Open Class and Beyond

Arsenal’s journey began two years ago, with a 36-page business plan that turned into a 33-member SoundSport Team. Now, it continues with an application that will hopefully turn into membership in Drum Corps International’s Open Class.

A Lateral Move

SoundSport was incredibly beneficial to our program; it enabled us to gain a foothold in an activity that unfortunately has a very high barrier of entry. It enabled us to share the field with the great corps of this generation and to take our students to the largest Drum Corps show in the Southwest and say “This is our dream for the future. Thank you for being a part of it.” The DCI SoundSport Program has been absolutely vital to the success of our program, and we are eternally grateful to John DeNovi, Eric Hjellming, and the entire SoundSport program for giving us the opportunity to establish a Drum Corps in the Land of Enchantment.

As we take this next step in our journey, it’s important that we acknowledge that we are not moving to something better, but rather moving to something that better suits our needs at this time. We seek to become Open Class, not to ‘graduate’ from SoundSport into ‘real’ drum corps, but for the chance to increase our capacity to provide a life-changing experience for young people. In 2017, our 33-member corps fit neatly within the SoundSport field, but in 2018, the addition of a color guard forced us to make compromises to fit within the performance area. In 2019 we strive for Open Class for the chance to own, for approximately 12 minutes, the entirety of a regulation-sized football field. We strive for Open Class to fill that field with 100 or more dedicated young people. We strive for Open Class so that we can tell bigger stories and push our students to go farther than they’ve ever gone before.

Increasing Value Without Increasing Cost

As we continue the process of applying and -hopefully- transitioning our flagship Drum and Bugle Corps from a SoundSport Team to an Open Class Corps, it’s important that we acknowledge the economic reasoning at the core of Arsenal Performing Arts. New Mexico has historically lacked independent marching arts groups, requiring students to travel out-of-state to participate. This cost of travel, combined with the ever-increasing cost of drum corps tour fees, serves as a high barrier of entry to the activity. Arsenal was established to lower this barrier by providing a local, low cost opportunity.

As Arsenal has grown, there has been an increasing trade-off between increasing the quality of the experience and maintaining affordability. The tuition for our first season, which featured around 25 days of instruction and tour, cost less than $1,000 dollars. This past season included close to 50 days of instruction and tour, and cost $1,500. In 2019, we are aiming for a season of 80 day at a cost of approximately $2,000. To combat these rising prices we’ve done our best to offer substantial discounts for early payment of fees and returning members. We also strive to provide fundraising resources wherever possible. We’ve made available the most comprehensive fundraising guide in the activity and last year I conducted a fundraising workshop for our students based on NPO development best practices.

Nevertheless, our fees have increased as our program has grown. To that end, we have set our sights on other areas to focus on increasing value without increasing cost. To accomplish this, we have begun partnering with local businesses here in Albuquerque that in turn provide discounts on products and services to our members. Arsenal members can expect to not only receive a world-class experience, but also receive additional benefits within our community. You can read about some of these benefits and our future vision for our community partners here.

Lastly, we are actively conducting research into sustainable practices that will allow the corps to reduce our costs with the hope of passing these savings onto our members. By reducing the waste produced from meals, for example, we can not only be more environmentally conscious, but can also spend less on disposable plates, cups, etc. Moving forward we’ll also consider the use of solar energy and electric vehicles as a means of reducing cost alongside our carbon footprint.

A Vision of the Future

Modern Drum Corps are international ensembles. They bring students from throughout the world together in pursuit of a common goal of excellence. The current state of the activity means that many drum corps have students that come from far beyond where the corps is based; Arsenal itself had members from as far away as Ohio this past season, and 30% of the corps came from out-of-state. As we continue to grow the program capacity and competitiveness of the drum corps, we will also begin to attract more students from outside of New Mexico. These students will in turn increase the competitiveness for membership in Arsenal and that, combined with the increasing cost, may in turn shut out New Mexicans from participation.

One of the most unique aspects of Drum Corps is the diversity of students who participate, and so while Arsenal was created to serve New Mexico, we celebrate the inclusion of students from throughout the world. These students bring new perspectives and personalities to our family, and enrich our organization through their diversity. That said, in order to combat an ever-increasing barrier of entry, we are currently in the process of developing a formal strategy for the creation of a sister ensemble to Arsenal that will operate year-round as a member of the WGI Winds and DCI SoundSport programs. This program will cost significantly less to participate in and will be limited to students who live within a 100-mile radius of Albuquerque. Whereas we will continue to push Arsenal to become a leader in this activity, we will also strive to develop other programming that maintains accessibility for the New Mexican students we have always intended to serve.

Building from our Foundation

Our leadership affirms the value of marching arts programs; no other activity blends athleticism, artistry, and teamwork together to the extent that Drum Corps and Winter Guard do. It is commonly accepted that Drum Corps is the largest team sport in the world, but we take it beyond that mark with our belief that it is also the greatest youth activity in existence today. As we move forward, we will continue to strive to provide an amazing experience for our students, and to help them make memories that will last a lifetime. We will work to ensure that whatever format our program takes, be it SoundSport, Open Class, DrumLine Battle, et al, we will always pursue excellence. Lastly, we will always work to maintain affordability and accessibility so that everyone can experience this great activity regardless of economic status.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this organization. I cannot wait to start this new chapter with you!

-J. Spenser Lotz,
Executive Director,
Arsenal Performing Arts

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