SUNY Fredonia Business Students’ Report Offers Ideas for Strategic Plan of Opera House

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Members of the Clarity Creations team include (front row, from left): Carol Loja, Alexis Witkowski; (back row): Devin Wiencek and Adil Kadwa, along with Rick Davis, executive director of the opera house. Missing from the photo is Ryan Piniewski.

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SUNY Fredonia

The process of updating the strategic plan of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House Performing Arts Center will benefit from research and recommendations that State University of New York at Fredonia Business Administration students compiled for their senior capstone project.

A team of five seniors produced a comprehensive report that gauges how the community currently views the performing arts center and suggests ways that it can better serve the community’s artistic needs, explained Carol Loja, who received a degree in Business Administration: Management in May. The revised strategic plan will guide the opera house for the next five years.

Nearly 200 respondents from the university as well as Fredonia and Dunkirk – most of them over the age of 56 – participated in an email survey that was the foundation of the report that the student team, christened Clarity Creations, presented to Rick Davis, the opera house’s executive director. It also included input from a smaller focus group of community members who had attended opera house events but were not members.

“We will be looking at the team’s report and recommendations at an upcoming staff meeting and explore how we can utilize their findings and ideas,” Mr. Davis said.

Students began their project by meeting with Davis, who provided historical and policy-related information and also gave them a tour of the entire facility.

In their research, students identified a need to focus on ways to attract a new generation of younger patrons. “We found out that 29.5 percent of respondents were not aware of the many different programs being offered at the opera house,” added Ms. Loja, who served as the team’s project lead.

“We found out that in terms of movies, a lot of people were very interested in getting newer releases, documentaries, dramas and shows at the opera house,” Loja said. Also expressed was a strong interest in bringing stand-up comedians to the opera house stage.

Respondents suggested that the opera house develop alliances with local restaurants and wineries, perhaps linking menu discounts to the purchase of opera house event tickets.

“We are particularly intrigued with the idea of collaborating with other organizations and local businesses, especially as we are all coming off being impacted by COVID,” said Davis, who is also an adjunct lecturer in Fredonia’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “We could find mutual benefit in forming alliances.”

Students were surprised by the eagerness of residents for the opera house, which was largely shuttered in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, to re-open as quickly as possible, and many in the community, Loja added, are already anticipating a return of events this fall.

Loja reported the opera house was excited to receive the report. “They are actually in the middle of planning a five-year strategic plan, and will be using a lot of our findings to help lead them to their next goals, which is really nice, because we know that the work we did is going beyond just the presentation that we did,” Loja explained.
Preparing the 23-page report allowed Loja and fellow classmates Adil Kadwa, Devin Wiencek, Ryan Piniewski and Alexis Witkowski to use the tools they had learned in the classroom. “It’s very different to have real data from real people, instead of from a textbook scenario,” Loja said.

The students also learned how to pivot, if necessary, should a part of a plan not come to fruition. There was some concern that not enough people could be recruited to serve on the focus group, but participants were found late in the process.

“That was a big piece of the project,” Loja said of the focus group’s participation, “thankfully, it worked out.”

Developing the strategic plan for a non-profit was particularly applicable to Loja, who plans to attend graduate school to pursue a M.A. in Arts Administration. Loja also has a minor in Arts Administration from Fredonia.

School of Business Associate Professor Sue McNamara has developed the capstone with the purpose of providing “real-life” opportunities for students to apply what they have learned in the business program. “The win/win comes when students learn and our community organizations receive creative recommendations based on data from students,” Dr. McNamara said. Each semester, 10 to 12 projects are tackled.

This spring, DFT Communications, Northern Chautauqua County Foundation, the Fredonia School of Business, Cottage by Pucci and the Center for Excellence were clients of other student teams in the capstone course. Another section of students prepared a special project to help the university strategic planning steering committee gather student input on brand, culture and student experience.

Local community organizations or campus units interested in being part of the capstone process are asked to contact McNamara via email at susan.mcnamara@fredonia.edu.