Jim Murphy: Local Horizons, Local Hopes
Written by Richard Beach on May 28, 2021
Jim Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Corporate Relations for the Proctors Collaborative. He’s agreed to answer some questions about the arts, the past year and who knows what else. Thanks for joining.
RRX: Today, you are mostly known for your work in the not for profit world. However, you have a career that also includes for profit media. What was it that lead you to move from the commercial world to, now, a Director at a large Arts Organization?
JM: I was in newspaper journalism most of my career and at some point had decided I wanted to find a path to become publisher at a daily. I worked my way up – newsroom, online operations, advertising sales leadership positions – locally and nationally – and eventually I became a publisher. Murphy’s law: I became a publisher at the very start of last recession. The decline of the newspaper business had been underway for a time but the newspaper companies accelerated the process during a recession: hedge funds bought everything and squeezed revenue to recoup their investments. I managed three different newspaper groups at different times – over 60 publications in 30 communities in New York and Illinois mostly, with a couple small Pennsylvania properties. The jobs were brutal – cutting expenses and reducing workforce constantly. I had several newspapers publishing five to six times a week with newsroom staffs of two or three. I had a daily newspaper in Illinois that reached less than 5 percent of households in their core market and when I looked at why – they had spent literally zero dollars on circulation promotion for several years and before that, very little. So, I briefly took a newspaper job in the Capital Region with the goal of exiting the industry, and then the Proctors opportunity came along. The attitudes and focus of growing an organization versus squeezing blood from stone couldn’t have been different. I’ve been at Proctors Collaborative five and a half years now. I have to add, for decades most community newspapers were locally owned before they started getting sold to chains by second and third generation owners. I am hopeful someday that the tide will turn, and local ownership will return. It may not be in printed form but community journalism is essential to the health of America.
RRX: There is no denying that this past year has been a challenge for everyone. The arts have taken a hit, not only in terms of venues, but also the artists. First let’s delve into the venue side first. What would you consider the three most challenging parts of the last year from the venue side and why?
JM: First, keeping the venue structures viable – it takes a lot of money keep these buildings operating plus investments had to be made to upgrade things like air filtration before reopening. Two, it’s people. It was hard to see so many talented people be let go, and yet we had to find resources to fund salaries – albeit reduced – to have people to maintain the buildings, as well as to retain institutional memory needed to successfully reopen. I could name several other challenges but for a third I will go with maintaining morale for those who kept their jobs … it was very hard to see so many colleagues go, to withstand the months of uncertainty and even today there is trepidation about how we reopen with greatly reduced staffing.
RRX: Let’s turn that one around. What have your conversations been like with other promotors, artists and the like? Is there a theme other than the obvious economic issues?
JM: Safety is paramount … having the right protocols backstage and throughout the house. Next to that is a discussion around reinvention. Now is the time to change the structure of how we create, cast and produce shows. Every show, every theatre is looking at diversity and inclusion from every angle and there are new organizations such as The Theater Leadership Project and Black Theater Coalition who are helping create roadmaps for the industry’s future.
RRX: It is beginning to look like we will be able to have shows, whether it be musicals, plays, rock or small acoustic soon. Mounting a serious touring show of any kind is a major undertaking and will not happen overnight. Some show casts, like the late Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell production have been keeping their shops up on the material – how long do you believe it will be before those shows are available and what do you think will arrive first?
JM: Concerts are already back in states that opened early and they will be here before you know it; there are new announcements every day. All signs are that Broadway tours will remount as summer turns to fall. Producers are trying to get NYC theaters open by mid-September and at the same time recast, remount and reschedule road shows. Having all of this start-up activity happen all at once is unprecedented. We’ve already announced Proctors’ first show is SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical in December. Capital Repertory Theatre will mount productions this year; dates and titles will be announced soon. And we’ll have a busy second half of the year at Universal Preservation Hall; announcements there soon, too.
RRX: On a completely different topic – you are the co-owner Craft on Wheels. You have a ‘57 Ford F-100 customized with six taps and a cooler, pouring craft beverages at events. Anything custom of that vintage is a labor of love. Please tell us about that a bit.
JM: My daughter Erin brought me the idea. Two things appealed to me: For one, I always harbored the interest of going into the restaurant/bar business and this, while hardly the same thing, was way to get into the hospitality world with little risk. Two, I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to work with my daughter; she is finishing up grad school now to become a physician’s assistant. No way she is going to ask me to going into the healthcare field with her (laughs) so this was the chance to work with her. We launched early 2020 as the world was shutting down – Murphy’s Law again – so the first year was a bust but things are going nicely now.
RRX: Thanks Jim – finally, as is my habit – are there any final words
you have that you would like to be remembered for – a message, a
thought? Something you believe is important.
JM: Support local music! Support local art! Support local!