Go to the Sarasota Opera during peak season, and you’ll see an audience of patrons happily filling the red velour seats. The same can be said for the Sarasota Orchestra or Asolo Repertory Theatre — there’s no question that the arts are well received in Sarasota. But, there’s a disconcerting trend at every arts venue; the amount of young audience members can almost be counted on both hands.
The organizers behind the Sarasota Culture Collective hope to change that. It’s a membership program that gives young adults who purchase the $99 membership two tickets to each of seven area arts performances with pre- and post-show cocktail events. It’s a savings of more than $500.
Creating a collective
Although it’s not the first year this kind of a collective has been attempted, it’s the first time Jaszy McAllister, promotions associate for Asolo Repertory Theatre, spearheaded the program with representatives from each arts organization. The goal is to completely recharge the collective with a calendar of events, sponsors and increased value. What started three years ago with just the performance and arts venues on or near the FSU Center for the Performing Arts Campus, has grown to include many of the biggest arts organizations in the community: Asolo Repertory Theatre, FSU/Asolo Conservatory, the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera, The Ringling and the Arts and Cultural Alliance. And it's being backed by community groups, such as sponsors Visit Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
The organizers are setting their sights on bringing in at least 90 subscriptions. And it’s all focused on the goal of appreciative audience development — these organizations make no revenue from this program.
This is why they do it: It’s hard to predict what might happen 30 years from now. Sure, many wealthy patrons are currently willing to write checks that make up financial endowments for performing-arts venues, which secure a financial future to a certain extent, McAllister explains. But what about after that? What if there’s no audience to enjoy the arts? So, McAllister pleads, if you have a child, grandchild or neighbor who fits the 21 to 40 demographic, spread the word.
“If we don’t help to build and instill an appreciation for the arts now, where are our sponsors and supporters going to come from (in the future)?” McAllister asks.
It’s not only getting the finances in line, it’s creating a lasting conversation about the arts that maintains its relevance in our community.
“Can you imagine going to Selva at 10 p.m. at night and overhearing one group saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we just went to the ballet and it was amazing!’” she says. “That’s how we’ll know when the group is successful.”
Why aren’t there younger patrons?
McAllister explains that before she took over the group for Asolo Rep, the theater tapped a focus group to learn why young people aren’t attending. For some young professionals, it’s the cost — at least that’s what some followers on This Week in Sarasota, the Culture Collective presenting partner, have commented on as to why they don’t attend. But, more than that, McAllister says, the focus group said it was an intimidation factor. What do I wear; when do I clap; what is it? No one wants to feel like the odd man out.
“The idea is that it’s something my parents or grandparents do, or that there may not be something I’ll relate to, or that it’s only Beethoven and ‘Swan Lake,’” she says.
Ambassador for the Culture Collective, one face behind the group promoting the membership, is 26-year-old commercial insurance broker Natalie Roderick. Roderick moved one year ago to Sarasota from Los Angeles. She didn’t attend the arts at first because she was uneducated about the programming. That’s why the Culture Collective includes programs from each venue that will appeal to this demographic with events catered specifically to them.
If a whole group of her friends were attending, Roderick said she’d be more inclined to go. As an example, a large group of her friends decided to get season passes to Busch Gardens so that there would always be someone with whom to go. She hopes the same for the Culture Collective.
“And, even if you don’t know anyone, there’s going to be a social hour so you can meet people,” she says.
This spring, Roderick went to Asolo Rep’s “Noah Racey’s Pulse,” her first Sarasota arts experience. She took a backstage tour, met the cast and loved it so much, she went back for a second time. The pre-and-post events will include educational aspects, such as tours and talks to give young people the opportunity to connect personally and intimately with the productions, just as Roderick did.
Sarasotan Virginia Robinson is a 32-year-old numismatist (a professional dealing in coin collecting). She grew up playing the xylophone as a teen, is into music and arts and is a foodie — she considers herself cultured. But, she didn’t attend any productions in the past year — and it’s not because she’s not interested. She’s willing to buy a ticket at normal price because she finds value in expanding her mind through the arts, but she doesn’t know where to start or what performances might appeal to her: “because they don’t advertise to (young people),” she says. But if there were a membership program catered to her to tell her what she’d enjoy, she’d buy it. Upon finding out about Sarasota Culture Collective, she’s already asking where she can get her tickets.
“That’s fantastic,” she says. “I will totally do that!”
IF YOU GO
Sarasota Culture Collective Kick-off Event
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
Cost: Free to members; $10 non-members
Info: To order the membership visit sarasotaculture.com
This Week in Sarasota, now part of the Observer Group, will host the Culture Collective landing page on its site. Be sure to visit ThisWeekinSarasota.com for future Culture Collective photo galleries, video, content and more.
Order the membership online at sarasotaculture.com or visit the Asolo Rep Box Office, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, or call 351-8000 for more information.