Orchestras, First Step to Financial Health is Happy Audiences

Don’t expect the drumbeat of financial trouble for orchestras to stop.

The Brooklyn Philharmonic performs at the World Financial Center. (Alvina Lai / Brooklyn Philharmonic)

The Brooklyn Philharmonic performs at the World Financial Center. Photo Credit: Alvina Lai/Brooklyn Philharmonic)

Here are a couple quotes that I think are helpful in thinking about the long-term resolution of this. First, from the Chairman of the orchestra’s board, “Despite the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s tremendous artistic successes over the last couple of years, the orchestra continues to experience financial difficulties.”

If an organization’s definition of artistic success diverges too much from the definition of its audience or the potential audience that it needs, those successes are really limited in value.

Second, Jesse Rosen of the League of American Orchestras says, “All performing-arts organizations are having a problem because audiences can stream what they want on demand and curate their own experience” and implies that flight FROM Brooklyn to the suburbs has depleted the audience available to the Brooklyn Philharmonic. I have to say that the last part strikes me as hard to believe, given the influx of artists and art consumers TO Brooklyn in the last few years. And as to the comment about audiences not showing up because they can “stream what they want,” well, that’s true if there’s no good reason why the live experience is better.

I’m not saying for a second that the answer to improving the financial health of a traditional orchestra is easy. I am saying that at this stage, every orchestra in America (and probably beyond) should be starting with as close to zero assumptions about the specifics of what they should possibly do, and build up from there around an audience.

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