Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Patrons of the Arts

This afternoon my wife and I attended the 2017 Medallion Society Luncheon of the San Francisco Opera (SFO). This is one of the ways in which SFO thanks its more generous donors. Our donation level is not up there with the heavy hitters, but it is enough to get us admission. This makes for a relatively pleasant afternoon of good food and people-watching.

My wife always likes to go through the enumeration of donors at the back of the booklet that awaited us at our places at the table. She encountered an ample number of familiar names. However, what surprised me was that my own traversal of the list turned up names that she did not know, members of the computer science community that I knew either as colleagues or individuals I had encountered at conferences. I was more than pleasantly surprised at how many of them there were, many of whom were more generous than we were. This led me to make a second scan in search of my more recent colleagues and familiar names associated with the younger members of the "technology generation" in the Bay Area. This time I came up with no hits at all.

This is the endemic problem of the performing arts these days, the "greying" of its audience base. I realize that the older generation writing about the young pups is a familiar cliché. Nevertheless, just about every sector of the performing arts to which I have some commitment has tried to attract a younger generation to the audience community; and the sad truth is that they have failed dismally. A generation that understands the world only through "social software" available on a smartphone is a generation that lacks either the motivation or the patience to become audience for the performing arts. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that anyone of any generation will be able to serve as a change agent to lure this sector into the "audience fold."

When I was a student, there were strident modernists who delighted in accusing concert halls of being little more than museums that served only past relics. However, in the city of San Francisco, there is an abundance of opportunities for "emerging" composers and performers interested in the more recent repertoire to lay out the fruits of their labors to those willing to serve as audience. Further more, those who show up tend, more often than not, to be appreciative. The question is whether those on the way up will have to rely on those "nearing the end of our journey" to serve as audience. If so, they face a future of dwindling audiences with little hope of having the resources to do anything about it.

It would appear that, regardless of how Hans Christian Andersen chose to tell the story, the Emperor's mechanical nightingale may have triumphed after all!

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