David Patrick Stearns Gets It

The 05/30/2007 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer published an excellent article by David Patrick Stearns which examines the dynamic value of free and subsidized cost classical music events…


In the article, Stearns quotes Free For All At Town Hall, a nonprofit organization which presents “great musicians in concerts that are free to the public in spaces that are good for both the music and the audience,” cofounder Omus Hirshbein as saying this about how they manage to present such an exceptional classical music concert series:

“You know that classical-music concerts never cover their costs…why not raise more money and give it away?”

Kudos to Stearns for highlighting such a simple, yet spot-on, philosophy behind how presenting classical music should be approached. Consequently, I’m equally pleased to see mention of Philadelphia Orchestra’s recent efforts to increase the number of free concerts they offer each season. I remember a previous article of the Inquirer where incoming Philly Orchestra President & CEO James Undercoffler was quoted as saying it was one of his priorities to find ways to increase the number of free concerts and lower ticket prices. I’m glad to see the Inquirer is keeping tabs on those efforts.

Furthermore, kudos to Free For All At Town Hall’s mission. It is clear that this organization understands the core elements for building a successful classical music organization:

  • Artistic Quality First
  • Favorable Location and Audience Environment
  • Conducive Pricing

  • I hope orchestras will take a long look at Stearns’ article and visit Free For All At Town Hall’s website to learn more about the organization.

    About Drew McManus

    "I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

    I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

    In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

    For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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    1 thought on “David Patrick Stearns Gets It”

    1. Embedded in Omus Hirshbein’s comment is the problem at the heart of the whole issue of concert costs, regarding “why not raise more money”? The question is: from whom? Would the funds be mainly from a relatively small base of the super-rich, or do you want to have a broad base of donor support across all incomes?

      While this next anecdote isn’t about classical music, it’s somewhat relevant, as it’s about the free summer Shakespeare local production. This year, we have a challenge grant during the run of the show, to raise donations in real time through the last performance. From personal experience “passing the hat”, I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of people who go to the play do not give one thin dime. Many who do give do so quite generously; five people don’t donate, but the neighboring person gives $10. Overall, ballparking it, so far, it works out that maybe we have 50 cents per person on average for donations. But essentially, it is the relatively savvy few who subsidize the relatively indifferent many. It’s fair to say that just about everyone appreciates the production, but it’s another thing to translate that into “hey, this costs a lot to put together, how about helping out a little?”.

      We had the same challenge last year, and we got in under the wire. I don’t know how well we’ll do this summer. If the rain doesn’t knock out a few shows, we have a shot (setting myself up for a jinx, of course).

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