Weekly Update, Dec 17, 2013

State of the Performing Arts

By Todd Lueders

Varieties of factors are seriously endangering the performing arts agencies on the Central Coast. As usual, these agencies are in various stages of health. A limited few are in the black, many are battling annual deficits, some are facing ttodd_lueders_printop-level leadership turnover, some are considering merging with related providers, and some have simply closed down entirely. In most cases, these are fragile groups that have little or no reserves, and the public has a very limited source of professional reviews of their work.

It’s worth remembering that individuals still provide over 85 percent of the charitable giving every year. Personal giving is the bedrock of support for all non-profits, regardless of the level of city, state, or federal support which they may have counted on in the past. But private philanthropy, which arts agencies term “contributed revenue”, never comes close to covering even a majority of the annual operating expenses of these agencies. 

So how do arts agencies pay their bills? What media do they use to publicize their events, especially when younger audiences now use a wide range of social media that didn’t even exist a few years ago? Even the definition of “live” means very little to an age group that can tape, download and remix a performance at any time anywhere in the world. But there is no substitute for the energy, the atmosphere, and (yes) the smell and feel of a live performance, and arts providers need to remember and celebrate that unique value. I can vividly recall the amazed reaction of touring theater troupes and symphony musicians who reported that their in-school audiences told them they had never seen or heard a live performance of any play or piece of music before.

Since corporate funding for the arts is an endangered species on the Central Coast, some arts agencies have counted on private foundation grants to underwrite their programs. But none of that is permanent—trustees change, program officers move on or up, poor financial markets force grant budget cutbacks, and new priorities emerge as younger family members join the foundation board. Grantmaking foundations will always be moving targets.

In my dreams, all these troubling trends are swept away by the simple idea of endowing the arts. My fantasy is that all arts agencies have endowments–truly permanent funds that only spend a prudent amount each year in order to preserve the principal–and that these funds are large enough to cover at least a third of their annual operating budgets.  So, for example, to cover 1/3 of an annual budget of $100,000, or generate $33,000, an endowment would need to be in the range of $650,000. Endowments are built by generous individuals who want to perpetuate the work of agencies they love. This is a very generous community, and I believe the potential is there for a new surge of endowment-level giving.

In my fantasy future world, the calendar isn’t jammed up with bake sales, car raffles, golf tournaments, and expensive mass mailings. Instead, it blossoms with a new wave of live performances for audiences of all ages all over the Central Coast.

So let’s close the iPad, get out of the Starbucks, and go watch a live performance! 

Todd Lueders is retired President/CEO of the Community Foundation for Monterey County

Our Philip Pearce remembers Joan Fontaine, who lent her support to many Monterey County performing arts producers, presenters and serious critics.

The Monterey Peninsula will mourn the death of the beautiful and gifted Joan Fontaine. Growing up in Palo Alto I was aware of her mother Lilian as a busy director of productions at nearby Saratoga. Although my father appeared in one of Lilian Fontaine’s offerings, I missed it by being off on a destroyer in the Pacific during the Korean War, but while in uniform I did visit New York and saw daughter Joan’s only Broadway appearance as Deborah Kerr’s replacement in Tea and Sympathy, a role she played effectively but not as well as Deborah Kerr did in the movie version. By way of compensation, Fontaine’s schoolboy leading man was Anthony Perkins, who replaced and was notably better than John Kerr who recreated his original stage role in the somewhat haltingly expurgated movie.Annex - Grant, Cary (Suspicion)_02

I liked Joan Fontaine in her Oscar winning performance in Suspicion (pictured with co-star Cary Grant) though it was really awarded because she lost out the year before. But even that original star-making role of the nameless second wife in Rebecca, wasn’t as good, to my jaundiced way of thinking, as her brilliant portrayal (also Academy nominated) of the the elfen,  free-spirited teen aged school girl Tessa in the sentimental but effective The Constant Nymph. I picked up a copy recently at DoReMi Music in Carmel and I suspect it’s available from Netflix and know it’s well worth watching wherever you can buy or rent it.  

Meanwhile, Philip attended Ariel Theatrical’s Narnia and offers his impressions on our Theater Reviews page. On our Links of Interest page—or here—read about the end of Pleyel, the esteemed piano maker to Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and others, in the face of fierce Asian competition. And, as reminder, this Sunday at noon watch Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer-winning opera Silent Night, in the original Minnesota Opera production, on KQED television.  

Scott MacClelland, editor