Delray Beach’s Old School Square defies categorization. Is it a theater? A museum? An amphitheater? It’s all those things (and more) wrapped in a historic setting. A cornerstone of the city’s cultural milieu since the early 1990s, Old School Square is today made up of venues like the Crest Theatre, Cornell Art Museum, and Pavilion outdoor stage. This season, the Crest Theatre will host many full productions, including the musicals Avenue Q (December 16-18) and Xanadu (February 17-19).
“Old School Square is evolving to become an arts and entertainment park,” says president and CEO Rob Steele. “We are a warm and welcoming green space and a respite from the rigors of Atlantic Avenue.”
Steele took the helm of Old School Square in 2015, after serving as executive director of the Williamsport Community Arts Center in Pennsylvania for 10 years. Below, he chats with PBI.com about the present and future of this beloved arts institution.
PBI.com: You’ve been at Old School Square for a year now. What appealed to you about the job and what made you excited to accept the role?
Steele: When I first became aware of the position at Old School Square, I began a fairly comprehensive study online to try to fully understand the history of the institution and its role in the community. I was abundantly impressed by the rich history of the organization and the tirelessly dedicated people who brought the dream to reality. I was also impressed by the indefatigable commitment of the community to this unique venue. I can say with confidence that the most appealing aspect of the position was what I perceived then and still perceive to be limitless possibilities to help grow the organization and the base of support.
What went into last year’s name change from The Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square to just Old School Square?
When people in Pennsylvania asked me where I was going I had to tell them, “I am going to be the president and CEO at The Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square.” I realized it was quite a mouthful and actually had to write it on my arm to remember it. I met with Ryan Boylston from Woo Creative [a brand identity and marketing firm] on my fourth day on the job, and we hit it off instantly. He came back a few days later with the concept of retro-branding to Old School Square and it made perfect sense to me. In fact, it has made sense to everyone and has been a very welcome change on all fronts.?
Continue to page 2 to find out what season offerings Steele is most looking forward to.
What lessons from you first year on the job are you taking into the 2016-17 season?
Long walks on the beach are a great way to cope with stress. The multidimensional demands of leading a multidisciplinary campus are absolutely daunting. I have learned that Old School Square functions chiefly by the resiliency of its talented and ridiculously dedicated staff. On paper it should not be possible to accomplish so much with so few. The best thing I can do as we roll into a much larger, a la carte menu–style season is to continually pay homage to our incredibly hard working staff who somehow make everything work.
What season offerings are you most looking forward to?
I have traditionally always liked to let everyone know, with a wink and a smile, what I consider to be the best “sleeper shows.” In the 2016-2017 season, you should do everything in your power to not miss One Funny Mother, VoicePlay, Kobie Boykins, The Doo Wop Project, Shades of Bublé, The State Ballet Theatre of Russia, and The Rhythmic Circus. If you attend any of these shows and don’t like them, I will wash and vacuum your car for you—some restrictions may apply.
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia dances The Tchaikovsky Christmas Spectacular at the Old School Square Pavilion December 26.
What have you done and what do you still intend to do to attract new audiences to Old School Square?
I have always believed in the process of garnering an understanding of the people who live in our community and trying to discern where their interests in entertainment lie. You need to learn pretty early on in this business that it is simply not about your own personal tastes in entertainment. You need to develop a feel for every pocket of your market and find appropriate acts at affordable prices. The second step is to find effective ways to communicate with people. Everyone has very busy schedules and we are competing for people’s time and money. We have to have exceptional offerings to get people off the couch. It is no easy task, but we have become quite adept at it over the years.
How will you grow Old School Square in the coming years?
We hope to expand the scope and scale of our arts-education programming to include glass, pottery, and the culinary arts. The Cornell Museum will undergo a metamorphosis to become one of the most talked about museums in South Florida. We are also headlong into a process of activating the campus as a launch pad to promote local musical talent on a consistent basis.