Commentary: There are no crises in the arts, only tough decisions

From Russell Willis Taylor's keynote address for the joint annual conferences of Chorus America and The League of American Orchestras in June 2010.  [hat tip to Andrew Taylor]

What if you already embrace the idea that arts organizations can no longer just be about something, they have to be for somebody - a lot of "somebodies," and that you are going to make your organization an indispensable part of your community -- even if it means that you have to take the component pieces of it and rearrange them and refit them and redefine them until you are indivisible from how your community sees itself and celebrates itself?  What if you already know that building communities is part of our work, and that a community is not just an audience - a community talks back and it criticizes and it challenges and it changes and it reshapes our organizations to fit its needs or it walks away if we won't listen?  And what if you each and collectively have decided that our most enduring and pervasive legitimacy in the arts will come from the creation of relationships, not just the amassing of audiences?  If you have decided that, despite the fact that this is all hard work, it is the most important work you can be doing - that the need for beauty and reflection and coming together to experience music, and finding joy in music when we are alone will never go away, and if the institutions we have built don't meet that need then we just have to rebuild them?  What if despite the economic and societal uncertainties we face right now, you have decided that CS Lewis was right when he told his students on the eve of World War II:

"Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.  Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.  If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun."

Well, if you can choose these paths in this time of crisis....if you can make this a time of tough but intelligent decisions rather than a time of feeling victimized by circumstance and buffeted by ill fortune, then I am very much afraid that your organizations are going to be around in American life for a very, very long time. Maybe even - in one form or another -- forever.

>> You can watch the video of her address here.


President Obama: "The arts are a necessary part of our lives"

Posted on the blog The Playgoer, December 7, 2010

"Being here with tonight's honorees, reflecting on their contributions, I'm reminded of a Supreme Court opinion by the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.  In a case argued before the Court in 1926, the majority ruled that the state of New York couldn't regulate the price of theater tickets, because, in the opinion of the majority, the theater was not a public necessity.  They argued, in effect, that the experience of attending the theater was superfluous.  And this is what Justice Holmes had to say: 'To many people the superfluous is necessary.'  The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary -- they are a necessary part of our lives."

-President Barack Obama, saluting this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.


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Commentary: Why I hate comp tickets

Posted by Chad Bauman on his blog Arts Marketing, December 5, 2010

My top reasons:

1. Comp tickets devalue what it is we do. For my entire career, I have watched artists struggle to make the argument that the arts mean business.  However, these same artists then give away the fruits of their labor to anyone with the most feeble of reasons.
2. People don't show because they aren't invested. An average no show rate for comp tickets is in the 30% range.
3. Blood in the water. Nothing smells of desperation worse than massive public discounting and uncontrolled comp ticketing programs.
4. Comp tickets create box office nightmares. The old saying that "those who pay the least complain the most" definitely applies to recipients of comp tickets.

That all being said, there are a few good reasons to use comp tickets in a well thought-out strategy.  Here are a few quick thoughts on developing a comprehensive policy for your organization:

1. Create a budget for comp tickets. Used in much the same manner as an expense budget, this allows an organization to plan for a given number of comp tickets each year.
2. Develop very clear instructions on how comp tickets are to be distributed.
 For fairness, it is important the same policy be in effect for your entire organization. Stick to it.

3. It's like a crack addiction-- it will be tough to ween people off of them. If your organization has a serious comp ticket problem, you might need a couple of years to turn it around.


Renee Fleming: Opera companies doing musicals is not 'dumbing down'

Posted by Anne Midgette on her Washington Post blog Classical Beat, December 9, 2010

Renee Fleming is taking on a new role -- behind the scenes. The Chicago Lyric Opera, one of the largest opera companies in America, announced today that the star soprano is being named the company's Creative Consultant, a new position.  Concrete plans include curating a new opera that will have its world premiere in the 2015-16 season -- Fleming said she had created a spreadsheet of around 100 composers -- and helping develop educational and marketing initiatives, as well as fostering a new commitment to the American musical with a production of "Oklahoma!" in 2013.  "I believe it may be time to reexamine the role of an opera house in American communities in the 21st century," Fleming said, of the musicals.  "I have been troubled since I started singing, [that] companies, when they want a large audience, go immediately toward a specific repertory: Italian bread and butter operas. [Musicals] could be a different way of bringing people to opera who don't know opera. This is not dumbing down; this is saying, This is part of our heritage."  (The Chicago Lyric has already embraced Gilbert and Sullivan when it needed to boost the box office.) 

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