The Southern Theater: Transition, change, and working with an organization in flux

The Southern Theater: Transition, change, and working with an organization in flux

The historic arch lights of the Southern Theater

One in four businesses on the West Bank is a nonprofit organization, among which are our cornerstone venues: The Cedar Cultural Center, Mixed Blood Theatre, Theatre in the Round, and The Southern Theater.

Specialized business structures, nonprofits of course have a special set of needs as well. This was especially the case with The Southern, a historic venue on the edge of the West Bank district. While they went through a major transition in 2008, The Southern was back on track with new programming and leadership. Having just launched their innovative ARTshare ticket membership program, in 2015 they brought the West Bank Business Association in for some long-term Strategic Planning. We worked with them to define and identify organizational goals and hurdles, including: a switch from a launch to growth model in their operations; increasing the relevance and diversity of their programming; addressing ADA compliance and accessibility; and need to build additional capacity.

In 2016, their director and ARTshare founder Damon Runnals left to pursue other opportunities. The board hired the West Bank Business Association (and me) once again on contract to help through the transitional period.

The West Bank is no stranger to leadership change, or transition among our organizations and venues. Part of why we began offering small business services was to help our businesses stay strong, and this was no exception. We were greatly motivated to help The Southern, especially after losing beloved music and arts venues like Bedlam and the 400 Bar.

The West Bank Business Association worked with The Southern for over a year as they searched for a permanent director. In that time we helped the staff keep the ship afloat, but we also made some progress on goals that had been identified years earlier, including:

  • Working with staff, board, and volunteers to grow fundraising and development efforts. We secured a general operating grant from the State Arts Board for the first time since their major transition years earlier, increased individual contributions, worked with the board to clean up accounting, and managed the finances including bookkeeping, financials, and budgeting.
  • Furthering the organization’s goals for accessibility, including the completion and board approval of an ADA access plan, managing building upgrades to bring the 100+ year old building closer to compliance, and securing funding for ASL services. To help as we did this important work we were able to secure funding from VSA Minnesota, consulting work from the Metropolitan Regional Arts council, private contributions, and matching funding from the City of Minneapolis’ facade grant program.

The Artistic Directors of the 2018 season: Jon Ferguson, Kaleena Miller, Joe Horton (and daughter), Sha Cage. 

  • One of the most exciting parts of our work was helping craft a new curatorial model for show programming. We worked with board, staff, and four local artistic directors to curate a season for 2018. Our goals to increase the quality and diversity of artists on the schedule, the new model exceeded goals and expectations for artist submissions. Numbers for 2018 will tell if this was as financially successful as it was creatively successful!

southern staff

The Southern Staff posing for the Fractured Atlas Arts Entrepreneurship Awards, which the organization was awarded in 2017

For me, it was personally exciting and rewarding to work with the people of The Southern: staff, board, and artists as well. The Business Association is a small operation, and I’m grateful to have an extended co-working family via our clients, neighbors, and member businesses.

The Southern is now on to its next phase of transition, and recently announced the hire of Janette Davis as Acting Executive Director. As we phase our responsibilities out, the Business Association is working to get new staff up to speed. We are happy we were able to help them through a rough period, and are excited that we are still able to support the venue as we market the West Bank district.

If you see staff at The Southern, be sure to give them a hug or high five! They carried the weight of an intense workload during a very long transition and have more hard work ahead as they work on the priorities long-term leadership is truly able to tackle. The 2018 season is now well underway, and it’s a beautiful and compelling mix of artists and performers. You can find out more about The Southern, its history, the staff, and upcoming shows on the website at:

West Bank, Minneapolis, Business services

West Bank Business Services 

Building strong, vibrant businesses on the West Bank!

“When you buy from a small business you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey…” 

West Bank Business Association’s small business services program is made possible thanks to generous support of WBBA members, the City of Minneapolis Great Streets Business District Support and Business Technical Assistance programs, the McKnight Foundation, Minneapolis Foundation, and Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation. You can find out more at:

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