Cleveland, once one of America's finest and wealthiest cities, is now struggling to survive. Among the survivors of its golden age is the Cleveland Orchestra, possibly the finest in the world and still the pride and joy of many ordinary citizens in Cleveland. As you can imagine, it's no easy task for a city of faltering economics to keep alive such an institution.
Adversity breeds good ideas, sometimes, and that appears to be the case with the orchestra. It is going to give out free tickets to listeners under 18 for selected concerts and form an online club for deeply discounted tickets for those 18-34. The orchestra will be doing more performances in the neighborhoods, busing young people to Severance Hall (possibly the most beautiful symphony hall in the nation and one of the very top acoustically), and working hard to be relevant to these young listeners. The goal: no seat left unfilled. Another one: to have one of the youngest audiences in the country. A third: to change the conversation about the orchestra.
Cleveland is frankly facing the facts about how many empty seats it has for the orchestra and other fine arts institutions. It is doing something about the graying population in those seats. Seattle, however, regularly congratulates itself on the size of its audiences, even though all kinds of discounts and expensive marketing ploys are used to build those fickle audiences. And the city is unreasonably smug about the breadth and excellence (for a city this size) of our arts.
A small suggestion. Get all downtown arts venues to agree to Free Under 25 nights, with the difference underwritten by donors who understand the need to have young audiences, not just young conductors. It could be part of repositioning Seattle's downtown as an arts district.