Two 40-plus-year-old arts education organizations merged in July, completing a two-year process of consolidating programs in order to better serve artists, teachers, and students. COMPAS Global Arts and Culture, founded in 1968, and Young Audiences of Minnesota, founded in 1963, combined their arts education programs, and will use joint marketing efforts to become Minnesota’s largest “one-stop-shop” for teachers, schools and communities, serving nearly 600,000 Minnesotans in 2009-2010, according to a press release.
Prior to the merger, Young Audiences had been known mostly for orchestrating touring plays to schools and field trips, while COMPAS’s main work was in conducting school residencies and workshops, but there was some overlap in their programs. The merger has consolidated both organizations’ programming under one umbrella.
The newly merged organization will now be called COMPAS but will retain the Young Audiences name in some of its programs. Bob Olsen, COMPAS’s Executive Director, said: “We like retaining that brand … Our teachers in schools recognize that name.”
Olsen said that the idea for the merger was “mission driven” more than in response to the recession, with discussions beginning “way before anything was happening with the economy.” Both organizations had rosters of artists that worked in schools, and many of the teaching artists were on both lists.
“Young Audiences had a pretty aggressive growth mode that they had set for themselves,” said Olsen, “But it became clear they didn’t have horsepower to get there.” In late 2007, both organizations had Executive Director vacancies, and the chairs of both boards of directors “got together and said it is ‘time to talk about this,’” Olsen said.
The organizations approached funders about the possibility of a merger. “They said ‘Oh, this totally makes sense to us,’” Olsen said. In 2008, consultants Emyl Angelica and Linda Hoskins from Community Consulting Group were hired to help move the process forward.
Olsen said that, prior to completing the merger, the organizations tried out a few “tests” as a preliminary step. Young Audiences sub-contracted a COMPAS employee (Betsy Mowry, who is also a TC Daily Planet writer) who was able to “glean an understanding of the back room operation,” Olsen said. At that time, both organizations were located in the Landmark Center in St. Paul. While still working mostly at COMPAS and receiving benefits from them, Mowry worked part-time at Young Audiences and learned about the inner workings that differentiated the two organizations. “It was fabulous,” Olsen said. “We learned so much.”
Last March COMPAS absorbed all of Young Audience’s equipment but they were still two organizations. Olsen’s executive director services were sub-contracted at that time. In July, the organizations officially merged, and the combined group has published their new website, while getting ready for the school year.
“We hope that our customers- teachers, schools, children, the artists, and other libraries and community centers… will see nothing but improved services,” Olsen said.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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