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Classical 101

The Arts are Thriving in Columbus

Last Sunday's Columbus Dispatch had a lot to say about the plethora of committees, commissions and coreligionists who meet regularly at the behest of other committees, commissions and coreligionists to decide what is wrong with the funding the arts and how to fix funding the arts. No one has "fixed" arts funding.Prince Esterhazy was rich and liked music so he hired Haydn. You got enough and you want it? Problem solved. For the rest of us, its either 90% government subsidy because the local culture deems orchestras, dance companies, theater, the visual arts etc to be an integral part of the culture ("one of the reasons we get out of bed in the morning") or, as here we follow a free market business model where the weak die and the strong are generally ignored by 80 percent of a blitzed out population. I'm not sure the funding battle is worth fighting any more. More and more of our arts decisions makers seem not to be arts consumers themselves, or employ the business model that makes efficient management of emotion based products difficult. Oh yeah. Columbus, Ohio. Ask around in our coastal cities and you'll get the blank stare or football references. But here's a quick, and by no means exhaustive, list of what has been happening in the art in Columbus in the past twelve months, during the worst recession we can remember.

  • The Columbus Symphony weathered a financial tsunami that got nasty and personal and public. They have exciting new management in place. There are strong ideas and conversations going on about outreach. The lineup of guest conductors over the next several months promises a full buzz quotient. Gunther Herbig, a protege of Karajan's and "The real thing" in terms of fine maestri is at the helm until a new music director is in place.
  • The Arts Initiative at Ohio State has fine new digs in the gateway district and spends a lot of time effectively matching international cultural programs-such as the Royal Shakespeare Company-to the needs of our city. That's just one of their on going projects. That any university thinks to have an "Arts Initiative" is glorious.
  • The Lincoln Theater has been renovated, and the lights are back on on Columbus's near east side, a fabled neighborhood of jazz and cultural greats robbed of its heyday by the blight of I-70 and I-71 barreling through the neighborhood. The Lincoln is beautiful and booked. Crucially, the third floor houses the Columbus Jazz Orchestra's Jazz Academy, bringing our American music to a whole world of talented kids.
  • We have two theater companies that in the past years have gone from day care to center aisle: Available Light and Evolution Theater. Both are in residence at the Riffe Center downtown. No more garages for them.
  • We have a new chamber orchestra; The New Albany Symphony is in residence at the McCoy Performing Arts Center and begins its second season in October.
  • CATCO continues excellent work as our flagship theater company. They are all about quality.
  • Columbus Dance Theater has their own performance space downtown and continue to present great evenings of modern dance. People are attending or the company wouldn't exist.
  • Ballet Met has had two successful visits to the Joyce Theater in New York and is preparing the new season with Swan Lake. That's  an audience favorite, but is not produced by a company worried about its future. Force et confidence!

Go ahead. Add your own good news stories to this post. And remember one thing: If everyone who says 'isn't it a shame' when orchestras or dance companies or opera companies or museums near financial collapse would buy tickets to two presentations per season, there would be no financial crisis in the arts in America - ever!

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.