Meeting Report

October 20, 2013

Rob Tannenbaum

“Opera and symphony have a bad rap,” says Rob Tannenbaum, recently appointed general director of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. This is so largely because of the “country club” history of these arts in this country, plus the fact that no one has found a way to reach out to the young and less affluent, who might form a support base for them.

In a fascinating and informative presentation at our HAGSA meeting on October 20, Mr. Tannenbaum laid it out:

  1. Although ticket sales account for a mere 28% of income—vs. the norm of 40%—in our area, their prices are too high considering the average income in this region.

  2. Because each performing art such as opera, symphony, theatre, etc., has its own separate organization, there is much built-in inefficiency.

  3. The trend is toward further decline in all the arts unless changes are made.

Building on his long experience with the arts in Europe, where he led and directed large organizations with big budgets, Mr. Tannenbaum hopes to turn things around here. He pointed out that in Germany all the lively arts in a community are under one administrative body which of course increases efficiency. Furthermore, this allows for subscription sales across disciplines: a subscriber may attend stage plays, operas, and symphonies at one price, thereby broadening people’s experiences.

The first performance under the TWOinTUNE banner, “Here to Stay: The Gershwin Experience,” was held on October 19, the day before this meeting. Several people at the meeting had attended the event and were certainly sold on it. However, Mr. Tannenbaum said that his research showed that, as a rule, only 7.8% of philharmonic fans ever attend opera in this area. The same percentage is true for opera fans attending orchestral events, which in itself argues in favor of the European system of consolidation.

In order to demonstrate how to introduce young people to these arts, he has arranged to provide students with inexpensive tickets for front-row seats. Mr. Tannenbaum argues that there needs to be a policy to continue that effort.

Another policy which proved itself in Miami and San Diego is outreach to the Hispanic community. Particularly in San Diego, the arts managed over a twenty year period to replace their declining military subscriber base with Hispanics, to the point that now that demographic accounts for 50% of ticket sales.

Changing the culture of the arts in our community will not be accomplished in one year or even ten. It takes time and vision. Now that we have Mr. Tannenbaum at the helm, however, there is hope for improvement.

Thank you, Rob Tannenbaum, for a stirring presentation. We wish you success in your endeavor.

Report prepared by Roger Zabkie

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