CAA Putting Diversity Center Stage

March 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Beyoncé, the Pussycat Dolls, Daddy Yankee, Sade, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Brian McKnight and Yolanda Adams are a just small sample of the artists the city's young African-Americans would like to see and hear at DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena.

"They said, 'Bring the acts and we'll find the money to go,'" said Skot Welch of Diversity Management Strategists, one of two local firms that are conducting an outreach initiative for the Convention and Arena Authority.

The older African-Americans who took part in the focus groups held last December also wanted Beyoncé to be booked here, and they added such headliners as Jennifer Hudson and Oprah Winfrey to their wish lists.

Both age groups wanted more boxing, comedy and family shows.

"The suggestions for events and entertainers were very wide-ranging. They were all over the place," said Joe Jones of Strategic Communications Group.

And regardless of whether they fell into the 18-to-25-year-old group or those ages 28 to 55, all wanted to feel more accepted when they visit downtown's entertainment district.

"The restaurants and nightspots surrounding the arena and DeVos Performance Hall were not conducive to their liking," said Jones.

"They want the whole downtown area to be more welcoming," added Welch.

Welch said some of the younger respondents reported that downtown's marketing message, "Keep It A Secret," held a double meaning for them in that it wasn't inclusive enough. They said downtown needs to be presented as a more "cosmopolitan and inclusive community."

"They also suggested that more cultural awareness was needed in (arena) staff," said Welch.

But the results weren't all negative. The focus group members felt cultural relations had improved downtown since the arena opened 11 years ago, and they said they wanted to make that relationship better.

"There is a willingness among both groups to do their part and become ambassadors," said Jones.

"There is a great sense of pride throughout the community for these two venues. I think there definitely was a feeling of progress. They're finding the atmosphere more friendly," said Welch.

A few other findings from the focus groups were:

  • The CAA needs to use different communication channels to reach the different age groups. Younger African-Americans cited myspace.com and text messaging, while the older ones named e-mail, radio, TV and newspapers as good channels.
  • The CAA needs to recruit more people of color for the board, leadership positions and management roles.
  • The CAA needs to develop a strategy to make the cost of events more affordable, either by holding ticket prices down or enhancing the price of an event with an incentive like dinner before a concert.

Recommendations, though, on what the CAA should do to strengthen its outreach effort won't be coming for a while. Jones and Welch will conduct similar meetings with members of the city's Latino population this month, and then get those results to the board before they write a final report.

"The outcome we're trying for is to reach an untapped market," said CAA Chairman Steven Heacock.

CAA member Clif Charles, who has taken the lead on this project for the board, said he hoped the final report would offer three or four concrete recommendations the panel could use to get minorities to attend more events at both buildings.

"We have been working diligently on learning what we have to do to be more diverse," said Charles.

The CAA hired the firms headed by Jones and Welch last fall to direct its outreach effort and to provide insight into what would attract minority races to the hall and the arena.

"A big part of the success is people actually seeing some things getting done," said Charles. "But before we can run with this, we've got to take some smaller steps."    

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