Sal Prizio arrived in Concord just as winter was setting in. This is a time usually reserved for annual holiday shows and large public gatherings. Instead, he found himself navigating an industry still in crisis.
Now, as we head into summer, Prizio can finally see the city’s arts scene begin to re-emerge, and as the new executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts, he has an important role to play in helping bring the community together. Sarah Pearson from Around Concorde The magazine took the opportunity to ask Prizio about his arrival, the upcoming summer, and his long-term vision for the Capitol Center for the Arts and the smaller, newer Bank of NH Stage.
Around Concord: You arrived in Concord last November and your family soon after. What were your first impressions of the city?
Sal Price: My first impressions were very positive. I love the combination of the small town vibe with the access to many amenities found in big cities. Also the people here have been so welcoming and friendly. It’s great that your new home feels like home!
THAT : Can you tell us what prompted you to pursue a career in the arts and entertainment industry?
SP: I could talk about it for days, but it’s really my love of music and performance. I played in a rock band touring out of New York for years and always fed off the energy of an audience. When I decided it was time for a change, I knew I had to be passionate about what I did for a living. Being in a position to provide entertainment to a community is something I never tire of. It gets me out every morning with a smile on my face. Simply put, I love what I do.
THAT : Before working here, you were a programming manager and event producer for the Proctors Theater Collaborative in Schenectady, New York. How does that compare to what you’re doing here?
SP: At Proctors, I focused on one area, programming and production. It was a great experience, but being an Executive Director allows me to use all the infrastructure and resources for community development, access and inclusion. There are opportunities to effect change for this community in which the Capitol Center can play its part, and I am excited to help lead some of those changes.
THAT : As executive director of the Capitol Center, what does a typical day look like for you?
SP: There are no typical days. It’s one of the aspects of this job that I really enjoy, but I would say most of the days right now are about building new relationships in the community, addressing concerns, working with the team on innovative approaches to current issues and projecting positivity!
THAT : The Capitol Center for the Arts operates two venues, the larger 1,300-seat Chubb Theater and the Kimball House and the new, more intimate Bank of NH Stage in the former Concord Theater. How does the programming vision differ for these spaces?
SP: This is a great question that Sheree Owens (our Programming Director) and I regularly think about. The thing is, in a community the size of Concord, you have to think about places that serve your entire population. Of course, the BNHS will focus on promising young bands and artists who make sense in the space, but the mission of the organization must be to serve the whole community, so we have taken steps to diversify programming in the two spaces. Ideally, we want both venues to be eclectic and inclusive in what we offer the public. The vision is the same for both spaces. The path to achieving this vision differs based on capacity, fixed costs, etc.
THAT : What do you think the Capitol Center was doing long before you arrived that you hope to expand?
SP: The Capitol Center has a dedicated and enthusiastic support system. The citizens of Concord have truly banded together in a grassroots effort to save the building in a way you simply don’t see in many other places. The CCA has always been a client-focused organization. I want to make sure we foster that support and continue to leverage it through innovation and engagement.
THAT : Do you have any projects you are working on that you are particularly passionate about?
SP: We have a bunch of ongoing projects that we will be launching soon, but one that I’m particularly excited about is the Culinary Artists in Residence program that we will be launching in late 2022. To make a really long story short, we have two commercial kitchens that are underutilized and could be put to good use. We will work with members of the new American community to provide access to our spaces and introduce new entrepreneurs who have the desire but cannot afford to open their own physical location. They will have access to our kitchens for a fixed period of time, to start and run their own catering business through the Ghost kitchen model. This will give them the time and experience they need to build the following and earn the capital they need to open their own location. The city benefits from new culinary options and the CCA benefits from excellent food offers for our customers. It’s a win-win all around.
THAT : Are there any new directions you are looking to explore?
SP: There are so many new directions I’m excited to take this organization in. If you think of a performing arts center as a content provider and community builder, then whole new worlds of possibilities open up. In the coming months, we’ll be hosting interactive events, esports, podcasts, and presenting directly to our community outside our walls with the Market Days concert with Vertical Horizon on June 25th.
THAT : The coronavirus pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on arts venues. In particular, the Bank of NH Stage had only been open a few months before its doors were closed by stay-at-home orders. Now that the pandemic seems to be waning, what do you see as a way forward for venues?
SP: Like any other major global event in our history, change is being implemented much faster than normal. Performing arts centers must adapt quickly to this change to survive. I don’t believe we’ve gotten to a place where we’ve replaced the live experience, but what we need to do is adapt to deliver what the next generation of live event viewers want to attend . Tools like mobile ordering, cashless shopping, zoom contributor forums, and streaming performance are things we couldn’t have implemented just 3 years ago, yet they’re part of the process now. normal.
THAT : What was it like stepping into a new leadership role amid all the uncertainty the pandemic was bringing to business?
SP: Well, it’s definitely a test of my adaptability and multitasking. I arrived in December and by January we had canceled all performances to start the year. Despite the uncertainty surrounding us, my goal was to project down-to-earth positivity and keep the team encouraged. Better days were coming and in March we were back to full shows and happy customers. Someday I might look back on that and reflect on how intense it was to take on a new role in the midst of a pandemic, but going through this was a challenge that I loved.
THAT : Do you think there are things venues should consider doing to better prepare for any future disruptions?
SP: Diversifying how you deliver content to your community will be key to surviving future disruptions. If sites can deliver quality content online and manage to keep audiences engaged with or without the pandemic, they will be better positioned for a pandemic, an economic downturn, or whatever.
THAT : In what ways do you think the pandemic has changed public expectations of entertainment venues?
SP: The adaptation of technology has definitely been accelerated during the pandemic. I don’t think people would be surprised at all if a venue featured an “at home” series as part of their offerings now. The idea of a place having to be a traditional experience is gone.
THAT : Have you seen any different demands from performers lately or do they seem to be going back to “business as usual”?
SP: Most performers are back to normal, which provides some solid ground in otherwise rocky seas. It gives us a barometer of where we are when we take the temperature of the general state of things.
THAT : Just a few decades ago, Concord was dubbed the “Coma City” — especially compared to other New Hampshire towns like Portsmouth and Manchester. Many people have worked hard since then to help revitalize both downtown and the broader arts community. What do you think the city has done well to foster its arts scene? Where do you see room for improvement?
SP: The city has done a fantastic job of rebuilding the infrastructure and appearance of the city. Main Street used to be a two-lane road on each side that people simply walked on. Now having a lane on each side with the center in brick completely changes the vibe of the street. When you combine this with the investments the developers have made to restore the downtown buildings, it really gives the town a pleasant charm.
What I would like to see next is the incorporation of more art into the infrastructure. When you visit cities like Austin, NYC, or LA, murals and public art are an integral part of what makes the city vibrant. There are so many voices of up-and-coming artists in BIPOC who can be part of the future of this city and think about what kind of environment we can foster if some of these voices are part of the conversation. That’s what I’m excited to play a part in.