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15.6.05

Keep the Music in Museums

From Ionarts daily read ArtsJournal, I learned of an article by Mark Swed (Silence at LACMA would be a sour note for everyone, June 15) in the Los Angeles Times. Apparently, this spring the Los Angeles County Museum of Art cancelled or cut back its famous concert series, which have won the ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming six times in recent years. The motivations that are putatively behind this wrongheaded decision are particularly odious:

Money doesn't seem to be the overriding concern. The museum's music programming has always been done on the cheap. Many of the series have underwriting. The Rosalinde Gilbert Concerts, which is the chamber series, was begun nine years ago by board member Arthur Gilbert in memory of his wife and is supported by the Gilbert estate. The Aaron Copland Fund and the radio station K-Mozart chip in for the Monday Evening Concerts, as do private benefactors. The museum's expenditure for music this past season was $250,000, which is approximately one-half of 1% of its $48.5-million budget. And given that some Monday Evening Concert patrons are threatening to withhold all future support for LACMA if the concerts go (and some have pretty impressive art collections), the savings will be all but negligible, especially if you factor in the loss of prestige.

Although bean counters might argue that a quarter million here, a quarter million there adds up, what the museum is really saying is that these concerts no longer fit the image of the museum as LACMA-land. The people who come to the concerts aren't $30-a-head King Tutters. They are not necessarily well-off yuppies who see the museum as a classy pickup joint and whom LACMA is clearly courting with its print and television advertisements. The concerts are $5 for students, who tend to be scruffy and serious. Few BMWs can be found in the parking lot on Monday nights.
Are museums anywhere else giving up music programs? I don't know of any, but I feel the nervous urge to check the Web sites of all the museums where I love to go to hear music. Is LACMA going the way of NPR and PBS?

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