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Patrons can become part of the club

Arts affinity groups provide members with opportunities to support and socialize

By Michael J. Solender
Correspondent

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In 2004, Laura Collinge and a friend wanted to form a fun social group that promotes opera as an art form that is accessible to everyone. So Collinge founded Opera Carolina’s BRAVO! affinity group, which targets professionals ages 21-40 with programming, discounts, parties and events.

Even Cupid’s arrow found a direct hit here in the fall of 2010.

BRAVO! held a backstage tour for its members, and with the group on set for “Cosi Fan Tutte,” Daunte Bruce, 29, got down on his knee and presented Tonya Simmons, 31, a single rose along with a dramatic marriage proposal. With an appreciative crowd looking on, Simmons took the rose and with only a slight surprised-induced hesitation said yes.

The couple joined BRAVO! when they began dating. “I knew I wanted to go big,” Bruce said. “Our first date was the opera and Tonya is a big lover of the arts. I thought this was a perfect setting and wanted all our opera friends to be part of it.”

A variety of arts affinity groups like BRAVO! are thriving in Charlotte. The benefits offered include dinners and receptions with artists, wine tastings, members-only events, special seating, discounts, unique volunteer opportunities and, perhaps best of all, the chance to meet and associate with people with similar interests.

Many memberships are offered free or for minimal cost. Here is a look at some of Charlotte’s most popular groups:

Opening Night Insiders

“North Carolina Dance Theatre is lucky to have such active and invested affinity groups,” said Doug Singleton, executive director. “The group members are the spirit of the organization, and their contributions both in time, money and overall support make a major impact on the company.”

The dance troupe has three groups including Opening Night Insiders, their young professionals group, Corps de Ballet, a volunteer and social organization, and the newest affinity group dedicated to promoting dance, The Black Swan Society.

Opening Night Insiders is the largest group with 60 members. Members receive discounted tickets for select performances and events. The group holds a post-show reception after opening night performances where members mingle with dancers, choreographers and artistic staff.

Paparazzi

The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film has more than 90 members in their affinity group, Paparazzi.

Behind-the-scenes events, tours with curators, panel discussions and partnerships with other museum affiliate groups give Paparazzi members a more intimate connection to The Light Factory.

Member Sean Busher is a Charlotte photographer who thinks big when it comes to community-based arts projects. Three years ago he came up with the concept of capturing an urban portrait of Charlotte as seen through the lenses of dozens of photographers, all trained on the same space for a 24 hour period. “The City Block project has become a signature event for the Paparazzi,” Busher said. “It is a great outlet and showcase for the group and connects photography with the community.”

CSO PULSE

“Great cities have great symphony orchestras,” according to Anna Drake, 26, president of CSO PULSE, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s young affiliate group. “We have a wonderful business environment in Charlotte and it is equally important that we have a vibrant cultural scene to match. People want to be in a community that is diverse and dynamic and that is what the symphony and the entire arts scene offer.”

The organization is only a year old but already has a membership of 75.

“Being part of assembling such an enthusiastic group has been amazing,” Drake said. “The camaraderie and friendships made amongst people with common interests and goals are really special.”

Membership benefits include unique opportunities to network with other music lovers and CSO musicians, such as behind the scenes tours, private receptions and meeting guest performers.

The Young Affiliates of the Mint

With eight groups, The Mint Museum is the “grandfather” of affinity groups in Charlotte. Their offerings underscore the importance of variety when it comes to reaching patrons. The Young Affiliates of the Mint is a particularly active group, sponsoring social and fundraising events such as the annual Derby Days celebration, a viewing party of the Kentucky Derby on the front lawn of The Mint Museum Randolph, and the Black & White Ball.

Simone McDowell, 33, said she joined when she moved to Charlotte a few years ago in order to plug into the community.

“I love the arts scene and the social aspect was an immediate and welcome benefit to joining the YAMs,” McDowell said.

The social aspect of these groups helps organizations making a lasting impact with patrons.

“Affinity groups are great for every stage of an arts organization,” said Ron Evans, arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher and principal consultant at Groupofminds.com arts marketing consultants in Sunnyvale, Calif. “The social context augments the memory of a positive arts experience. If people are making friends and attending the arts, the arts are fulfilling several great roles – helping people to explore new thoughts and ideas about themselves, connecting them to other people socially, and offering a healthy escapism away from their daily grind.”

Club Blume

No fees, no officers, no hassles – just a fun evening out. That’s the mantra behind the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Club Blume. Started in May 2006, this young professionals group has more than 2,300 active subscribers.

“We host pre-show receptions on Club Blume nights with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the show and also hold special ‘informances’ where we hold a session, independent of a performance that features local teaching artists speaking to techniques or elements to look for in upcoming shows,” said Jessica Jarvis, marketing and e-commerce manager for the Blumenthal.

A recent program featured a local costume designer illustrating how some of the visual illusions seen in “Beauty and the Beast,” were accomplished.

Club Blume attracts 50-80 participants to programs.

“Nurturing friendships among those who love the arts is at the heart of the affinity group program. Charlotte is a city with many newcomers who are eager to get connected with those with similar interests,” said Tom Gabbard, president of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. “Beyond the social elements, (our) ‘informances’ take a deeper look into an upcoming show. The hope is that opinion leaders will learn a bit more, get pumped up about the show and then share that knowledge and enthusiasm with their friends and get them to go.”

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