The final session of the arts marketing conference let out at noon. We were on our own for lunch in Louisville before we scattered back to the many corners of the country from whence we'd come. I could have chosen any one of a number of chain restaurants, TGIFridays to McDonald's. I drove south from downtown, finally stopping at the corner of 1st and Oak: Ermin's Bakery and Cafe.
I'm not sure why I chose Ermin's over the national brands. Ermin's would be, if nothing else, a complete surprise.
I ordered the half-sandwich, side and drink, tailoring it with the sweet ham on sourdough with Caribbean vegetables on the side. The woman who asked for my order also prepared it and rang me up.
As soon as I sat down, a little late rush came through. About eight people slipped in out of the rain and sang out greetings to the staff. One gentleman called out his order as he walked in, but the staff already knew what he wanted. When I stepped up to order a lemon square I didn't need, a couple was chatting with the woman who had served me.
Why am I rambling on about some little cafe in Louisville? Because of the conference. The constant theme of the National Arts Marketing Project conference seemed to be that we, as consumers, seek the personal experience. I had just found it at Ermin's. I didn't realize I had been looking for that. I just knew that wherever I went for lunch had to be a new experience for me. As experiences go, it was small. But I'd never been to Ermin's before in my life, and probably will never get a chance to go back. So I savored it.
My wife of seven years moved in with me in the University area, having lived on the West Side. As we've explored the area together, she's found lots of new favorite restaurants: The Cube, Saggio's, Bailey's on the Beach, Zinc, La Provence. She's decided that all of these restaurants — all local — provide interesting and unique experiences, meals she can't get anywhere else.
There are a lot of different ways to be local, certainly. While many ballet companies here and across the country will begin performing "The Nutcracker" soon, each has a different cast, a different set, a different accompanying orchestra (live or pre-recorded). The Albuquerque Little Theatre production of A Christmas Story will be very different from the Actor's Theatre of Louisville production of the same show.
Even at Popejoy, Blast! will be a different experience in our hall than it was in Nashville, where I saw it in September. The audience, the acoustics, the size of the stage, the angle of the lights — all will be different.
I'll be sharing some of what I learned from the National Arts Marketing Project conference with local arts groups on December 3. We'll be figuring out how to take the advice that comes out of a national conference and make it local. If you want to join us, drop me a line. I'm in the neighborhood.
Terry S. Davis