Eric L. Martin: It’s been quite a journey for an African American kid, who grew up in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, to become the CEO and President of a national non-profit scholastic performing arts organization. Being in band (along with parental/community support and other great teachers) helped me survive and thrive. Thus evolved my commitment to Music for All and its mission to create, provide and expand positive life-changing opportunities, along with our vision to be a catalyst to ensure that every child across America has access and opportunity to engage in active music making in his or her scholastic environment. This, following 16 years of corporate law practice and five years as an independent, Emmy Award winning stint as a parade (MLK National Holiday Parade) and special event producer.
My role is to inspire, lead and direct our staff, ensuring that the organizational mission, vision, goals and core values, created by our Board of Directors, are executed and delivered according to a well-defined, measurable strategic plan with our staff of 18.
MM: Can you give us an overview of your event, its purpose, who your attendees are and your goal(s) of the event?
ELM: Grand Nationals is a culmination of the marching band season for America’s finest scholastic marching bands. The purpose of Grand Nationals is to be an educational (evaluated) experience that extends academic achievement, provides an academic measure for individual and ensemble success and provides a performance environment.
More than 12,500 students participate annually in Grand Nationals, along with an additional 60,000 others competing across the nation in our Regional events.
More than 90 bands from over 30 states
More than 450 buses and 120 semi-and box trucks
Four-day audiences in excess of 40,000
Performances occur in Lucas Oil Stadium
Use of more than 300,000 sq. ft. of meeting exhibit space for rehearsal, meals and other functions
More than 10,000 hotel room nights
MM: How do you begin planning for an event of this size? What does your timeline look like?
ELM: Planning for Grand Nationals and all of our programs is a year-round, 24/7 commitment.
We are constantly looking at our past events and experiences to determine our successes and weaknesses. Immediately following each Grand Nationals, we assess it against our strategic plan objectives and began formulating the next Grand Nationals according to future objectives. We have clear mission-based specific objectives that fit within the three pillars of our strategic plan - culminating event experience production, education and advocacy and organizational proficiency (fiscal sustainability and advancement).
It’s our goal to be Super Bowl®-like. We “steal” ideas and concepts to produce an event and result that I call a Disney®-like experience on a “Mickey Mouse” budget.
MM: In planning and executing an event of this size, what special considerations do you make and have to plan for?
ELM: Our job is to ensure that our educators, students and their parent boosters can count on a well run, fair and transparent process.
Our planning focuses on open communications and an attention to detail. We are blessed with “hardware tools” like Lucas Oil Stadium, the plethora of outstanding Indianapolis hotels and good, old-fashioned Hoosier hospitality to assist us in the delivery of our programming. We have commitments for office space through 2023, Visit Indy and other hotel support mirroring this commitment,
and are operating in the second year of our strategic plan and goals for the growth, development and sustainability of the event.
Marketing for the 2013 Grand Nationals began in earnest on December 15, 2012. Applications for 2013 were received by January 31, tickets are currently on sale, and participant housing is being arranged (June 2013 at time of interview). New sponsorship initiatives have been launched and innovations are in the planning. 2013 will focus on new audience development (beyond the traditional parent/booster based), expansion of our programming and experience opportunities to include other Indianapolis arts and tourism destinations and institutions and elevation of the music education advocacy aspects of the Grand Nationals event.
Initial participant planning information, including performance schedules, has been distributed and follow-up will ensue in August. Final event information will be distributed 30 days prior to the event.