IV. Looking for money and for magic.

Money is the driver, hauling the arts’ heavy stuff: fees for artists; salaries for costume and set designers and backstage and box office staff; lights, sound, and sets; marketing – all the pieces needed for a show.

Arts leaders talk about “funding,” but that’s a euphemism. It’s about money.

If San Diego is in the big leagues of performing arts in quantity and quality, it is in the money minor leagues. Victoria Hamilton, the executive director of San Diego’s Arts and Culture Commission, reported to the League meeting on an Urban Institute study of arts in 50 cities of one million-plus population that will be released later this year.

San Diego ranks ninth in the number of people per 1,000 employed in arts establishments and 18th in the number of artists per 1,000. It ranks 41st in arts contributions. Any public or private contributor to the arts, however, can rest assured that their money is wisely spent. San Diego’s arts non-profits are incredibly efficient, ranking 41st in expenditures.

Jacqueline Siegel, PAL’s executive director, asked what it will take to get San Diegans to feel passionate about the arts. Branding and a new visibility is one of her answers. That’s marketing-speak.

She and Chaisson had more inspired answers, however. She said, “Art is high fashion.” He told the meeting, “Arts organizations are a force of nature.”

What sells the arts is their power to entrance, enchant, seduce. Siegel said she once asked Lendre Kearns, La Jolla Playhouse’s marketing guru, about her favorite time in the theater. Kearns identified that moment when the lights go down, and the audience takes a deep breath that inspires the artists in a mystical way. For music, I think it’s when the conductor stands quietly at the podium just before the upbeat, or in chamber music, when the players signal each other with their eyes, just before their bows strike the strings.

Those are moments of mystery and expectation. They don’t always appear when arts managers talk shop: box office, production values and ad budgets.

But those are the magical moments that count for the audience. To get passionate about the arts, San Diegans need to feel the power of the magic. Who will tell them?


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