How to plan a knockout Artist Series in Macky Auditorium
Joan McLean Braun has served as executive director for CU Presents since 2001—taking over the helm of the Artist Series when CU Presents was still CU Concerts. Under her artistic vision, audiences in Macky Auditorium have experienced groundbreaking performances from Bobby McFerrin, Martha Graham Dance Company, Yo-Yo Ma and dozens of other award-winning icons across genres.
But the process of curating a complete Artist Series lineup begins long before patrons step into the theatre. Season planning is full of as many highs, lows and emotional moments as any live performance Boulder residents might see onstage.
It all begins with a list of names.
Early on, McLean Braun starts will a short list of artists she’s hoping to bring to Macky. “Short” is relative, of course, because the list typically has about three times as many names on it as the Artist Series has dates to fill. This is her favorite part, she says.
She starts with a few anchors, or “must-have” artists, whom she’s willing to shape the rest of the season around. Sometimes, the anchors have been on the short list for years.
“Yo-Yo Ma had been on our offer list for at least a decade. We just kept saying, ‘We’re here!’ and waiting,” she shares with a laugh and a big wave of her hands.
Then, after attending conferences with other area presenters and speaking with agents across the globe, she begins to fill in the holes between her anchors. McLean Braun collaborates with CU faculty and presenters from Fort Collins and Denver to put together a lineup that is both efficient for curators and inspiring for audiences.
And if a nice, long list of potential acts is McLean Braun’s favorite part, the winnowing process is her nemesis. Sometimes a booked artist will cancel their tour entirely. Or sometimes Macky’s historic features aren’t a match with the technical needs of otherwise incredible performers. Sometimes an agent suggests a tour that bounces from Dallas up to Boulder and back down to Houston. She often has to simply say no—or at least, “Not this year.”
It’s a long process to piece the puzzle together, she says, and one she wishes she had more control over.
“I keep wishing that I were designing the Artist Series events like a box of chocolates. ‘Oh, this one goes here. Yep. This needs to go there.’ But it’s not like that. There’s an extremely challenging practical element to planning.”
Even so, it’s not all hiccups and headaches. The incredibly varied genres of the CU Presents Artist Series works in her (and audiences’) favor.
“I can be nimble. I know I want at least three classical events. Then dance, jazz, world music … Sure, it’s got a little bit of a repeating pattern to the things that I’m looking to balance. But it’s flexible enough that I can take advantage of what’s going to be going around, too.”
Eventually, some time around January in any given year, the stars align and another season packed with knockout performers comes together. Regardless of what genres are represented at Macky each year, McLean Braun knows she can always rely on one constant: Every artist or production in the Artist Series is of the highest level of talent.
“It’s great being a multidisciplinary presenter because, really… All things are possible for us.”