and how everybody is clinging to community and the word unity within community.

And, you know, I just love that we’re part of that, that landscape. And, and I think it’s almost subliminally, like, I think a lot of people think of us as a concert venue, it’s free music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from May until September. What happens at the end of the season is that people become very sad.

Yes, they get emotional. Very emotional. Like they, they are [00:16:00] mad, like lots of emotions. They’re angry. That’s coming to an end. They don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. I mean, I can’t tell you

[00:16:10] Rodney: all the things, which is, which is an absolute legitimate thing is you think, well, there’s other art forms, but then you and other arts experiences, but then you start to realize just how special this sort of.

this mixture is in comparison to what other experiences are, because they’re not giving them that, that sense you can get it ever. Occasionally you kind of hunted. If you’re like a person who does, you know, full disclosure, I go to everything and I run around trying to get that high it’s, I call it that, that, that dopamine hit of.

Yeah. And it’s hard to come by, but I always get the dopamine hit when I’m at love it. So I’m like, yes. Okay.

[00:16:55] Lisa: Thank you. I guess really, it’s really

[00:16:58] Rodney: remarkable. Yeah, [00:17:00] it really is. And I think that that’s missing, uh, from a lot of arts experiences. A lot

[00:17:04] Lisa: of time, you know, the thing that a lot of people share with us.

Um, is that it feels different than anything else in a way that, so I don’t want to overuse the word familial, like family and stuff like that, but I will tell you that I feel like it’s, it’s based in love. You know, we’re all hugging each other. We’re not yelling at anybody for dancing, you know, like they stand on the lawn and they start dancing because they feel the movement, even though we have a beautiful dance floor, like nobody, like we’ve.

There are very little rules at Levitating other than don’t smoke. And yeah, I mean,

[00:17:44] Rodney: and no glass, no glass

[00:17:46] Lisa: containers. Yeah, because we have little piggies running on the lawn. And, um, so I think, I think it’s that there’s this relaxed, like I, you know, and, and I can sit wherever I want. I, [00:18:00] I’m not in a fixed seat.

I’m, I can bring in my own food and beverage. I can bring in. You know, whatever, what it would make me comfortable or you can bring nothing. And we rent, you know, the lawn chairs, we have food and beverage offerings. It’s like,

[00:18:17] Rodney: however you get in or into it is, is available to

[00:18:21] Lisa: you. Right. So literally trying to meet people where they are and helping them to realize that you can come with nothing.

We’ll help you, like, we’ll take care of you and, and, and try to give you that best arts experience. So there’s an ease. People have used that word. There’s an ease of use. There’s a ease of access. So there’s that relaxed setting, but then there’s just this incredible amount of love on the lawn. And I’ll never forget.

I mean, I tell the story all the time. So stop me if you’re sick of hearing it, but No, I’m never, never, never. [00:19:00] Ruthie Foster was in our first season and she’s a little bitty blues player who took us to church. I mean, it was an incredible night. It was little, all we could afford was her and the guitar that first season.

Right. And. She pulled me into her dressing room. I was looking to pay. I couldn’t find her. And I knocked on her dressing room and she goes, girl, get in here. And I was like, oh geez, something happened. And I says, is everything okay? And she’s like, I have played a lot of venues. She’s like, you hear me? Like, I have played a lot of venues.

I’ve even played a lot of Levitt pavilions. The venues I play, white folk sit with white folk, and black folk sit with black folk. So whatever y’all are doing here in Dayton, Ohio, I need to be a part of this. She goes, this is Change the world. Like this is amazing. And I said, I forgot that you can see, [00:20:00] you know, everything’s intentional.

The height of the stage, the, all of it is about them connecting to the audience as an artist. And I, you know, cause I came from the. performing arts world, the theater world, where the lights blind you and you don’t see much of the audience. And she said, oh no, I saw it. I said, you know, her, um, encore song was Real Love and I was standing off stage because I was getting ready to come up and say, let’s hear it for Ruthie Foster.

And I said, I looked out into the lawn and everybody was dancing together. They were holding hands. And dancing and I got choked up and I said to Ruthie, how do you explain to a funder that love is coming off the lawn? Like, what we’re doing is that and she said, I don’t know, Lisa, she said, but. It moved me to the point where I didn’t want to stop performing, like I [00:21:00] didn’t want that feeling to stop.

And she’s like, she was begging me. She’s like, you have to bring me back next year with my band. And I’m like, okay, well, you know, I don’t think we’re going to afford, you know, but she and like, spoiler alert. Fast forward, she negotiated down to make that happen, knowing that we were still working on our building of the organization and our capacity to pay all of our artists and, you know, yeah, yeah.

And she. It happened again. So, you know, it’s not just a one and done the two Grammy Award winning players that she brought with her. I came into the green room to thank them and they were stunned. I said, you know, they said, what just happened? And again, like, they had never experienced anything like that before.

So it’s, it’s, and I can ad nauseum, I could name artists. [00:22:00] That come off the stage, they hug me and say, you have to bring me back next year. That was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in my performing life. That was unreal. And I think it’s because of who’s in front of them. It was in

[00:22:16] Rodney: front of them.

But, but I also think there’s another part because you you’re in it. Is that you have created taking the Leavitt model, which anyone could have done, but there’s a thing that you bring to it of creating the cocoon of love that allows a creative person just to freely do that. And that it’s not a lot of times people would have this mistaken notion that it’s like, it’s the grander of the house.

It really is about the love. That the house was

[00:22:49] Lisa: built upon in my career as a female executive, I have, I feel like I can lead with love for the first time in my career.

[00:22:59] Rodney: [00:23:00] Wow. Okay.

[00:23:02] Lisa: And really show up as my true authentic self. So I, of course, this was a, this was a startup, right? So we, we got to design the core values.

We got to design the culture and. I decided from the beginning, I am no longer going to hide who I am. I’m no longer going to apologize for it. And that’s how I’m going to build the organization.

[00:23:36] Rodney: Wow. I, I, I know this cause I, you know, folks is, uh, watching it and see it, but hearing you say that just, I’m like getting very emotional because it’s just, that’s, that’s the core of art making though.

We always have a tendency to think it’s the person with the brush and the guitar. There’s an art to leadership and [00:24:00] you, you have it in spades. You, I mean, that’s, and that’s, I love how you said that you talk about talking to young women in leadership, which is you’re not shy from the experiences that you’ve had to like, and I want to talk about that, what.

In your journey, like, could you have imagined that you would end up at this place being your authentic self when you started this journey of being in the arts from the, that’s, I hate to use the phrase behind the scenes, but did you see it? Could you have imagined in a million years? That this will be the, the, the, here we are, um,

[00:24:42] Lisa: I think I, I think I knew that I wanted to lead.

So like, I loved being a mother. I was afforded the opportunity to stay home with our children for the first 12 years. So [00:25:00] I poured my heart and soul and our two kids and I loved every bit of it. And so I knew that those things that I learned could apply to leadership, you know, cause I got questioned about the gap in my, you know, wow, you know, where you’ve been for the past 12 years or whatever.

And I had to take those skills that I, and say, well, I, you know, I was managing a house. I was raising two amazing humans and, you know, did all these things. And, and I remember saying this is when I was getting hired for the Schuster center. Um, They said something like, is there anything that we need to know that you haven’t told us yet?

And I said, yeah, you’ll never meet anybody that’ll work harder than I will. My work ethic is, I was raised that you show up and show out and you give 120. If they ask for 80, you give 150, you know, to my own [00:26:00] detriment. And that’s what happened. But I think that. I became known as somebody who could develop a high performing team.

You know, my trajectory at Victoria Theatre Association was Whenever there was something broken or a department that needed a little love or, I mean, it’s funny. Yeah. I didn’t, well, let’s be honest, but yeah. Let’s, that needed some help. Yeah. I ended up getting it, uh, to report to me and I loved being able to identify talent that was, uh, sitting in the background.

And bringing them forward and like, you know, I, I loved that and I love seeing them blossom and become these amazing, uh, leaders and, and team members, uh, to the point where I felt like I was literally working myself out of a job. They were so high performing. I was getting [00:27:00] bored. I mean, I was, I

[00:27:01] Rodney: was like, well, they’re

[00:27:05] Lisa: paying me because like everybody else is doing kind of the work and I got to spend a little bit more time visioning and thinking about like where we were going to go.

So I had to shift as a leader, you know, I, instead of being, you know, rolling up my sleeves and being in it and being operational and fingers in, I had to start realizing. That the next part of my career I needed to be more visionary so I had to sit quietly And think and dream and it was uncomfortable, but it, it got now I’m getting to the point where I, in my career, right, that I was like, oh, I don’t want to do it.

I’ll just dream it up and have somebody else do it. And I was, and I was realizing that I was kind of outgrowing the organization. And, um, I mean, I interviewed for a job in Philadelphia, [00:28:00] um. I did not know at that time that my boss was going to be retiring. So I, but anyway, the timing worked out where I was introduced to the mission, uh, of 11 and.

The, the funny thing about that is, the senior leadership team at Victoria Theatre, we were sitting around and everybody was talking, What is this thing? Like, you know, does anybody know anything? Like, and there was a little bit of concern. Like, they weren’t sure, is this a threat to us because it’s free?

And, you know, are we going to run it? Like, what are we doing here? And, um, like, this is stupid. They’re having an information session at Amy Deal’s. Studio, my husband and I all go, well, I fell in love. Uh, I had a million questions for Sharon Yazowski, the executive director for the Levitt foundation. I wanted to know how it all worked.

I didn’t. And, um, decided to throw my [00:29:00] hat in the ring and I’ll be honest, I almost withdrew because I was like, what are you doing? Like I ha I had these moments. Of, of fear and doubt, right?

[00:29:11] Rodney: Because it didn’t exist. I mean, let’s be very clear. I mean, it did

[00:29:14] Lisa: not exist. And I’m like, why? Why would you leave a $16 million well-oiled machine to go to a startup where there’s like, you know, nothing.

No stapler, there’s no computer, there’s nothing, there’s nothing. There was just

[00:29:31] Rodney: artist renderings of a building. Let’s be very clear, that’s all we had. Yeah, there was, that’s, that’s a real leap of faith. I mean, I’ve never really thought about it in those terms that you really.

[00:29:42] Lisa: Well, I got some pushes along the way.

Um, and I, you can believe whatever you want to believe. Every time those thoughts came into my head, whether it was downtown, walking to my car, walking over to Boston Stock or to cup of coffee, and my, How at my house in my [00:30:00] backyard a dragonfly would show itself to me like would come and buzz around And it wasn’t like the third time at my hat like I was at my house and I thought oh, okay, I get it You’re telling me that this is what I’m supposed to do.

It was, so it was almost like a calling in a way. And I, and I’m a very spiritual person. So I, I felt like this was, I was supposed to do this. This is what I’m, I was meant to do. And, um, and it, and it’s been everything I could have ever imagined. I, I can’t even tell you, like, I, I’m getting emotional thinking about our vulnerable community, our unhoused community.

How they, um, hug us or hug me, you know, like they, they. And I think to myself, that’s probably the only hug [00:31:00] that they’re going to get today. And, um, and yeah, we have one, excuse me, I’m sorry. I was like, I don’t know why I’m crying. Um, we have one person who, um, she, she was kind of a bad player, you know, couple of years ago, living, living on the lawn and, and not very nicely.

Um, and we, we had, I had a conversation with her, I again, mommed her and I said, I love that you’re here. I want you to be here, but you have to behave. And that looks like this. Through connections made here with, uh, a resource officer from the Dayton Police Department, she’s in housing. Um, she’s doing very, very well.

And, uh, the last two seasons, she’s been here for every sound check. And this past season, she actually stayed for a couple concerts and, and, like, danced as if You can’t [00:32:00] imagine and I did. We could we dance together. We have to dance together. She sobbed at the end of the season and was like clinging to me.

And I said, what’s the matter? Are you okay? And she’s like, you’re my family. She’s like, I’m going to miss you guys so much. I, I, I can’t stand it. And I said, she goes, would you write to me? And I said, of course, I’ll write to you. Um, so I’ve already, I’m writing to her, like on a monthly basis, but we’re also trying to figure out how can we do a concert where she lives in the off season, you know, and bring music to her so she doesn’t feel that lack of connection that everybody talks about.

And, um, That’s, that’s the Levitt.

[00:32:51] Rodney: Well, that’s, but that’s you. That’s you as well. She was a human being. I mean, I, this is, this is [00:33:00] the, one of the things that was, um, when we talk about it, cause I’ve, we’ve talked to so many people from different backgrounds is that it’s that when you talked about the calling, every person to a letter has said, it’s like, I can’t envision myself being anywhere else or being anyone else, but this it’s the, it’s your ability to connect with people.

You in many ways served an intervention. You can’t, you can’t fake that. I, I, a full disclosure, cause I was on the committee selection committee for you to take over, to take on Lovett. And it came through and it’s so rare. There are three people. And I was thinking about this. It’s you, one of my students, Brianna Rhodes, who is a student, a student that’s diverse and Brandon Raglan, who I just feel.

They are being lit from within, from a divinity that defies description, but they’re, but you’re all, it’s the joy, [00:34:00] bringing joy to the table. You’re, you’re bringing solutions. I, I don’t, I don’t never, I never see you go. Oh, I mean, I’m sure you feel it internally, but I never see it. I see, I sense like, yes, this is a struggle.

Sometimes it’s a struggle, but I can, let me find a solution. Let’s find a way to, I call it the win win scenarios. Let’s make these win win scenarios versus I, when you lose. I mean, so, and that takes a lot of effort and so energy. And so talk to, I mean, cause 11 is only from May to September, but really.

Love is 365 . I, I, first time we’re saying it out loud. You, you laugh. It’s like, yes, it’s 365. Yeah. And I think that that’s important for people to understand that, to create love, you gotta put some effort into it. It’s like a relationship. You gotta, you gotta, you gotta work at this . Yes. It’s, you never take it for granted.

[00:34:59] Lisa: [00:35:00] Never take it for granted. It’s so funny. All the, all the people are like, so now what are you gonna do? At the end of the season, they’re like, so do you guys just, you know, take time off? And like, well, yeah, we, of course, everybody gets some well deserved rest and, and time off. But, um, in order to do 50 concerts, there’s a lot of work that goes into that.

Um, And you know, we do two other, we do other programming too, like we, we take music out into the community with those, the pop up concerts, realizing that the ticket’s not the only barrier, people have transportation limitations and may, even internet, like may not even know about Levitt Dayton and having access.

So, uh, we do, uh, Levitt Connect Community, which is our pop up concert. And then we do Levitt Connect Inspire, which. Is educational outreach includes a summer camp in the summer. Um, we’ve been taking artists and into schools and that’s really been, um, [00:36:00] absolutely incredible, especially with music kind of not being part of the curriculum and many of these, uh, you know, area schools and especially areas that are struggling financially.

Um, yeah, let’s be very honest about that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, we. You know, for a year, since we opened, uh, we definitely depend on the generosity of donors and sponsors to, to make this magic happen. And we’ve been looking for a way to diversify our revenue. And we tried to do a ticketed concert at the Levitt and it didn’t feel right.


[00:36:40] Rodney: didn’t. Yeah. It

[00:36:41] Lisa: did not. It felt gross. I mean, it felt. Like people were on the outside of the fence and it was like, Whoa, wait, what, you know, what’s happening here? What’s it?

[00:36:48] Rodney: Yeah. That’s not, I mean, so yeah.

[00:36:51] Lisa: Yeah. So we tried some, yeah, we discarded that. And so our team kind of put our thinking hats on.

And, um, [00:37:00] one of my colleagues, Abby, um, director of operations and I, and she’s helped in programming, she’s helping me do programming. We went to a, there’s a booking conference. called Folk Alliance, and it happens every year. They, I think mostly in Kansas City, but they take three floors of hotel rooms and take all the furniture out of them, and they create like salons, like listening rooms, and People curate those rooms.

They, in every 20 minutes, the, the stage flips. So, as buyer, a talent buyer, you know, we’re hopping from room to room to see as many people showcase as we can to help kind of influence our programming. And we, when we came back, we’re like, why couldn’t we do something like that here in Dayton, but like make it a secret concert?

And make it kind of fun and in the off season and then create a ticketed [00:38:00] event. So that’s what we’re doing. We’ve done. Um, we’re doing 6 of them, a series of 6 October, November, December, February, March, April, and then we’ll announce the Leavitt season in May and actually launch May 30th and go to September 14th.

So the other piece was. That sadness at the end of the season and feeling. Is there a way for us to be relevant and keep people connected in the offseason? So seeing we’ve launched it. It’s. You’ve been hugely successful to our, I mean, you know, again, I’ve

[00:38:39] Rodney: been witnessed, I’ve been witnessed to the fact that it sells out in 20 minutes.

I mean, it’s

[00:38:43] Lisa: 20 minutes. Yeah. And it’s kind of like, again, you know, when we put things on sale, we’re like, is anybody going to show up? Like it goes back to, to, to August 9th, 2018, when we were like,

[00:38:55] Rodney: is anybody going to show up? Yeah.

[00:38:57] Lisa: And, um, and then when [00:39:00] we, and then when we did the first couple to see our regulars.

And, and they’re just like, thank you for doing this. This is awesome. I, I’m so glad that we get to see you guys, we get to see each other. And so it’s a win win. Um, but yeah, so right now, um, the team, all the planning is happening. Uh, you know, it’s, it’s from budgeting to fundraising, programming, um, you know, programming 50 concerts.


[00:39:32] Rodney: what we’ll talk about that because a lot of people don’t realize there’s a, there’s a giant wall calendar that is in dry erase that just blows my mind. It is like

[00:39:46] Lisa: concert. It’s concert Jenga and we call it Jenga. It’s like, it’s so, there’s so many things that we try to be, uh, to have in focus. Uh, [00:40:00] always through the lens of equity, diversity inclusion, making sure that we’re being representative on the stage, especially for the community that we partner with.

So, you know, we have genre series. So on a weekend, you don’t want to have blues, blues, blues. You have to make sure that there’s diversity on the weekend. Um, and then finding the caliber. We are very protective of, like, who gets to play on that stage. It’s, it’s, there’s an expectation now. Um, at the beginning, people didn’t get it.

Most of the artists, they’re not going to really know, because they’re up and coming artists. We get some, we get some artists on the, on the way down, but like most of the artists are emerging. Yeah. And they realized I had a guy say to me after the [00:41:00] first season, I get it now. And I said, what’s that? And he said, it doesn’t matter if I know their names or not, it’s going to be incredible and representative of that genre.

Like he, he was really complimenting the fact that. It was, it was a blues artist. They were an incredible blues artist. He just happened to not know them and then became a fan. And that’s, so that’s a piece. Um, so yeah, I don’t, I don’t even know. Like we get, we get recommendations from the audience. I have probably 200 emails from people either who believe they should be on the, uh, on the, uh, stage.

And then I also work with booking agents. And there are a couple booking agents that I love working with because they understand the model. They understand who we are, what we do, and more importantly, the budget. Yes. What, what we can afford. Um, we think it’s funny when people say, when are you gonna get Kenny Chesney?[00:42:00]

I’m like, oh yeah. Or Taylor Swift. I’m like, oh, okay. Yeah, yeah.

[00:42:04] Rodney: Good, good. Good luck with that. We can’t even get Dave Chap. We can’t even get Dave Chappelle. Let’s be Dave Chappelle. Won’t even very clear, like be very clear.

[00:42:12] Lisa: Oh no. Oh, John Legend. They want me to get John Legend. Uhhuh. . John Legend. Yeah, sure.

John. No.

[00:42:16] Rodney: Mm-Hmm. Yeah, sure. In between. You know, his Vegas residency, he’s got to just kind of a Dayton.

[00:42:24] Lisa: So that’s the, you know, that’s the business. I think that’s the business side of concerts that people don’t understand. And I would, I would, I often spend the time and explain to them. Okay. Let’s dive into this.

There’s a fee. There’s lots of deals. There’s, there’s lots of deals that artists make, but like sometimes they want a percentage of the door, the ticket sales and things like that, or percentage of the booze. I mean, there’s all kinds of things. All sorts of. Let’s just talk basic. There’s a flat, there’s a fee that it takes for them to show up at your venue.

Just to show up? [00:43:00] Just to show up. And so, that fee could be anywhere from, you know, 500 to a million dollars. Or, I would, I don’t, probably there’s more. I mean, there’s people who get more, but. And so the people at that high end are the ones that are playing stadiums, because you have to do the math. Cause there are tickets, right.

And you find out what that gross potential of the venue is. And da, da, da, da, da, we obviously don’t have that. So, um,

[00:43:32] Rodney: so what can you give in return other than it’s a return on investment? It’s like, yeah, as an artist, okay, you’re going to pay me a million dollars, but it’s going to be a different kind of experience.

[00:43:45] Lisa: Yeah, it’s definitely, it’s a different experience. So I’d say probably, I mean, the biggest audience that we’ve ever had, we’ve got. Was the Ohio players where we had 10, 000 people in downtown Dayton at one concert [00:44:00] and

[00:44:00] Rodney: which was real people. That was a very

[00:44:02] Lisa: surreal. It was very surreal. People are still talking about it.

Um, they want to come back. Um, they, they, it was an incredible night for them. Um, they were very excited by playing their hometown and giving back to the community. It, it was, it only happened because I had a donor who wanted that to happen and underwrote the whole thing. Otherwise, that would have been a significant chunk of our entire Budget for the artist fees.

So it’s like people understanding that I love to have them. And I tell them that they call me, they call me on my cell phone. They’re like, you know, Hey, Hey, Hey. And I’m like, I’d love to, but I don’t want to disrespect you and say, I can only afford X amount of dollars. I mean, let’s be real, let’s be very real about it.

I mean, it’s, it’s an anomaly, but, [00:45:00] um, so yeah, it’s, it’s, I love it. I love to negotiate. I love, I hate leaving money on the table. Um, I, I do love, um, and, and, and again, going back to the beginning of the story, because we’re where we’re located, I can leverage, it’s called routing. And so if somebody is in Nashville, and they’re on their way to New York, or, you know, um, or they’re in Chicago, or they’re coming through on their tour, We can sometimes get really great deals on artists because of that.

[00:45:37] Rodney: And so it’s like, and that’s what I love that people understand, especially those who hear about data. It’s like Dayton is geographically prime for this sort of arts and cultural exchange. And it’s for like musicians, visual artists, dance companies. I mean, we, we really are at a sweet spot [00:46:00] in regards to that accessibility.

Of ease of getting in, ease of getting out, but also the ease of being who and what we are. A lot of times it was really interesting. I was in a meeting with someone, uh, Kathy Reed at the Kettering foundation. And she said the line she said, and she’s going to probably like, Oh my God, right. I can’t believe you said that loud.

She goes, I wish Dayton would like, let go of the chip on its shoulder. And embrace just how wonderful this community is.

[00:46:31] Lisa: I know, we’re our worst enemy sometimes.

[00:46:34] Rodney: Exactly. And, and that’s why, that’s what I love about the fact about love. It is the fact that love, it is not our worst enemy. It’s our bright shining example of just how special we are and can be.

Yeah, and you lead that. I mean, that’s, I mean, woo not to leave you with a, whoa, that’s an awesome responsibility. But, but I think that there’s something to be said about that. I [00:47:00] mean, that, that, that you’re creating an environment in a space that’s so unusual and so new, unique in the landscape of a community.

Like that, I want to, what would be your words to someone looking to do the sort of thing that you’re doing? Because you are really affecting change in our community. You have changed. You’ve changed the molecular structure. Do you know? Cause we talked about this, where we’ve had focus groups for another organization where they said, why can’t you be like, love it, which was very like, Oh, I’m so sorry, but you can be, but what would you say to someone who wants, who sees like, wow, Lisa’s doing this amazing job and the crew and the team, and she’s leading a convening of the community that is so unique and special, what would you say to them if they wanted to do the thing [00:48:00] that you do?

What would be your advice to them?

[00:48:03] Lisa: The thing that comes straight up to my mind and, and you know, me, I don’t hide any punches is it’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s stop being so egocentric and the way that you program and you look at the world and get out of your own way and start thinking about your audience or, you know, your audience.

I mean, who, who, who do you want in the audience? I’m so tired of arts organizations saying, yeah, we want a diversified audience. We want this. I’m like, yeah, well then program something that, you know, like you think that, you know, what’s best for them and that you think that they should be there and that you should just give 5 tickets or whatever, and then they’ll show up, but what you’re doing on stage is not interesting.

So get out of your way. Ask them, like, what would you like [00:49:00] to see on stage? What

[00:49:01] Rodney: moves you? What inspires you? I mean, I’m, it goes to the point of, you know, I, it’s a phrase I used in a meeting we had where I said, I’m on the back end of the roller coaster of life. I mean, being very honest at 58, you see, you see a lot of, like a lot of days behind, but how many days in front?

And so is the experience going to give me something that nurtures my soul?

[00:49:28] Lisa: That is it. That is the answer to all things, because people are looking, they’re obviously, we all have been talking about this, they’re looking for an experience, but it’s not just an experience, they want to leave feeling either good about themselves, or better about the world, like it has to have a feel good, or it has to inspire them to think, right?

I mean, I think about some of the great theater that I’ve been seeing, And the conversations [00:50:00] afterwards and how incredible that was. I think that’s what people are craving. I think it’s about, as arts organizations, we need to think about, what is it that I can do to nurture your humanity? But like, what’s your why?

What, you know, I can’t, I can’t. It’s, it all comes back down to that. Yeah.

[00:50:23] Rodney: And why am I here? Why am I, and you

[00:50:26] Lisa: can’t be lofty and snotty about, you know, you can’t say it’s art, it’s no, it can’t just be about that.

[00:50:35] Rodney: No, really cannot. No, it cannot. And, and I, and I, and I, and that’s the thing. It’s like, you know, you embody that so beautifully.

I mean, that, that, it’s your real thing. So my last question, if money, this is for my favorite podcast, cause I love talk art. And if you ever get a chance, folks, listen to the talk art, uh, podcast. [00:51:00] Um, they, as a question, if money were, it’s I’m paraphrasing a different way. If money were no object. And there was no barrier, who would be your number one pick to put on the Levitt stage to provide to the community if money was no object?

[00:51:18] Lisa: Oh, gosh, there’s so many. Um. You can name a

[00:51:25] Rodney: list. It’s okay. Top five. I mean, it’s all good. It’s okay. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not, it’s an evolving list. Well, audience,

[00:51:33] Lisa: it’s an evolving list. I mean, Alicia Keys. Yeah. I’m thinking about like in that, I was just talking about her the other day. When I’m thinking about in that frame of love and who emotes love.

Gosh, there’s so many people. Um. I would love to have John Legend. I mean, I, you know, I think, um, I’m trying to think who we, we were looking at just recently and there’s this, the story is incredible. I [00:52:00] think it was Warren Treaty. I tried to get them at the beginning when they, before they blew up and I missed the, the, the, their rise, but, um, there’s so many people and I think a lot of it has to, I mean, I have lots of personal favorites, but, When I think about the stage and, and what that could be from a trans.

Formative perspective. I think, um, is it Michael Fronte? Um, he’s also kind of in that vein of uh, love and community and I don’t know. That’s great. That’s a great question. I, if you That’s okay.

[00:52:40] Rodney: I’ll wait. I love your answer Vale. Alicia Keys. I mean, that’s just, oh, I

[00:52:45] Lisa: love Alicia Keys. That is,

[00:52:47] Rodney: that’s, she is operating from a place of love.

[00:52:50] Lisa: I mean, it’s just, she is all love and she, and again, shows up as her true, authentic self. No makeup up. Number one, no makeup. She is who she, I mean, she’s just. [00:53:00]

[00:53:01] Rodney: I’m Alicia. I’m telling my story. I am in body. I am me and the keyboard. And let’s just go on a journey. Let’s go on a journey.

[00:53:10] Lisa: You don’t have to like layer all this stuff on her, her and a piano.

That’s my dream. That’s my dream. That’s

[00:53:17] Rodney: your dream. Okay. I love it. I love it. I love it. Lisa, this is what I thought it

[00:53:23] Lisa: would be. Oh, wouldn’t that be

[00:53:25] Rodney: fun? Fun in downtown. Hey, throwing it out there. People see, I believe also you put it out in the universe and see if things happen, you know, you never know. So Lisa, you are the ambassador of love for Dayton and you, you

[00:53:43] Lisa: embody it.


[00:53:46] Rodney: and I just. I think the world of you, and I think the world of what you bring are bringing to our, our community, which is the world really, in essence, what you’re bringing to the world. So,

[00:53:59] Lisa: [00:54:00] thank you, Rodney. I, I, I’m grateful for you, your friendship and, and, and the love and support that you give. I mean, obviously.

You know, you give what you get, get what you give type of thing. And I, people pour into me. So I, I’m, I’m very lucky to be surrounded with that kind of love and support and be able to give it back. Yeah. I, I don’t take it lightly. This is definitely truly a labor of love. And I, I, I really hope that I continue.

To not to show up for the community and in my authentic way. And, and, and that we can make change, real change together. I that’s my hope.

[00:54:41] Rodney: You got it. Thank you. You’re welcome.

[00:54:46] Lisa: Rodney Veals inspired by is a production of public media connect the regional partnership of CET in Cincinnati. And think TV in Dayton.

There’s a lot of great art happening around Southwest Ohio, and we’re excited to be part of it. [00:55:00] If you liked this episode, please subscribe on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts, you can learn more and find the show notes at thinktv. org forward slash inspired by, or cetconnect. org forward slash inspired by.

Thank you.