The Jewel of Downtown – Gallo Center for the Arts
Since 2007, Modesto has been treated to a wide variety of world-class musicals, plays, comedy, family-friendly theatrical experiences, music concerts and almost anything else you can name, all centered on one location: the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Over the last six years, this unique performing arts venue has become one of the treasures of the area, not only for what it brings to the stage, but for all of the benefits it brings to the city and county.
The idea of opening a performing arts center in downtown Modesto dates all the way back to 1997. That spring, Marie Gallo had been asked to assemble a research team of 20 community, business and public sector leaders to explore the feasibility of constructing a performing arts center with the capacity to bring high caliber entertainment and culture to the Central Valley. Ten years later, after many setbacks—but even more generosity—the Gallo Center opened its grand doors on I Street between 10th and 11th Streets in Modesto.
“In the first couple of years the Center was open, it was struggling financially,” admits Lynn Dickerson, who has served as CEO of the Gallo Center for the Arts since 2009. According to Dickerson, the issue was programming. The Center had “the kind of artsy, esoteric things you’d expect to see at the Mondavi Center in Davis. It didn’t resonate with the audience in our community.”
Under Dickerson’s leadership, the Center has shifted its programming to reflect the tastes of the community, from adding well known comedians and local theatre performances, to booking country stars and family-friendly shows. These changes are all underpinned by extensive market research, says Doug Hosner, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Center. “The Gallo Center has always been proactive about getting great patron research. Understanding the community and what they want to see, what they’re willing to pay for a ticket and what they’re not willing to pay for. The programming choices that Lynn and the team have made have adhered to the research.”
“In 2009, our market penetration was at just 5%,” adds Hosner. This miniscule market impact was at the heart of the Center’s financial woes. “Now we’re up over 25%. I think [this growth] has a lot to do with programming. Listening to the community and making choices that are appealing to them.”
According to Dickerson, the Center continually refines its programming to ensure that each season includes the shows that the community wants to see. “We tweak it every year. We continue to learn lessons,” says Dickerson. “But I sometimes say we’re in the gambling business. Every show we book is a gamble. There are no guarantees here!”
This was made clear during the 2011/2012 season, when the Center’s lineup of Broadway shows—usually a big winner with the market—all performed poorly. However, Dickerson says the Center managed to end the season in the black thanks to some big hits, including sellout shows in June by YouTube phenoms The Piano Guys. The family-friendly performers drew attendees from all over the western United States, including Marianne Arden, who drove from Sebastopol for the show. “It was almost a three-hour drive, and absolutely worth it!” says Arden. “We were amazed by the beauty and sophistication of the Gallo Center. We greatly enjoyed the concert, ticket prices were reasonable, we had fabulous seats, the volunteers were helpful and friendly, parking was easy—we couldn’t have been more pleased!”
“It was us listening to people that gave us the idea of booking that show,” says Dickerson, indicating that outreach on social media plays an increasingly large role in each season’s booking. “We try to use all of these different avenues to listen to people and find out what our market is interested in.”
Economic Impact of the Center
The Center’s research goes far beyond Facebook polls, though. This past year, a grant from the Irvine Foundation allowed the performing arts center to conduct an economic impact analysis that has revealed the true depth of the Center’s impact on the Central Valley.
According to the report, the Gallo Center attracted around 150,000 people to events during 2012. On average, many of these visitors spent over $80 per trip in non-ticket expenditures, which includes everything from meals at local restaurants to payment for downtown parking lots. For overnight visitors—which make up around 3% of attendees—that number jumps to just over $275, including hotel stays, multiple meals and fuel costs. “I really think that many of our downtown restaurants and businesses wouldn’t have survived the recession had the Gallo Center not opened when it did,” says Dickerson. “It ripples out way more than the average person thinks about.”
The research also revealed that the Gallo Center for the Arts has a $10 million spending footprint and has created around 100 jobs for the community since its construction. “Not only are we a cultural hub of the region that provides this really wonderful cultural experience, we really are a strong economic engine for the whole area,” says Dickerson.
According to Dickerson, early indicators say that the 2013/2014 season, which formally kicks off this month with a one-night-only performance by legendary singer Johnny Mathis, will be the best the Center has ever experienced. Early ticket sales are far ahead of previous seasons and many of the high profile shows—including Mathis and a show by virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman—are already sold out or very close to it.
“We’re selling shows earlier now, and the research shows it,” says Hosner. “The number of purchases made more than 30 days out is just inching up. People are getting the idea that they have to buy early to make sure they can see a show they want.” Gone are the days when one could just drop in to the box office after dinner and still get tickets for that night’s performance.
“I say it all the time when I’m talking about buying tickets for our big shows,” says Dickerson. “Thou shalt not procrastinate!”
And with each ensuing season of Gallo Center programming, Dickerson’s commandment becomes ever more true. If you want to see world class programming right here at home, don’t forget to buy early.
To find out more about the Gallo Center for the Arts or to get tickets to one of the season’s upcoming shows, visit GalloArts.org or call the box office at (209) 338-2100.