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Matthew Buckman
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A brilliant collection of data from performances over the last 100 years at The Metropolitan Opera demonstrates the decline in cultural relevancy in opera in the United States (illustrating patterns found throughout large, influential performing arts organizations in the U.S. more generally). A few highlights: 1. Median year of composition of works performed in 1910: 1870. 2. Median year of composition of works performed in 2014: 1870. No change in 104 years. 3. In 1910, 50% of all operas performed at The Met had been composed within the past 25 years. As perspective, to match that today, half of current programming would be composed since 1989 (the actual portion today is less than 5%). 4. In 1910, 80% of all operas performed at The Met had been composed within the past 50 years. Today, that means that most of their repertoire would be composed since 1964 (the actual current portion is also less than 5%). 5. The Met has only ever produced a single opera by a female composer. It was in 1903. If there was ever any doubt that opera as currently practiced is an inherently European art form that never evolved within American culture, check out the graph showing the percentage of American composers featured at The Met over the last 100 years. Or any of the other graphs, it's very sobering data, and our thanks to Suby Raman for putting it together. It's not too hard to figure out why more people in the U.S. don't go... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at Loose Filter Media
As the General and Artistic Director of a small regional opera company in Modesto, CA, I have watched the situation with San Diego Opera unfold with a combination of amazement and bitterness. I am amazed that a company that presents four productions annually with a $15 million budget and no debt would close down voluntarily, and I am bitter at the thought of the work our company could do for our community with a tiny fraction of that annual budget. But this decision, made at the urging of their senior management, has helped bring into focus something I think has been a widespread problem for some time now, one which harms the sustainability of many performing arts organizations: Artistic Entitlement. Many artists and arts leaders act as though the position or expertise they possess, as either a presenter or performer, entitles them to pursue an artistic program that is personally satisfying, without regard for the audience experience. This often manifests itself with the notion that as arts professionals, our expertise makes it our place to tell the audience what kind of experience they should want to have, based on the experience we want to have. What I find problematic about that perspective is that it privileges the desires of the presenter/performer above those of the audience, when in fact it should be the reverse. By prioritizing the needs of the presenter/performer over the audience, we provide an experience that is valuable only to people who have the same narrow interest,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2014 at Loose Filter Media
8.8% of all Americans attended a symphony orchestra concert in 2012. 2.7% attended the ballet. 2.1% attended the opera. The classical arts have a problem: not that many people are interested in what we do. While that may be difficult to hear, and many will refuse to acknowledge it, there is a tremendous amount of data from organizations like The National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Research Center that tells us modern American audiences generally do not attend the opera, the symphony, the ballet, or any other “classical” or “high” art form. There are a multitude of reasons, which we will discuss in future writings, but ultimately very few 21st century Americans attend classical arts events. The economic pressure resulting from limited interest in, and support of, our art forms causes many arts organizations to labor over “audience development.” Significant resources, both human and financial, are expended attempting to build audience, to entice people into the concert hall, while ignoring the actual things that keep people away. “If only people would take the time to educate themselves about our art form and value it the same way we do, then they would better appreciate what we do and would come see a performance.” This mindset permeates arts organizations, leading to audience development initiatives that demand that new potential audience members experience the classical arts on our (narrow) terms, instead of providing an arts experience for them on their own terms. Instead, I believe we should try to build... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2014 at Loose Filter Media
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Apr 3, 2014