Everything is bigger in Texas: Just ask the 66 Levitt network members who, in early October, touched down in Arlington for the 2023 Levitt Group Site Visit, curated and hosted by the Levitt Foundation and Levitt Pavilion Arlington. Over three action-packed days, attendees hailing from Friends of Levitt nonprofits across the country experienced first-hand the sizable charms of Texas—including big cattle and bigger stadiums.
Grandest of all, however, were the authentic connections and conversations among Friends of Levitt board members and staff from different regions, who had the opportunity to share learnings, best practices, and inspiration. Year after year, the Levitt Foundation group site visits provide a valuable opportunity for attendees to experience in real-time how other Levitt stages build community through music.
“These events always help us adapt ideas for our venue or solve challenges in a new way, thanks to another site’s lessons learned,” said Jessi Whitten, Levitt Pavilion Denver’s Director of Marketing and Audience Development, who has joined numerous Levitt group site visits in the past. “We return from every one having learned by example, and in a way that positively impacts our organization.”
Booked & Busy: An Itinerary Packed with Insights
During the site visit, attendees representing Friends of Levitt nonprofits in Denver, Sioux Falls, S.D., Dayton, Ohio, Los Angeles, Bethlehem, Pa., and developing Levitt sites in Houston and San Jose, Calif., gained insights into the role Levitt Arlington plays in strengthening the city’s multicultural social fabric, as well as feedback on how Levitt network members can build on their own creative placemaking strategies.
Day one of the site visit commenced on Friday with an afternoon trip to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, followed by conversations over dinner at entertainment hub Texas Live!, then a night of country music performed by country acts Prophets and Outlaws and Alex Aguilar at Levitt Arlington. Saturday began with breakfast at Levitt Arlington’s event space, the Levitt Center, followed by ice breakers and an all-encompassing tour of the venue. Attendees then reconvened for a Q&A session hosted by Levitt Arlington Executive Director Letitia Teykl.
Saturday continued with a tour of AT&T Stadium (home to the Dallas Cowboys) followed by Levitt Arlington’s second annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration, an exuberant fiesta complete with diverse audiences and sounds, artisanal vendors, and food trucks lined up along Downtown Arlington’s main street. The joyous energy of Saturday night flowed into Sunday morning when attendees enjoyed their last moments of sharing insights and stories over the farewell brunch.
The weekend’s discussions bubbled with great questions, thoughtful answers, compelling anecdotes, and strategic recommendations. Common themes included the interplay between community opportunities and challenges, development, and placemaking; reframing missteps as change mechanisms; and maximizing impact through creating social bonding and bridging opportunities.
A Change of Heart in the Heart of the City: The Journey of Levitt Pavilion Arlington
Saturday’s Friends of Levitt session, presented by Levitt Arlington’s Letatia Teykl, detailed the economic deterioration of downtown Arlington during the second half of the 20th century, and stories of the community members and leaders who led efforts to bring new life to their neighborhood.
Fast forward to now: At the center of Arlington’s downtown revitalization is the Levitt Pavilion, which opened in 2008 to bring the community together through free music experiences. Located at Founders Plaza, located directly across from Arlington’s recently expanded City Hall, the venue presents more than 50 free outdoor concerts every year and is considered the crown jewel of downtown Arlington, bringing joy to hundreds of thousands of people since its opening, and sparking renewed pride of place and economic opportunity in the downtown.
Reflecting its considerable impact as a cultural hub for the entire city, in 2020 Levitt Arlington opened the Levitt Center overlooking the Levitt lawn—a 130-guest-capacity hospitality center complete with a terrace, a private, glass-enclosed suite, and a catering kitchen—perfect for local businesses, nonprofits, community groups and residents to host events.
“We want to be the facilitator of not just what we do, but what others in our community do,” noted Teykl. While the facility has been frequently booked for corporate and nonprofit events by local organizations, it’s also become a hit among local residents who have booked memorial services, weddings, fashion shows, baby showers, quinceañeras and beyond at the center.
Teykl’s reflections on Levitt Arlington’s journey over the years was especially helpful for attendees, as Meghan McNamara, Executive Director of Levitt Denver, which opened a half-decade ago, explained. “It was particularly inspiring to see a venue further along in its life with all the community investment, infrastructure, and operational practices developed over the last 17 years. The visit left me excited about the future and imagining what Levitt Pavilion Denver will be like a decade from now.”
Nuts & Bolts: Lessons in Building Community Through Music
Another great opportunity for Levitt venue board members and staffers to ask questions, share ideas, and reflect on successes and lessons learned was the comprehensive Levitt Arlington venue tour, guided by longtime Levitt Arlington Venue Operations & Production Director Richard Treat, who showed attendees the ropes of everything stage- and production-related at the venue.
Treat’s tour was particularly meaningful for board members of Levitt network’s developing venues in San Jose and Houston, as he shared best practices on technicalities and logistics, like audio and video rig set-ups, staffing and labor power, and more.
Beyond production, Treat and Teykl shared their insights on fundraising; establishing sustainable revenue streams; building long-term relationships with vendors; attracting new audience segments; and overcoming communications obstacles. Attendees living in bigger cultural hubs, like Denver, Houston and Los Angeles, were also able to exchange ideas over a particular shared challenge—standing out in a competitive market.
“A key learning for our team was that no matter where a Levitt venue is located there are unique challenges and nuances to navigate,” said Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles Executive Director Allegra Padilla. “Each city has its own things that compete for audience attention, so the storytelling ability of each venue, quality of experience, and compelling programming is central to drawing in support. The sessions really reinforced the importance of getting civic leaders and municipal entities to the table and engaged with the work of Levitt.”
Music for All: Creating Social Impact by Affirming Diverse Audiences
The site visit also provided attendees with ideas and recommendations for maximizing social impact and nurturing their community’s music ecosystem. For instance, Levitt Arlington’s “Share the Stage” Program is an opportunity for local musicians to gain support from their own neighbors by performing as opening acts on the Levitt stage, ultimately boosting the local music ecosystem and economy (for reasons like these, Arlington is a certified “Music Friendly Texas Community”). The Arlington team also offered pointers on how to develop relationships with untapped audiences, like local student populations.
Joyful connections were in abundance throughout the weekend, perhaps most notably during the Hispanic Heritage Celebration, when Arlington community members of all ages and backgrounds came together on the Levitt lawn. As a diverse city with a large Hispanic/Latinx and Black populations, along with a notable number of Asian and mixed-race residents, Levitt Arlington is serious about curating programming that’s culturally inclusive. Arlington Mayor Jim Ross is a fan, saying that cultural events in Arlington have “caught on like wildfire,” and believes the city is at its best when its community members are coming together to celebrate each other’s cultures.
All in all, the site visit was a wonderful opportunity for Friends of Levitt venue partners to come together, connect, and learn in community as they plan for the 2024 season.
“Levitt LA was thrilled to participate in the Arlington visit,” Padilla reflected. “Making time to connect with others who are doing similar work inspired us all to envision and strive for the best possible experience for all the artists, audience members, and people who are part of the work in fulfilling the mission of building community through music.”