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Aug. 17, 2022

Podcast: New executive director engaging Wharton Center’s audience of the future

Eric Olmscheid is the new executive director of MSU's world-renowned Wharton Center for the Performing Arts

Show notes

“When the opportunity came around to consider this position, it was a no brainer for me,” says Eric Olmscheid. “It was a great opportunity. I think Michigan is a beautiful state. My home state is Minnesota and it’s similar. Michigan is uniquely different in its own way. There are so many parallels to Minnesota and Michigan that I loved. But more importantly, what attracted me is Wharton Center’s commitment to excellence and its commitment to the work that it's done over the last 40 years here in the Lansing community. And the connection to the university is unparalleled.”

What are some of your goals?

“In the immediate future, we have to look at how we live in a pandemic world. We're kind of living in this COVID moment, but also how do we emerge from that and what does that look like? Our habits have changed as consumers and buyers. Likely, you are not going to as many events or you might stream more on your television set at home. We're asking questions around what that looks like for us. Because we know foundationally, we can't replace the live performance experience.

“There's something about sharing the space, time and physical air with folks and artists on stage. That shared experience is so critical to the core of what we do, and we know we can't replace that. It's a matter of figuring out what the experiences are that communities and audiences long for now and what will drive them to come to the center. All our habits have changed and shifted because of the pandemic. We know that we have to shift with it, and the pathway forward is a little unknown.

“One of the goals is to figure out how we define that and how we define success in the future. And what does the future of our industry look like? Because of that shifting landscape, there are so many new opportunities that are yet to be written, and I think we have to be openhearted to what that looks like and not just be traditionalists.”

What are some challenges and opportunities ahead?

“The demographics of our audiences are continuing to change so we have to answer questions around who our audience is and what do they want. One of the best things that we can do as a center is listen to what people want and what people will respond to. More importantly, being on Michigan State University's campus, what are the students desiring and how are we connected to them? I think that's the future of how we build audiences and that's the future of how we have arts engagement. It has to be beyond what we currently do in finding audiences to backfill audiences or fill the seats of those events. But it's more importantly finding more pathways and more connectivity and more relevance to audiences who are not currently engaged with who we are.

“That's a huge task. That's multiple many years in the making to pull that off. But it's really about starting the conversation of what will engage people and how will we get them in the door. We know once they're engaged, we can bring them along the journey. It's that first invitation, that first bit of relevant experience that will drive them to who we are.

“It's important to remember how the arts play such an important part of each of our lives. Art is around us everywhere. It doesn’t need to be formal or on a stage or in a museum. It's important for us to remember that arts are such an important piece of who we are and how we connect with each other as human beings and build our empathy. It’s important to find ways you can engage arts in your world every day and be open-hearted and open-minded.”

MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

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