The Edifice Complex

File Oct 23, 9 48 42 AM
Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California

Now that I have introduced my background filled with dear colleagues and friends, I would like to explore my observations about the arts and education environment over more than 30 years. The components of performing, administering, teaching and writing have given me a unique perspective that I look forward to sharing with my readers.

What’s Next? will present my opinions and suggestions about the future of the arts and education. These are two vital elements of a successful society. Many of our challenges in our lives today can be traced to poor education and missing creativity. The arts can provide many of our solutions if they are reintroduced into our lives on a daily basis. And, in my opinion, skills for leadership and entrepreneurship are best developed through instruction in the arts and inspiration provided by artistic creativity.

Artists learn to live with criticism, either rejecting or accepting the opinions of reviewers, critics or academics. However, those of us who have a career in the arts learn to (hopefully) treat these observations of our work as the opinion of only one person. I know many artists who never read their reviews, some who are devastated by negative critiques, and yet others who can accept them and move on.

After many years of acceptance of other people’s opinions, I would like to now turn the table and present my opinions of the arts environment. I offer these views to assist constructive discussion of very serious situations that are not only affecting the arts and education, but our society at large. My new book paints a broad and interrelated picture of how these issues are working together; my blog will look at ongoing developments as new matters arise.

I begin with what I call the “The Edifice Complex.” This worship and excessive funding of buildings rather than the artistic accomplishments housed inside is compromising the arts environment. Please don’t misunderstand that I object to building concert halls, museums, theaters or opera houses; they are necessary components of artistic presentation. What I am against is the vast amount of money spent, and the fact that often these building projects become vanity projects to place donor’s names on walls without enough thought about how we will fund what is presented inside.

David Geffen Hall
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City

Recently, we have seen headlines about the decision by the New York Philharmonic to rethink its renovation of Avery Fischer Hall, recently renamed David Geffen Hall for their newest donor (see links to the articles below). The Hall has had acoustical challenges since its initial construction. It took courageous new leaders of both the NY Philharmonic and Lincoln Center to look at the costs involved and go back to the drawing board after realizing that three years away from its home could cost the NY Philharmonic the loss of a portion of its audience members. On a much smaller scale, we experienced this dilemma at our organization many years ago when one of our venues caused us to find another site for our summer festival due to renovation. Some of our audience never returned since the charm of our outdoor location was missing in the substitute location, and they moved on to other series instead.

However, it is not just the building that is an issue for me. The fact is that there is a limited donor pool even in New York City and Los Angeles. My wish, and it is a big one, is that the use of the space and the resources of the donations be questioned in a larger context. Everyone laments the shrinking of arts audiences. My radical desire is that every building project have a portion of its donations dedicated to two additional items: the art presented inside and the development of future audience members.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra

How many orchestra members in the past two decades have watched their beautiful new concert halls built, and then rightfully proposed an increase in salary? However, after the hall was completed, the institutions ran substantial deficits because their local donors were exhausted by the extensive building project. At the planning stage, not enough thought was given to integrating the presentation of the art with the new building, and having the donations include a financial commitment to the artists inside. Thoughtful development of the new edifices needed to focus on what would be presented inside the new facility. How would the new structure reflect the art or performances housed inside?

Even more crucial is developing new audiences. It is wonderful that donors give large gifts to new projects. However, my dream is that a portion of each gift be designated for arts education. I do not think this should be limited to school programs presented in the new venue. While important and necessary, it is far more essential for students of all ages and economic backgrounds to receive daily arts instruction. It has been proven many times that early arts instruction leads to lifetime arts engagement. How many audience members would we develop if every child received daily arts instruction as part of their education and as part of the school day? And, how many new donors would we develop over time?

This is the only proven manner to build new audiences. The removal of arts instruction over the past thirty years has been devastating not only to the arts but also to society at large. I will write more in future blogs about the life and work skills that can be best acquired through the arts, and how teaching about creativity can inspire students in every field.

Getty Center
Getty Center in Los Angeles, California

Christopher Hawthorne, the thoughtful architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, recently wrote an article about the 20th anniversary of the Getty Center (see link to the article below). His opinion of how the city might have been impacted with a more diversified use of funding was a well-needed poke at The Edifice Complex. I am asking that this go further: every building project should have a portion of their budget reserved for public arts education, a fund that would channel money into our schools to restore arts teachers, reinstate daily arts curriculum, and provide educational resources.

The public discourse says that there is no money for the arts. I disagree. One $500 million dollar venue construction project could easily designate a small percentage of its donations to be placed in service of arts education. This should happen not only in cities but on college campuses as well. This is not a frill. This is an investment in the future of our society, and the creativity that everyone agrees we need both at work and at home. Hollywood and Broadway actors, producers, and directors should contribute as well. This is R&D, research and development, and will lead to many more audience members and donors in the future.

I plan to explore these issues in future blogs. Don’t worry — I won’t leave out stories about my experiences with friends and colleagues around the world! These stories are valuable to provide a broader picture of how and why I have formed my opinions. I look forward to your comments and conversation, and hope to inspire questions looking toward new solutions.

To read more about The Edifice Complex, please check out these links:

Lincoln Center Scraps a $500 Million Geffen Hall Renovation by Michael Cooper, New York Times, October 3, 2017

David Geffen Criticizes ‘Shameful’ Lack of Support for Concert Hall by Robin Pogrebin and Michael Cooper, New York Times, October 4, 2017

David Geffen Pledges $150 Million to LACMA Building Campaign by Robin Pogrebin, New York Times, October 4, 2017

With Pacific Standard Time, Getty finally climbs down from hilltop oasis it built 20 years ago by Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 2017


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