US promoter makes millions with pay-to-play amateur concerts in top venues

Miriam Kreinin Souccar, Crains New York Business, 5/20/12

Distinguished Concerts International New York has come up with an innovative way to produce classical music concerts at prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall without relying on corporate sponsors and other donors. The 5-year-old company rents the hall and hires the headline conductor and the orchestra, but builds its choirs by auditioning hundreds of amateur singers from around the world who are willing to pay a fee for the experience of performing in one of New York's top venues. The result: high-quality concerts that win rave reviews and typically sell out. "In lieu of a grant coming from a major bank or the National Endowment for the Arts, we look to our performers to be mini-sponsors," said Iris Derke, co-founder of DCINY. "In return, they get to walk away with an experience, like a fantasy baseball team." The for-profit company, founded in 2007 by Ms. Derke and Jonathan Griffith, is an unusual entity in the performing arts world. While even the most prestigious nonprofit philharmonics and operas are struggling to make ends meet, DCINY became profitable in its second year of operation and has been growing steadily ever since. Last year, it had revenue of more than $3 million, from both ticket sales and performer payments. The company also helps local concert halls by providing extra rental income. It has major growth plans. Over Memorial Day weekend it will hold its first four-day mentoring workshop for young amateur conductors. And in November it will launch a Broadway workshop on the set of Wicked, where budding actors will put on a musical with the help of professional casting agents and choreographers. One hundred people have already signed up and will pay up to $1,400, including hotel and travel costs. The company plans to expand internationally in 2013, with performances in Turkey and South Africa.


Amateur theater groups are an important element of 2012 Cultural Olympiad

Jane Coyle,, 4/24/12

It is a significant journey, spanning far more than mere miles, from performing with a local amateur drama group to stepping out into one of the world's most famous theatrical spaces. Small wonder, then, that a high level of excitement is building in the run-up to the RSC Open Stages Showcase at the Lyric Theatre, after which one of the seven participating groups will be invited to appear at the company's spectacularly rebuilt home in Stratford-upon-Avon in July 2012. Open Stages is an important element in the RSC's World Shakespeare Festival. It, in turn, is part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, which will bring in major international artists for a spectacular arts bonanza across the UK. Some 264 amateur companies and ten regional theatres are taking part, much to the delight of Open Stages producer Ian Wainwright. "This is the RSC linking up and re-engaging with the amateur world," he says. "We invited amateur companies to put on a production of a Shakespeare play or a Shakespeare-related piece. A team of RSC professional practitioners travelled around the regional theatres, working with the companies and exchanging skills like directing, acting, stage management, lighting. They were doing exactly the same kind of work that we'd be doing with our own actors. We were very clear from the beginning that this was not an exercise that we were doing especially for the amateur movement or some kind of remedial exercise in theatre. We encouraged them to be ambitious, to try new things. They have risen to the challenge and the stereotypes of amateur theatre are being blown away."


Commentary: UK's "voluntary arts" groups are more than amateur

Kelly Donaldson of Voluntary Arts, Guardian Culture Professionals Network, 5/15/12

Voluntary Arts Week started tentatively last year, just in Scotland, getting bolder in 2012 by rolling out across the rest of the UK and Ireland. Taking baby steps at first, there's every confidence that Voluntary Arts Week will grow into a major annual event, just as the Week of Amateur Arts has become in a number of other European countries. The term 'voluntary arts' is a relatively new one, but growing in popularity all the time. The word 'amateur' -- despite its roots in the [Latin verb] 'to love' -- has taken on some negative connotations. So while we don't shy away from using it, we feel the word 'voluntary' sums up the sector pretty well. In particular, the many thousands of people who give up their time and energy to help run these groups. In total, we estimate there are over 70,000 voluntary arts groups across the UK and Ireland, all contributing something to their local, and national, community. The benefits for the individuals taking part in arts and crafts have been well researched and documented: increased mental and physical well-being, less social isolation, more skills (often transferable), as well as some much needed 'me' time for busy people. Often self-funded, the voluntary arts and crafts sector demands little and delivers much. Equally well documented is the impact an arts project can have on an area affected by youth crime, or how amateur productions can keep a village hall running financially year-round. The voluntary arts sector not only produces the professional artists of tomorrow, it brings a huge amount of pleasure to those taking part in it here and now, 365 days a year.


The newest cool arts hobby: going pro

Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail [Canada], 5/20/12

By day, Christina Wolf is the chief economist for the British Columbia Securities Commission. By night, the 42-year-old violinist is a dedicated amateur musician performing Offenbach, Bruch and Dvorak with the West Coast Symphony in Vancouver. "We always say the word 'amateur' means 'for the love of it,' " says Wolf, disputing the negative connotation of the word. "... You can do something at a very professional level and still be outside the professional circuit." United and promoted through social media, emboldened by a DIY culture or enraptured by the TV-talent contests, citizens are increasingly participating in the arts as creators rather than as passive consumers. But are their dreams of paying careers mere fantasy? "Our celebrity culture creates a lot of false hope," says Alan Brown, an American arts consultant. "There are two ways of looking at this. [Some say...] everyone who creates art is not an artist; the professional artist is unique and should be cherished. But there is another school of thought: If you think you are an artist, you are an artist." Opinions vary on how realistic the creativity movement is being as it extends dreams of an arts career to every hobbyist - without any mechanism for enforcing professional standards. Gryphon Trio cellist Roman Borys, who is artistic director of the Ottawa ChamberFest, where he has started a workshop to give professional coaching to amateur ensembles, [said]. "...if you are not working with someone who knows the difference between the mediocre and the good, you are skipping the mechanism that regulates what is professional." Borys, a firm believer in encouraging recreational musicians, doesn't think most adult hobbyists are delusional about their skill level. And certainly the motivations, goals and achievements of amateurs vary widely.


Commentary: Encourage the "99%" to strive for same level as the pros

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs,, 5/1/12

The Van Cliburn Foundation presented an unusual program [in April] at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Four winners of their Amateur Piano Competition played an eclectic program of works that only had in common the fact that they were for piano. All four pianists played beautifully and personified the very high level of non-professional pianists. These are musicians that chose to do something else with their lives and there is some others connections between them. Both Michael Hawley and Clark Griffith work in technical fields and Drew Mays and Christopher Shih are physicians. There is something about the precision of music and the discipline of the endless hours required to master the piano that must lend itself to such detail oriented careers. Remembering lots of facts and lots of notes seem to be related. So is the skill to take all of these facts and details and do something creative with them. The Cliburn Amateur is, perhaps, the most important competition that they run. While it is imperative to identify and reward the very best of the upcoming crop of pianists, encouraging the other 99% to strive for the same level of playing as the pros, when life takes them in a different direction, is Cliburn's lasting gift to music and the art of the keyboard.

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