Its one thing to sit inside the elegant Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall--as we did last night--and feel the rapture and excitement of sounds made by world class musicians. Its quite another to pick a tune--as I did today on my guitar--just outside, in the garden. Both experiences were thrilling.
Active Arts at the Los Angeles Music Center is wrapping up its spring Public Practice program for amateur instrumentalists at its campus downtown--at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The debate about the value of investing public funds for the arts always seems to heat up in tough economic times. We are hearing more about how a community can become more vital, even spur economic growth, by keeping it arts programs alive. And on the level of the individual, we are told that music can improve the mind, raise test scores and make us better learners, young and old, alike.
But, as reported in March 1, 2010 edition of the L.A. Times,( Beyond the Mozart Effect) you have to be a hands-on participant, not just a listener to gain these individual benefits. Said another way, engaged creativity trumps detached connoisseurship. This does not mean we should value any less sitting back and enjoying a fine performance. But it does point to where we should be putting our public and private dollars, and investing our own time.
Compared to most European countries, we in the United States invest a paltry amount of public funds in the arts. Usually the big concert halls, the symphony orchestras, the opera are dependent upon charitable contributions made by wealthy patrons. Public and non-profit organizations will team up with many of these same patrons to minimally fund hands-on arts programs--but those mostly are limited to children.
The times, they are a changin'. And a perfect storm's a brewin'. We are better understanding the value of the arts both to the individual--of any age--and the community. At the same time, performing arts centers like the Music Center--along with museums, historic sites, and live music performances in general--are on a long-term slide down, in terms of attendance. In this high-tech, user-generated, YouTube world of the 21st Century, it is not enough to bring in exciting young geniuses like Gustavo Dudamel, and expect the slide to reverse itself.
Performing arts centers are searching for a new, transformative model, and Active Arts at the Music Center is a leading scout on the search. Public Practice is one of its more innovative programs.
(Scroll down for two more posts on Active arts.)