Outside of their theatrical work, Andy and Allison are both invested in the growth and development of communities — specifically, in what the arts can do to help communities grow and thrive. Andy serves on the Board of Directors of the Oskaloosa Area Chamber and Development Group and sits on its Commerce Committee. They are board members of, and helped to rebuild, Oskaloosa Community Theatre. Allison serves on the boards of Oskaloosa Main Street and the Mahaska Young Professionals. She also has worked with RDG Planning & Design and Keep Iowa Beautiful on a community arts project called “Art Wave on the Prairie” in Laurens, Iowa.
In 2012, a small opera collective was started in Des Moines, Iowa. This was our first foray into community-based art. Opera Eight operated boldly to create “operatunities” for artists while building community through the collective enjoyment of live performance. The group was small, but once a month we’d organize salons to give singers the opportunity to try out new repertoire in front of an audience. Opera Eight salons were casual and included great trivia challenges, snacks, and a monthly theme. Salons also were totally free to attend and held in Des Moines venues like Java Joe’s, Mars Cafe, the Des Moines Social Club, and a cleaning supplies warehouse.
Community Before Art
Our viewpoint is that the arts always have a place in community, but that artists should find a way to meet its needs, rather than asking community members to simply swoon over their art. If artists first understand what a group or community needs, there is a better chance for their project to be more successful and sustainable.
This “community before art” philosophy is part of the core principles at the George Daily Community Auditorium, our working home base and primary employer. Andy is the Education Director, and he designs, coordinates, and teaches most of the educational and outreach programs the Auditorium offers. Allison runs the voice and piano music studio as the Music Education Director, she coordinates most of the Auditorium’s fundraising efforts as the Development Director, and she is a Lead Teacher with the Summer Theatre Camp.
The most recently finished project in community development was the George Daily Auditorium's production of Home Again, a project funded through the Iowa Arts Council with an Arts Build Communities Grant. Home Again collected stories and photos from Mahaska County and organized them into an original variety show that shared county history. The project ran for an entire year (June 2017-June 2018) and culminated with the production in the middle of June.
Oskaloosa Community Theatre (OCT) was a staple of Oskaloosa's arts community throughout the 1970's, 80's, and 90's. During the 2000's, the group waned and was on the verge of disbanding in 2012. At this time, the board reorganized and has spent the past six years building itself back up in the community.
The reorganized group takes on a different approach to community theatre. It believes more in the community aspect than the theatre aspect and often crafts events that are smaller and a have more personal tone than a large scale play. The goal has been to create experiences with which people can interact in a shorter time commitment. OCT events are usually lip sync battles, murder mysteries, or radio dramas. They are usually free to attend and only require that people participate and have fun.
OCT will still partner and work on large scale productions. Many board members served as the production crews of the 2017 musical George and the 2018 production of Home Again.