The 10/10/2011 edition of the Huffington Post published an article by Brett Zongker titled Arts Funding Is Supporting A Wealthy, White Audience: Report that focuses on a recent report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). The article is already making the usual social media rounds but it’s surprising to see it get so much traction when the findings are a) obvious and b) not terribly useful beyond misdirected garden variety class warfare.
The only potentially useful aspect of the NCRP report is it reinforces the need for larger performing arts organizations to reconsider the value in building festival programs based on the Grant Park Music Festival (GPMF) model. If you aren’t already familiar with it, the GPMF serves hundreds of thousands Chicago residents and tourists each summer with a series of free concerts events featuring a traditional, full orchestra and chorus performing a challenging mix of traditional and contemporary programming.
We’ve examined GPMF on a number of occasions and I’ve even worked with them on some dedicated Take A Friend To The Orchestra programs. But the idea is simple (in a complex sort of way): offer free concerts in an inviting public setting that features large performing arts organizations offering the same high quality performances given throughout the regular season.
It’s simple from the perspective that performing arts groups do what they do already but in a quality outdoor venue designed to bring communities together without charging admission. It’s complex in that it all has a price tag.
As of now, Chicago is the only city to feature something on the scale of the GPMF but so many mid to large budget institutions are ripe for adopting and customizing this model: Seattle, Portland (OR), Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, Dallas, Grand Rapids, Kansas City; the list could go on and on.
At the same time, all of this takes a great deal of effort in the form of rallying support throughout local and state political ranks to help secure funding and partnerships with local municipality parks departments. Likewise, local donors will need to kick in for capital campaign contributions for building and operational endowment funds not to mention artist and ops costs.
Undoubtedly, it will be a great deal of effort but given the other half-cocked strategic plans to increase outreach and relevancy popping up like a twisted version of cultural whack-a-mole, why not focus on one that makes sincere strides toward creating a truly meaningful connection with all segments of the community without ticket price barriers.
Classical music sells itself.
People like it and want it.
The GPMF has been proving all of this for decades and in spades since the launch of Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. So if nothing else, perhaps Zongker’s article and the NCRP report will do some good by kicking foundations, governments (throughout all levels), and organizational leaders in their collective butts to begin finding solutions to building a national network of accessible civic centers around performing spaces designed to bring people together and serve the community through the medium of live classical music performances.
It’s tough to get more relevant than that.