I just returned from a 'Prelude' event thrown by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Prelude is an introduction to the LPO. Through discounted ticket prices and social events, Prelude allows new audiences to experience classical music. Members have access to the Orchestra and are able to interact with their peers at six special events during the course of the concert season. Tonight was an event at Rita's Tequila House on Bourbon Street, and the food, company, and conversation was wonderful. I met a horn player in the symphony who had been a member of the New England Conservatory Preparatory School and had played with the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (YPO) under Benjamin Zander. During her time with YPO she went on tour to Venezuela, witnessing El Sistema first hand- she was so excited I was having the conversation here in New Orleans. In fact, many of the musicians I talked to were very interested in the possibilities. It was a good evening.
Earlier in the day, I had the opportunity to visit City Hall and observe the budget hearing for the Arts Council of New Orleans. After receiving funds from the city, The Arts Council acts as a granting organization, offering a rigorous grant application process to any interested arts organization. It's important to note that many of the organizations who had received grants from the Arts Council were in the room to support the need for funding, and many spoke to the great work that the grants from the Arts Council had made possible. In response to this plea not to decrease funding for the arts, there was practically warmth emanating from the City Council. There was so much resonance and recognition that the City Council expressed regarding the positive power the arts have within the life of an individual child and a community as a whole. It was noted that among cities with similar demographics, the New Orleans arts community is one of the least well funded. It was remarked that for a city that has an economy built on arts and tourism, to be one of the lowest public funders of the arts in comparison to similar cities is unexpected and unacceptable. A City Council member noted that New Orleans was once a national model for arts education. Specifically the arts and arts education curriculum at McDonogh 15, was one of the best in the country. One of my favorite quotes of the day came from the City Council Chair in regards to arts education: "We wrote the book! Now we need to go back and read it."
A common thread for all presenters was the Return On Investment (ROI) for the city. The areas that seemed to be brought up most were economic impact on tourism and job creation. There was also a lot of language used about the ability of the arts to address violence from the roots. Almost no one mentioned art for art's sake- there was always an extra layer of impact, whether it be economic, cultural, or social. That extra layer makes all the difference. What can music do for you?
Questions of the day:
Why does a government, local or otherwise, fund the arts?
What assessments and outcomes are government interested in?