National Outlets Abuzz with News of Wallace’s Arts Grantees


Building Audiences for Sustainability, Wallace’s new initiative in the arts, received significant media attention on April 15, 2015, after the foundation revealed names of the 26 performing arts organizations that will participate in the initiative.

“Opera Theater of Saint Louis will experiment with reaching younger and more diverse audiences with a variety of programs, including one that will send singers into houses of worship to perform, to work with choirs and to connect with people who do not normally go to the opera,” writes Michael Cooper of The New York Times. “The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will start a new concert series pairing performances of contemporary classical music with indie rock artists. And Cal Performances, at the University of California, Berkeley, plans to build on its recent efforts to attract more undergraduates to its performances with a new program aimed at recent graduates.”

The Los Angeles Times explains the larger goal of the initiative. “The program is designed to be a sort of laboratory for the performing arts, in which each group will develop its own strategy for reaching a specific audience it has chosen as its target,” writes arts reporter Mike Boehm. “That might include people under 40, a racial or ethnic group, people living in a particular neighborhood, young professionals or some other demographic.”

Classical music critic Anne Midgette, writing in The Washington Post, used the news as an opportunity to explore the longstanding difficulties of building audiences for the arts. “There’s no question that arts organizations could use some new tools to deal with a current climate that seems to have left many of them adrift,” she writes. “And it’s nice that there are still some major foundations left prepared to put significant money into addressing some of the field’s particular, pervasive problems.”

But she questions the foundation’s focus on large, well-established arts organizations. “40- or 50-something-year-old potential donors coveted by the New York Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera may be more fulfilled by more specific and tangible acts of philanthropy: helping to fund an artist they like on Kickstarter, for example, where one can really feel one is making a difference, as opposed to having a $5,000 donation drop into a multimillion-dollar pool almost unnoticed,” she writes.

Jennifer Smith, culture reporter at The Wall Street Journal points to some of the problems arts organizations face. “National arts participation declined between 2002 and 2012 and the way people consume the arts is changing, according to survey data from the National Endowment for the Arts,” she writes, adding: “The Wallace Foundation’s effort aims to buffer arts groups from those trends, in part by increasing audience diversity.”

Several news outlets in the local markets of the 26 arts organizations also covered the news. “As part of an extraordinary initiative […],” writes Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun, “the [Baltimore Symphony Orchestra] will receive $400,000 for the classical/rock series, dubbed Pulse, a collaboration with WTMD-FM.”

U-T San Diego quotes Christopher Ashley, artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, another grant recipient. “San Diego is rich with many cultures,” Ashley says, “and we look forward to developing projects that speak to a diverse patron base and that explore multi-ethnic perspectives and the intersections of identity.”

Meanwhile, the Oregonian in Portland, Ore., provides a preview into the plays Portland Center Stage plans to produce using Wallace funds. “[Artistic director Chris] Coleman said he has the rights to adapt ‘Astoria,’ the harrowing tale of two expeditions trying to build a settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River,” writes classical music critic David Stabler. “Of the 140 members who reached the West Coast -- one group crossed the Rockies, the other rounded Cape Horn -- almost half perished by violence. Others went mad.”

Other outlets covering the announcement include the Arizona State University News, Business Journal – St. Louis, Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Tribune, Encore Michigan, Pasadena Now, the San Francisco Examiner, the Seattle Times, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.