The first thing Anne Sears says about the Princeton Area Arts & Cultural Consortium is that it is very democratic. She is not the head of it, nor the president, nor any other title. She is just an integral part of an organization trying to become an integral part of the region.
Without a board, a rank structure, or even a physical address, PAACC pools the resources, talents, and business savvy of its 42 member organizations to promote its brand. It does not collect dues and it meets only once every other month or so. It manages to get its jobs done purely through the collaboration of its members, whom Sears says do it mostly for the love of the arts.
But beneath its democratic ideals, PAACC is aware of the bottom line. Its member groups comprise an array of regional arts, history, and culture organizations that vary greatly in their budgetary freedoms. Some members, like Westminster Choir College, where Sears is director of external affairs, or Princeton University, have more money than, say, the West Windsor Arts Council. Democracy, Sears says, steps in to help less flush members get their agendas promoted, share costs, and cross-promote in order to bolster the region’s cultural profile. And if the consortium does not have a website, it at least has a logo to be attached to members’ publications and events.
PAACC itself is trying to boost its name recognition through the Mid-Summer Marketing Madness event happening at the Green on Palmer Square on Tuesday, July 15, at 5 p.m. Sponsored by the Princeton Chamber and the Bank of Princeton, the free evening is in its second year and expects several hundred visitors. Music and free food samples from local eateries will be available to everyone. The event also gives area businesses a chance to network among vendors. For more information visit www.princetonchamber.org or call 609-924-1776, ext. 105. Information about PAACC is available by calling Sears at 609-921-7100, ext. 8202.
The idea behind PAACC began about four years ago when Sears and some colleagues went to an arts day sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th) in Washington, D.C. The gathering of disparate arts organizations inspired the group, which then got together with the Princeton Chamber to find out how to unite the region’s own arts groups. Around the same time, many of Princeton’s historical sites, such as the Morven Museum on Stockton Street, were attempting a similar enterprise. The groups got together to form the consortium as a subdivision of the Princeton Chamber.
The consortium’s first major collaboration was “Holidays In Princeton” in 2006, a collaboration to boost shopping in downtown Princeton. PAACC also turned a grant from the state Department of Travel & Tourism into a web presence, www.revolutionaryprinceton.com, its logo, and some banners to hang along Nassau Street, says Martha Wolf, executive director at Morven and another key player in the development of PAACC.
Part of what Wolf wants PAACC to accomplish is an awareness among its members as to what’s happening — and when — in the area. The idea, she says, is to link destinations and events so people visiting Princeton and its neighbors will be able to plan out their days. Morven is a small museum, Wolf says, and people would have plenty of time to do something else in town after a visit there.
Using Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar), PAACC is building an internal database of dates and events so that member groups will be able to plan events complementing each other, or at the very least, keep from tripping over each other. “Who wants to see two big fundraisers within a week of each other?” Sears asks.
Though not available to the public, the calendar has accomplished two things for PAACC: it has improved communication among its members (a founding goal for the consortium) and made it possible to keep track of information without internal bureaucracy. No one specifically has to maintain a database. Members can check calendars, add or remove events, and plan schedules independently.
Most recently, PAACC members collaborated to promote the 225th anniversary of Princeton as the capitol of the United States.
Sears says PAACC is using Mid-Summer Marketing Madness to cull interest from other area arts and culture groups and to spark interest among everyday people who might not realize what there is available to them. For example, a lot of adults took music lessons as kids. They have no interest in being concert hall performers or members of symphonies, but they still like to get together and play with other capable musicians. There are plenty of choirs, chamber music groups, and ensembles in the area and nearly a half-dozen at Westminster alone. Sears hopes to make more people aware of such things across the spectrum of art and culture.
Getting the word out is nothing new to Sears. After getting her bachelor’s in English from Trenton State College in 1979, Sears did PR work for Cybis Porcelain in Trenton until the mid-’80s. She then took over public relations for Westminster. Her love of music — something she shared with her father, a steelworker from central Pennsylvania — has kept her happy for 22 years, in what she calls “the best job in the world.” Her mother was a battlefield nurse in World War II, whose experiences at the Battle of the Bulge and after the D-Day invasions turned her into a lifelong — and quite-dedicated — pacifist. Sears is one of three children and the first in her family to graduate from college.
Sears says the next avenues PAACC is looking to tread is a directory of venues, providing such information as capacity, ticket prices, facilities specifics, and schedules. “Collaboration will be the key,” she says. “But I’m already impressed by how willing everyone in this group is to do something.”