In 2009, after the so-called “Great Recession” had taken a firm hold on the American economy, businesses that were once accustomed to turning hefty profits were faced with unprecedented financial losses.  Not surprisingly, performing arts organizations faced an even grimmer reality.   But they came prepared with over a century of experience in making the impossible possible.  You see, arts organizations are resourceful, and they always have been.  While critics such as Norman Lebrecht have made headlines in recent years for their doomsday forecast for the performing arts, one could argue that many of these same institutions have been “dying” since the day they were born.  Ok, maybe that’s a little overstated—but it’s partly true.  A 1969 Time Magazine article chronicling the struggles of some of America’s major orchestras suggests that the problems associated with financing performances are not new, but the root of the problem goes back even further.[i] Since the nineteenth century, arts organizations have struggled to make ends meet, in many cases sacrificing popular appeal in favor of artistic integrity.

Despite the courageous efforts of artists, administrators, board members, and other advocates, the tension between these historical underpinnings and a changing cultural environment has continued to grow.  Leon Botstein, founder of the American Composers Orchestra and President of Bard College, points out that, while today’s social elite are just as wealthy and philanthropic as past generations, they simply do not care about classical music: “The patron class is philistine; instead of Andrew Carnegie, we have Donald Trump.  Some rich guy with a hedge fund wants to be photographed with Angelina Jolie, not support the Cleveland Orchestra.” Witticisms aside, Botstein has a point: have arts organizations failed to change with the times, having to work harder and harder to convince audiences and donors that they are still worth their time and money?  With rising costs and a saturated marketplace, are the efforts of these organizations to articulate their value and relevance too little, too late?

We don’t think so, but we do think that performing arts organizations need a little help. Part think-tank and part consultancy, Symphony Bros. was founded to help artists and arts organizations tackle these seemingly overwhelming challenges.  We started this company because we believe that great art is 1) worth paying for, and 2) potentially attractive to a larger audience than most have ever imagined.

But if this is the case, why are arts organizations struggling? Is it lackluster funding and public support, mismanagement , or an inadequate business model?  Are some art forms simply a lost cause, financially speaking?  Why should public or private funds be directed toward struggling orchestras and opera companies when the populations of homeless and hungry continue to rise, and shelters remain understaffed?  What should the mission of performing arts organizations be, and what measurable value do they bring to their communities? Do young people know or even like Beethoven and Brahms?

We don’t have definitive answers to these questions, but we’re confident that we at least have a start, with more on the way (and this blog is part of that process).  What we do have is the expertise, desire, and determination to work with organizations and artists to help solve these issues.  In short, we partner with performing artists and arts organizations to imagine new revenue sources and gather strategic information so that they can build a more focused and effective operating model that empowers artists and audiences. The concept is simple, but the potential impact is significant.  Using historical data, current market research, and an unwavering focus on integrating organizational and artistic excellence, we enable arts organizations to thrive by motivating concertgoers to invest in a live music experience that is as participatory as it is memorable.

So check out our website, drop us a line, or comment on the blog. We’re excited to hear from you, and promise to do our best answering questions and keeping you updated on all things Symphony Bros.  Until next time…

[i] “American Orchestras: The Sound of Trouble,” Time Magazine, 13 June 1969.