Interview: Original Music Workshop's Founder, Kevin Dolan

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The result of a $15.6 million transformation of a 100-year-old sawmill factory at the corner of Williamsburg's North 6th Street and Wythe Ave, Original Music Workshop (OMW) is billed as a state-of-the-art performance venue, with a full broadcast studio and a modular rehearsal space for workshopping projects.

In order to get a better idea of the genesis of and programmatic philosophy behind OMW, which opens officially in September 2013, Q2 Music asked its founder Kevin Dolan, a soft-spoken, former international tax attorney, a few questions. 

What was the turning point from an interest in music to beginning the complicated and costly process of creating this space?

I was composing, which is a tremendous experience but a very inward activity. So I was looking for a more outward experience. Since it’s too late to become a rock star, I became active in a non-profit summer music festival. Separately, I had taken on a couple of renovation projects, including restoring a 200-year old farmhouse — I have long had an interest in buildings, particularly old ones — so creating a music space seemed a natural progression. 

What makes OMW stand apart from other venues that present and promote new music? 

I would let Paola Prestini, our wonderful Creative Director, speak to how OMW’s programming might be different, although her explanation will likely include words like “global,” “cross-genre,” “multi-media,” and “interdisciplinary”. Putting programming aside, it’s that OMW will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to give artists a home to do everything they need to do to make and share their music: rehearse, record, perform, broadcast, webcast and more. And OMW will do all that in a space that has the acoustic quality of a top-tier recording studio and extraordinary aesthetics. So it’s not just a performance venue, and even as a performance venue, it not just another black box.

With such an active and diverse local music scene, how will OMW go about selecting artists and programming evenings?

OMW will select artists in a variety of ways. It will develop its own programming, but it will also draw from a vibrant community of curators who represent a variety of disciplines and have an international scope. OWM will supplement its own programming also by entering into collaborations, partnerships and exchanges with other national and international arts organizations and presenters who share OMW’s vision and bring their artists to our community. On all of these programming fronts, OMW will seek input from an Artistic Advisory Committee that will include a rich, diverse cross section of artists and cultural leaders.

How would you define the 21st-century composer and does OMW's expanded functionality and community engagement play into this definition?

Paola has educated me on the notion of the 21st Century artist, because she is one. Her definition is an artist who exhibits depth and rigor in craft, who is (to various degrees) part entrepreneur, teacher and activist. Our partnerships and groups-in-residence will reflect these values and will be involved in mentoring younger artists and in our “Next Steps” program. Through this program, OMW will provide emerging artists with facilities and programmatic support, including a professionally designed career development program, mentoring by established artists to curate and/or perform with emerging talent (an Established-Emerging Model), as well as production, recording, performance and commissioning opportunities.

How does the presentation of 21st Century concert music need to evolve so that it meets the needs of composers and continues to be relevant?

This is really Paola’s question, and here are her main points:

  • The presentation of 21st Century concert music needs to be constantly redefined in order to remain fresh. Audiences need to be presented with new ways to experience music — both on-site in an informal atmosphere with multi-media capabilities and off-site through new communications technologies. 
  • Program offerings need to reflect a wide range of programs, opening all genres to interpretation and total experimentation.
  • Programming needs to be more collaborative. To that end, OMW will offer a collaborative relationship with artists and arts organizations, and encourage a collaborative culture among artists and organizations, which will bring together disparate voices across a vast interdisciplinary community and explore and develop unexpected creative synergies. 
  • Programming needs to try to make connections between concert music and the community in which it thrives, while pushing the envelope and constantly looking and connecting to the global scene. Finding this balance between our immediate and local community and a more international one is a goal that we are excited to tackle.

How does OMW aim to address the perennial concerns over classical music’s shrinking audience and increasingly fractured landscape?

Our modest efforts won’t solve those concerns, but OMW will provide a place for artists with a 21st Century mentality – artists who, in their own ways, are navigating those problems. In addition, the design and location of the venue, as well as our focus on new and experimental music, are intended to attract listeners, especially younger ones, who may not be inclined to visit Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall.

How do you see your role at OMW evolving once the investment capital has been raised and OMW is well into its first concert season?

We will have a deeply experienced management and operational staff. I will likely relegate myself to performing unglamorous tasks often performed by an executive director — tracking the financials, dealing with insurance, taxes, a variety of powers-that-be and, more generally, problems. From a Board perspective, I’ll certainly be heavily involved in organizational governance, fundraising and strategic planning.  

What are your measures of success for OMW?

For me that’s an easy one. Putting aside the obvious, that OMW survive financially, success will be measured by whether the place is crazy busy with all sorts of creative, talented musicians rehearsing, recording and performing and whether the musicians love being there. I know that it’s also important that the programming be viewed as having merit in terms of creativity, artistic rigor,and so on, but I know that will largely follow if we succeed on the other fronts. I think if we can build a real home, it will become a destination.