Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy shockwave: Kimmel to Kauffman

And then there were four…This past Saturday, one of America’s “Big Five” orchestras, The Philadelphia Orchestra, filed for bankruptcy. Times are lean. Corporate giving programs shrink. The Kimmel Center, opened in 2001, struggles to sustain. Philly city mothers and fathers are not pleased with the burden.

The Kauffman Center for Performing Arts opens September 16, 2011. Should we worry?

You may think that this has nothing to do with you. Consider this. It took a great number of generous patrons to build the Kauffman; almost a half a billion dollars when all “action figures” get installed. It created numerous jobs for which we should be thankful. Moshe Safdie’s architectural creation is stunning; a shining jewel on this Kansas City hill of ours. Excitement and optimism abounds. What’s to worry?

It will take more vision to sustain this house in order to make it a home for all of us. Despite premature visionary plans, we should be aware that we will be purchasing the tickets. Our employers will underwrite. Our city government must keep an eye on this artistic ball. This, one of our many homes for the arts here, deserves our attention and forethought. It’s good to have the Kimmel Center in Philly as a benchmark case study for lessons learned and those not taken to heart.

As an artist, I’m not in a position to discuss business. This center is huge business however and journalistic critical ink locally is scant. Understandable. No one desires to be a stick in the mud. My keyboard has a view of the place out my Walnut Street window. This emerging grand design has been something I’ve watched grow over the past two and half years since I moved here. I’ve crawled inside it covering the Kansas City Art Institutes gang of 16 who collaborated with Safdie last summer to design and paint a beautiful mural in one of the performance halls. Great stuff. It’s a reminder every day. I’m hopeful.

What concerns me is artistic content given the numerous venues in the city. My critics will state that the Kauffman will enhance the attraction for world class artists, bring them here, and we shall buy tickets and come. My concern is that “classical music / ballet / opera” is too…well, classical. Bravo to the Opera recently for their updated “Marriage of Figaro”. Good fun. Can’t wait to see the ballet’s May program…two modern pieces and a fresh world premier of Bill Whitener’s “Mercy of the Elements”. I’ll call this very cool. Hope this brings a younger crowd to see these amazing young artists dance with heart and soul.

We have great companies in the symphony, opera, and ballet. The ballet gets a new home soon down near Union Station, moving from 1616 Broadway. I hope all the companies remain on good speaking terms. I hope patrons and corporate underwriters stay engaged. I hope you keep your job, in the meantime, so you can have some fun and buy a ticket once in a while. But this is a big small town, I’m learning. I see the same lovely faces at opera / ballet / symphony events.

One artistic content glimmer is something that happened in New York City this past winter…something called the Ecstatic Music Festival held at the Kaufman “with one f” Center. New music, eclectic variety, younger audience, emerging composers…fresh exciting contemporary art. Not that dead composer stuff isn’t beautiful…I love it. However, to build an audience for the future, one needs to look to younger people. This festival celebrated the here and now and we have our share of here and now composers in this city. We should awaken to the reality that genre no longer matters. The nature of performance art resides in the seats…in you. It emanates from a stage, from artists who dance, sing, and play. But it enters your soul, makes you feel something.

That’s no cause for you to worry. That’s cause for you to get excited, feel some anticipation. Remember, you’re going to sustain this and other venues in town beginning with your local playhouse, your favorite little theatre in town, and you’ll follow who you enjoy. You’ll pay your taxes and buy the tickets.

So, what’s to worry? Well, who’s the coach for this Performing Arts Team? Who will facilitate the companies, develop the programs, the seasons? Who will curate this performance art gallery? Who will pay the rent? How should our city government involve themselves in the process and the sustainment. After all, our city government is like a soccer team…no quarterback. We have a team captain, though.

A few of my responders note that I take a 30,000 foot view of things and fail to miss the details. Guilty often. My purpose here is to get us reading ahead a bit. My nudge is to look east to Philly at the Kimmel and see how things are going there ten years on. And I was wondering if you heard about the Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy announcement. Do you care? Do you worry? Did you get your taxes filed on time?

Best wishes, Kansas City…

pictured above, the view from the atrium of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Photo is from Wikipedia

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