By May S. Ruiz
At the northwest end of the Arcadia High School (AHS) campus stands the Arcadia Performing Arts Center (APAC), a 40,000 square-foot venue that was funded by Bond Measure 1 which passed in 2006. The $20 million structure opened in 2012 and the non-profit Arcadia Performing Arts Foundation (APAF) was created to maintain and manage it.
It is the hub for Arcadia High School students who are taking courses in the various art offerings. Any time during the day kids can be seen practicing with their band in the parking lot while another group hangs out at the lobby waiting for their rehearsal to begin.
In the evenings APAC is transformed to host performances by renowned American and international artists. The 2017-2018 season, with its slate of 16 productions, draws an audience that comes to Arcadia from different cities in the San Gabriel Valley.
With its state-of-the-art facilities, APAC is an important cultural destination and is the venue for touring artist concerts, recitals, distinguished speakers, special events, and commercial filming. Booked for 257 days of the year, it is the busiest performing arts center in the area, surpassing even that of the Pasadena Playhouse and the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
It is also a youth talent incubator that makes great art accessible, a descriptor that Maki Hsieh, APAF’s Executive Director, would like the APAC to live up to in every sense.
Hsieh, who was installed in January 2017, spent her first hundred days in office doing an assessment analysis. She explains, “I worked from the inside out, meeting with key stakeholders including Arcadia philanthropist Micky Segal, Mayor Peter Amundson, former Mayor Tom Beck, AUSD superintendent David Vannasdall, the PTA president, and every single board member to get their private perspective on how things were going.
Then I met with other community leaders, community partners, guests, and patrons before venturing outward to other people in the industry, like the Association of Performing Art Centers, to see how we compare with them. I spoke with some of our competitors to gauge how we can do better and obtain dominant market share that would, in turn, help us attract donors, funders, and grant makers.
After that 100-day assessment period I decided on what I want APAC to look like as a foundation and determined our place in the region – from the component of the board all the way down to our staff, including their specific titles and compensation structure – by our 10th, 20th, and even 50th anniversary. I presented to the board our vision going forward together with plans for making changes.”
When Hsieh speaks with her team she emphasizes the four pillars of a successful organization – people, product, process, and profit. She asserts, “These are not something I made up but came from a quote by Steve Forbes I read a long time ago in the Wall Street Journal. He said there are only three things important in business and those are product, profit, and people. While he made an excellent point, I think he’s got it backwards. I would put people first because they make the product; you have to customize your product around your people. I mean ‘people’ in its broadest sense – your guests, team, board, city, community, and the industry. Then the process has to be solid to have that fulfillment and delivery. The end is the profit and that’s the whole P&L aspect including expenses, operational issues, etc. You can track and calibrate these four components in a very dynamic way in order to succeed. That formula works for any organization from a coffee shop to a major corporation.”
Hsieh’s first year as Executive Director can be defined by the word ‘quality.’ She expounds, “This past year we increased the quality of our product, the front of house, the production understanding, our VIP events. Our VIP hospitality went up 50 percent and ticket sales increased 120 percent within one year. Ticket sales now cover 53 percent of our expenses while the industry average is 38 percent. That says a lot about the team for finding creative ways to cut costs.
We improved the quality of our marketing in the sense that we’re really starting to have a brand. Before we had four shows here and there, almost at random; there was no plan, no story, no infrastructure. Productions cost money to put on so how do you make money when there’s no fundraising or grant program in place? There were so many missing pieces and the quality piece was one of those.
Now we’re showing the community we have a passion for furthering the next generation and the future of the valley. We want to be known as an impact-driven social organization, not just a performance group. We do life-changing work; we’re here to touch every person who comes through our doors.
We’re determined to increase the quality of life of families and children in need. We donate tickets to underserved children so they can come to our shows; we give them raffle tickets to participate so they don’t feel like outsiders.
We’re enhancing the quality of life for seniors. For example there’s a senior center whose residents want to come to our show but they don’t have a driver to take them here every other month. We coordinated with them and offered assistance by providing a driver to drive their vans.
We’re extremely serious about our outreach. Working with Foothill Unity Center, we’re very actively raising awareness on poverty, hunger, and homelessness. We are donating a show to them called Arcadia Poetry Slam on April 8. High school students will compete for prizes.”
Continues Hsieh, “Going into my second year, in addition to quality I want all of us to focus on loyalty. By that I mean high affinity and returning guests. We want our guests to go beyond buying a $10 ticket; we want them to come back and not necessarily for a show. It could be in the form of a donation or support, sponsoring a show for a school.
I spent 80 percent of my time last year on marketing and operations and this year I will devote that time on fundraising, which is tied into loyalty. There’s a large corporation in our town that gives $1,000 for an ad to which they can easily add a couple of zeroes. They were able to do that for an Olympic sponsorship so surely they can invest in our community.
Their donation goes directly to our children. APAC has a $400,000 venue capital need for new microphones, speakers, and lighting which are now falling apart and are put together by duct tape. We also have an Arcadia Children’s Choir which we are ready to launch that gives children an opportunity to perform with a professional orchestra twice a year. And, finally, the school district needs to hire arts teachers from K to 5.
Tied into fundraising is looking for grants which are not easy to get. This year we will be collaborating with Rachel Repko to write grants. With her assistance we will create a grant program that involves getting one gift at a time. We won’t be seeing results right away but we will be increasing perception about the organization until people see that we’re building long-term sustainability.”
Another one of Hsieh’s initiatives is to attract bigger productions. She says, “Our General Manager for Programing and National Sponsors, John Nicholas, headed EMI Sales and Marketing before it was bought out by Universal. He has toured and worked with major artists in the industry including Katy Perry, Pink Floyd, Tears for Fears, and Rolling Stones. He will pitch the idea that APAC is a campus theater, a showcase for students, and serves all the children in the community. He will try to get performers at 50 percent off their price so we can, in turn, offer discounted ticket prices to children. Because he knows the artists, their agents, and managers they will be willing to negotiate with him.”
All of Hsieh’s efforts are focused on offering children and young people a way to express themselves and gain confidence in their talent. She pronounces, “We were recently nominated for the ‘Make Change Award’ because the core of our work is dedicated to children. Helping children develop their artistic talent and perform at world-class level has always been the heartbeat of the foundation. We encourage the inclusion of arts in children’s daily school activities.
Students in the Arcadia Unified School District are integrated in all our shows. They’re an essential part of the production either as interns or volunteers; they work at the front of the house or as crew. Some of our interns are involved in our marketing process helping with concessions, handing out flyers, putting up posters.
We also provide them with a venue where they can showcase their talent. For the Chris Mann Gala Concert, which officially opened our 2017-2018 season, we integrated 165 students including Orchesis, which is the Arcadia High School (AHS) dance group, the AHS marching band, the AHS advanced orchestra, Arcadia Stage. All the resident youth companies of the center came together and performed at the event. For the Beatles Tribute Concert, held last Saturday, February 17, the Longley Way Elementary School Glee Club was featured alongside a professional tribute band.”
This greater involvement of students in the productions held at APAC is Hsieh’s deliberate effort to prove that the arts are fundamental components of a happy and successful school experience. She relates, “Since I came on board I have learned so much about the community. Arcadia has a 60 percent Asian population and parents want their children to focus on math and science. They send kids to ‘cram school’ to prepare for ACTs, SATs, APs and SAT IIs. Counselors at these schools tell their students they should drop their arts classes to make time for studying to get higher GPAs. They make it sound like arts courses are a waste of time which is simply erroneous.
Now all our shows will be opened by students from one particular school. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends can enjoy watching students’ accomplishments. Being on a professional production is something students can put on their resume as they build their portfolio for inclusion in their high school transcript. I want for families to recognize that participation in these events advances their children’s prospects for college and beyond.
But more than simply an entry in a college application, the arts occupy a far greater role. I am a firm believer in the positive impact of the arts in children’s development so much so that I have campaigned for the integration of visual and performance art courses in all the elementary schools in our district.
While the ancient Asian perception still carries on today, I am slowly hoping to change people’s minds about the importance and relevance of the arts in children’s lives. And my agenda is to make parents continue their investment in arts courses for their kids. That while they don’t see it now, their investment will yield positive results and change the perspective in our community.
APAC’s slogan is ‘Coming Together’ to highlight how the arts can be the bond that unites families in our community as it is the glue which connects us with other communities. We have strengthened our relationships with other school districts in the San Gabriel Valley.”
There’s so much going on at APAC it’s a hopping place. What’s surprising about that is Hsieh took the helm at APAF not that long ago. But what a change she’s made in that short time.
To say that Hsieh is an overachiever is a colossal understatement. At the age of 15 she debuted at the National Recital Hall for Taiwan’s First Lady. She has also performed for Queen Paolo of Belgium. She was classically-trained at Peabody as violinist, concert pianist, and opera singer who performs in 12 languages.
Hsieh attended the Taipei American School where she earned awards in orchestra, choir, theatre, poetry, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Speechwriting Prize. She went on to Phillips Academy Andover and served as concertmaster of two orchestras and received the Andover Music Prize.
From there Hsieh went to Johns Hopkins University and graduated with a degree in pre-med majoring in Sociology. She won the Hopkins Provost Prize for her research on inner-city youth academic achievement and worked for Al Gore as part of her Hopkins fellowship.
Extending her record of stunning achievements to her professional life, Hsieh was responsible for closing over 6.6 billion in sponsorships, investment banking, and new business development during her 20 years in media, entertainment, and finance industries.
Prior to her leadership of APAF, Hsieh was Executive Director for the private equity company JTN Group. She also had extensive experience in executive communications for the Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, institutional advancement as Director of Development at the Gallo Center for the Arts, and asset management for Fortune 500 corporations including Visa and Deutsche Bank.
A consummate performer, Hsieh made a 2013 Skrillex remix which made number one for five weeks on Los Angles, U.S., and global electronic music charts. She has appeared in a Cannes Film Festival film and in over 300 red carpet events, performing arts centers, festivals, and arenas including the Special Olympics World Games, and singing the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball Division Series televised on FOX Sports Network. Fittingly, she will unveil her album ‘New Moon’ on March 24 at APAC.
Hsieh is propelled with a determination to succeed in her role as overseer of this outstanding organization that is equaled only be her desire to prove that the arts are essential to life. Her mission is to make APAC the home of arts and culture in the San Gabriel Valley. And given her fiery spirit, she will undoubtedly make that happen.