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Audience age and the arts

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Another article about the horrible situation that we have in this country that arts audiences are older and generally well-educated, from a Florida perspective. While some arts organizations are beating the beaches to try to flush some youngsters into the opera house, others are saying, "Is this the way to go about audience development?" One of the very few articles I've read about this question to print quotes from someone who questions the trend of "young at any cost."

What do you think?

From today's Miami Herald:

Face of the arts

The more he studies his audience, Schlender says, the more he believes that most young people just aren't intellectually or emotionally ready for Mozart, Bach or Brahms.

''We really don't start touching people until they're about 40,'' he says.  

``There comes a time when you just turn off the rock music and maybe you just need to move on to something different and we just have to continue to be here to provide that.''

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In the 60s, a lot of the ballet audience was the younger crowd, or at least those who thought young. Then, in about the mid-80s, I noticed something disquieting. The older members of the audience, corporate types and other "non-traditional users" from my point of view, began actually taking over the best seats, and treating younger audience members, especially students, in what I considered a high-handed and contemptuous manner, as if to drive them from the Sacred Precincts of the Monied! One particularly ugly moment in my memory is a fight in which I engaged on behalf of some students who were being berated by a fat-cat sort for being over-enthusiastic in their reactions to a performance by American Ballet Theater. The kids were being absolutely reasonable - I was the same distance from them as the complainer, and they weren't misbehaving. He whipped around on them during the intermission and laced into them with a string of epithets and profanity which I took as over the line, and went in after him! The woman who was with him at first looked chagrined, then she waded in, taking me on the left ear, while he chewed on the right. They eventually paraded from the theater, in high dudgeon, and he fired a parting shot over his shoulder at me - a favored obscene name, no doubt - "goddam Liberal!";)

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I don't think the point of Schendler's comments (he's the director of the Florida Philharmonic, if I'm remembering the article correctly) was to keep out the young, or berate them, or behave in a snobbish manner or encourage other people to do so -- and of course, nor would I -- but to question the attitude that has competely dominated arts fundraising efforts, of bringing in young audiences at any cost -- in the same way that television marketers target that golden 18-34 age bracket.

There are a number of points of view expressed in the article, as well as some (IMO) good strategies for bringing in younger people that have nothing to do with programming pop material.

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My point was that the audience for ballet had shifted away from the younger, well-informed crowd to a type that saw seats at the ballet as a sort of corporate entitlement, and non-members not welcome. This was probably very far from the intent of any Audience Development Department, but the Audience took on a life of its own, and made life uncomfortable for the young. And we are not talking some hip, outré program, either - this was at a performance of Swan Lake, forcryinoutloud! The youngsters, in their brief lives to that date, had probably forgotten more about classical ballet than their assailant was ever likely to know, and here they were, being made unwelcome at their own art! I ended that evening a sort of hero to those kids, maybe, but my ears still sting a little when it's about to rain!;)

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From the Miami Herald:

“The more he studies his audience, Schlender says, the more he believes that most young people just aren't intellectually or emotionally ready for Mozart, Bach or Brahms.”

And also financially. Younger people have children to raise, mortgages (often huge) to pay, college tuition to save for, etc. Older people generally have more disposable income and more leisure time to devote to the attending the performing arts. I wrote on another thread that when I was quite young and first going to the ballet at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago I read an article in the Chicago Daily News about the “graying” of the audience for serious music, opera, ballet, etc. Since then the Daily News has gone out of business and the Auditorium Theatre still has its dance series.

An issue that hasn’t been addressed is increasing live expectancy. A fifty-year-old today in the United States will live significantly longer than a fifty-year-old in (for example) 1960. So the older audience that the arts are attracting now will have longer to live, attend and contribute than before.

Mel Johnson wrote:

“The woman who was with him at first looked chagrined, then she waded in, taking me on the left ear, while he chewed on the right.”

That is illegal in some states.

He further wrote:

“My point was that the audience for ballet had shifted away from the younger, well-informed crowd to a type that saw seats at the ballet as a sort of corporate entitlement, and non-members not welcome.”

There are a few sections of the Chicago Opera House on certain Lyric Opera evenings that are like this—Thursdays, as I recall. Couples from the North Shore or Gold Coast who have had their subscriptions for a LONG time occupy the best orchestra seats. The only problems happen, though, when one of them (always one of the men) is awakened suddenly.

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I agree with the above quote. There are different ages of appreciation. I think it is as obnoxious to push classicism on the general population of youth as it is for fifty year olds to be still obsessed with the very thin pleasures of Lynard Skynard.

But I think we have a problem, Houston...

The generations born prior to, let's say the 60's, grew up with a greater exposure to the classical arts. Examples: A popular movie of the 40's "Stage Door Canteen" featured Gypsy Rose Lee and Yehudi Menuhin. Ed Sullivan followed the Marquee Chimps with opera greats. When NBC was developing color TV in the 50's it chose the opera Carmen, the ballet Sleeping Beauty, and a 3 hour Richard III with Olivier as PRIME TIME (!) offerings.

Now, this exposure didn't keep me from totally becoming a rocker in my far flung misbegotten youth, but as I grew older, the immense, deep pleasures of the classical arts beckoned to me not as a strange, alien life forms, but as something that had always been around. I just wasn't ready for them til later. Therfore attending a ballet or symphony was easier to do. It was something grownups did...and I was proud to (finally) be a grown up.

Two important changes have happened over the course of these last 30 years: The general exposure to the finer arts has obviously diminished, and people don't want to become grownups in a youth obsessed society.

Nightmare sentence dujour:

"After their his and her Botax injections, they hopped on their Harley, and roared off to the latest Final Stones concert."

The Aged Watermill

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I think Watermill is absolutely correct. Mr.Schlender is being optimistic when he says, "There comes a time when you just have to turn off the rock music..." It's true that people used to "graduate" from the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller to Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, and then to Renata Tebaldi and the Philharmonic. But they don't anymore. People in their fifties are still tuned to the rock music.

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Not all of them :) The summer I discovered ballet was a watershed for me -- I was 26. I'd been brought up on classical music, but otherwise had the same exposure to the arts -- i.e., none -- that most of my generation did, especially people living in small towns. I loved the Beatles and Bob Dylan, that era of rock. There was a time when my favorite piece of music was the Doors' "Light My Fire." After college, however, I did find rock music unfulfilling. I wasn't quite ready to sell my rock collection and go back to Beethoven -- until the summer I discovered ballet. The next week, literally, "There [came] a time when you just have to turn off the rock music."

Not to say there's anything wrong with rock or pop music nor the people who listen to it, just as there's nothing wrong with stockcar racing or world championship wrestling -- but it's a different audience.

One of the slogans for this site should be Balanchines, "Ballet is not for everybody, but it can be for anybody."

I do think that there's a problem in people who market ballet at those who'd really rather go to a rock concert, instead of sticking to what they do -- ballet -- and beating the bushes to find the people of any age and any color who will respond to it. They're out there.

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Alexandra... I'm surprised.

" Not to say there's anything wrong with rock or pop music nor the people who listen to it, just as there's nothing wrong with stockcar racing or world championship wrestling -- but it's a different audience."

This is the kind of comment that leads people to say that ballet is elitist.

Why can't I listen to Mozart, Bach, Williams, and Copeland and continue to listen to Rock Music, or Country Western music for that matter?

A different audience, not necessarily. And although you won't find me at a professional wrestling match, I've been known to watch a race or two as well as attend plays, concerts and the ballet.

And I do try to get others to experience ballet. If we don't expose new people to the art how will they know what they're missing? Ballet can be so exciting and beautiful and wonderful, I want my firends to know it too.

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Ballet is an elite art form. It is not a mass, popular art form. It has always been so -- opera, literature, classical music all are elite art forms. I see no reason to apologize for this, any more than an elite athlete should have to say, "Ah, shucks, an Olympic gold medal ain't nothin'. I'm just like the sandlot players back in Gopher Hole."

But elite doesn't mean exclusionary. It just means that it's not a mass art form. It's not a hamburger. It's filet mignon. Going out and finding people who want and expect and love hamburgers and inviting them, without preparation or education, into a restaurant that only serves filet mignon and its ilk -- or wild game, or sushi, or whatever -- means two things. First, the Burger person will be very disappointed and/or second, the restaurant will have to begin serving burgers and will no longer be a sushi/game/fine French restaurant.

Again, I'd say: One of the slogans for this site should be Balanchine's, "Ballet is not for everybody, but it can be for anybody." I think that's the distinction between "elite" and "elitist." Saying ballet is "only for me and you can't come in" is elitist. But saying "Ballet is an art form with this, this and that characteristic. I think it's neat, do you like it?" isn't.

Who's saying you can't listen to Mozart and country? Listen to whatever you want. But one doesn't go to An Evening with Mozart to hear rap, nor to an evening of rap to hear madrigals, and although many people do have catholic tastes, one whose taste is primarily the one is unlikely to be as happy with the other. Something that radio stations know very, very well -- they've built their business on it. Why this is an issue in dance, I will never understand.

I also think that the initial comment I quoted to start the thread is better understood in context of the article, which is discussing a specific audience in a specific city, although I think that many of the comments could be relevant elsewhere.

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I have to admit, I think Madonna is fantastic, Kurt Cobain's death was a loss and I'm a big sports nut. But I also love ballet.

I don't think ballet is an elite art form. I think like football, like pop music, like politics, it's something that you can't necessarily understand from the first viewing, but you'll know enough whether or not you want to attend again. Having said that, you can't force market it to people that may not be ready for it.

While I disagree with a certain age being "ready" for ballet, I think the enormous price you ask people to pay for a ticket, is more to preserve an artform than it is to be entertained for 2 hours. Ballet has become a business and in that lost much of it's art. There are people that love it and people that like it and there is a vast chasm between the two groups.

I learned much of my ballet knowledge from an aunt who thought Broadway shows at the time were "horrible" so she took me to the ballet, I hated it for years, then I started dancing myself.

I cannot speak on behalf of those that have no direction to the ballet. But I think it's the attitude that my generation suffers on many levels that we're just not "old enough" to understand certain aspects of culture. We have never had a president shot in office (thankfully) and we've never had a genius in the ballet world. Instead, like much else in culture today, we have crash and burn situations. People that are elevated through the press only to be replaced by the next best thing.

Perhaps the reason so many young people are not found at the ballet right now, is because the ballet is... quite boring. There's nothing "exciting" happening, with the exception of Ashton and the Kirov in NY this past year, it was quite a disappointing year.

There's no "corner market" for the arts anymore. The monies that used to be ear marked for the arts by patrons, it's not really a thought for my generation. People talk about how the arts are suffering, yet we're bombarded by images of countries plagued by illness and starvation.

Sorry, this is a bit on the long winded side. But I am a ballet supporter and I am tired of hearing how there are/not many "young" people in the audience. Sometimes I go, but I have far more choices now. I have far more opportunities to see other companies, other than the hometown one. My loyalties don't lie with a particular one, but to the art form. And maybe the reason there aren't so many of us in the seats all the time, is we're a bit more selective. I've gone to see more ballet at festivals these past 2 years than I ever have.

And along the lines of Alexandra's, you don't go to the Mozart to hear rap. Yet these ballet companies try to entice, I'm not quite sure who, but people in with "pop" meets ballet and it's a bit insulting (if it's geared at my age group) yet you can listen to pop music that his incorporated classical music in it. While I'm not a fan, Vanessa Carlton was doing a Q&A session with some kids and they asked her about the classical music in a particular song. She explained that the basis of the song was a waltz. The kids were like "oh, that's cool".

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I think that most arts groups don't know who is in the audience because they haven't done the research, which is - I admit - expensive. But what we all see in the theatre is at best anecdotal evidence. Not something I, as an arts administrator, would use to make decisions.

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Very good point, liebs. I wondered that, as well. I would guess that their audience data is based on subscriber info, but that doesn't account for walk-up trade -- or subscribers who turn in their tickets which are bought by others.

At the Kennedy Center, I notice what look like demographic differences from performance to performance, often within the same company's run -- but I'm only basing what I see from the orchestra. Having been going there so long, there are regulars whose names I don't know, but whom I recognize, for one thing. But also there are times when one looks around and sees only gray heads (which provokes neither a sigh nor a cheer from me) and sometimes there's a mix. Fridays and Saturdays one often sees more under-40 couples than during the week. Some companies have different age (and other) demogrpahics as well. I've posted this on prior threads on this topic, but when I started going in 1976 I read an article that said the average subcriber age for NYCB was 55. This is not new.

A modern dance story. D.C.'s Dance Place used to be downtown, in one of our most interesting mixed race areas, which had LOTS of ethnic restaurants and is one of the top Friday/Saturday night out spots for young working people. So often on the way to a performance, I'd see a couple stop before Dance Place's poster, look at it, and obviously make a spur of the movement to go in -- just as they might for a movie. Modern dance is the hardest sell of all, yet people will be open to it if one "gets them where they live." (Sad ending: Dance Place lost its lease and moved away from downtown. It's still quite successful, but the audiences seem to be more the friends of the performers and diehard regulars than in prior years.)

Calliope made so many points that I'd like to respond to -- especially the one that "people aren't going because ballet is not exciting" (I'd second and third that). I'm on a deadline and can't right now. I hope others will before I get back :)

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I'm sure you didn't, Watermill. And I would love to see some of the programming you describe back on network prime time, for example. (Today, Leonard Bernstein would be exiled to PBS or Bravo.) I do have a problem with Schlender's statements –not just rejecting the Youth At Any Cost stance, but writing young people off; and I don't accept that ballet or opera is something you necessarily "graduate" to when you're older. (Or that, if you don't graduate to it, you suffer from some kind of arrested development.)

Those prosperous older white folks aren't necessarily going to concerts or the ballet because they're "intellectually and emotionally ready" or looking for "inspiration" -- to return to the Herald piece. Often, they're going to see and be seen, and because they have deeper pockets. I listen to some of these people during the intermissions, and they're no deeper or brighter than anyone you might meet at a jazz concert. (They're also frequently unadventurous, preferring Mozart and Brahms because theyare familiar and bear the cultural equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.)

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Where to start on this article? Since I'm not from South Florida, but New York, I suppose my views are a bit Northern...

I think there are an awful lot of generalizations in this piece.

Yet, first I'd like to start with an observation:

1. ''In Miami-Dade, a large part of the population base has come from areas where arts are viewed a little bit differently,'' says Pete Upham, director of marketing and communications at Miami City Ballet. ``For example, contributions, they're government-funded. So these people aren't used to contributing. And contributions really have to make up half of our income.''

I suppose Mr. Upham is implying that the vast majority of Miami-Dade's population hails from points farther south...as in Cuba, where the "state" funds the arts?

Now onto the specific points that caught my eye:

2. "But a recent survey of the opera's single-ticket buyers found that young patrons tend to shun the commitment of a subscription series, instead buying single tickets on short notice. That led the FGO to develop the ''Diva Deal,'' a discount admission program targeted at patrons between the ages of 21 and 35...''We'd not only be addressing that behavior [of buying tickets on short notice] but addressing a definite need for a more reasonably priced ticket for people who are just beginning their careers,'' MacKinnon says."

Sounds like a great idea to me - let's submit this to our "own" ballet companies and see what they say!?:)

3."The orchestra recently surveyed its audience, Schlender says, and found that ``they come for the music and not for social reasons. They come for emotional and intellectual stimulation. They come for inspiration and not escape.''

''Sometimes,'' Schlender continues, "younger people do want something a little edgier. They want something a little more contemporary. But who's buying the tickets? . . . You can put on something by Philip Glass but then there are empty seats in the audience. It doesn't necessarily turn into dollars at the box office.''

Hmm, I don't know about you however I do not believe that Philip Glass is exactly on the cutting edge of today's young person's horizon. The people I know who attend Philip Glass concerts tend to be in their late mid 50s to later 60s and even early 70s...OK, I know that there are some modern dance companies that use his music but a straight concert?

And then, just after saying that the audience members come for "emotional and intellectual stimulation." and that "They come for inspiration and not escape" - the author of this article writes that Schlender feels that "The more he studies his audience... the more he believes that most young people just aren't intellectually or emotionally ready for Mozart, Bach or Brahms." Seems to me that Schlender is a bit at odds with himself here.

My vote goes for "Diva Night" AKA "Prima Ballerina Night" (what's the masculine form?) and doing a really well though out survey to figure out who their audiences really are or could be.

I agree that deep pockets are awfully helpful when it comes to subscriptions... However, if the arts organizations wish to "grow" their audiences then I think somehow they have to teach them the importance of "giving"...along the lines of NPR and PBS...AND create at least a week with in each season, or make some viable attempt at lowering ticket prices for a short time, and advertsiing this in an appropriate manner.

All this being said, we all know that everyone spends their money on different things. What makes one person scrimp on their wardrobe and subscribe to a season of ballet, while they live in a tiny apartment or on the "wrong side of town" while someone else chooses to spend their funds on country clubs and a $175 little black handbag with someone's name on it? Who knows? :rolleyes:

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I think I'm against the research of audience demographics.

If you put out a good product the audience will come naturally.

Take the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", while it probably won't win any Oscars, it's not a big budget film, but it's been around for almost 5 months now. It was all done by word of mouth, starting out with a marketing campaign in Greek churches! I saw it only 2 weeks ago, b/c someone told me it was good.

I can't tell you the last time someone told me to go to the ballet b/c it was good.

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Calliope, the reason I think a demographic study well created and well executed could be worth while is to show the administration who really does come to their programs. I do go regularly - not as often as some of the balletomanes here:) but I do subscribe to both the NYCB (usually just their winter season) and ABT's spring run at the Met...and then I fill in with other types of companies when possible or single tickets but I am far from the deep pockets corporate type...and I can't be alone in this "type".... so maybe this would be worth knowing for their marketing and membership/fundraising departments?

Actually I can think of a number of times I've been told to "go see" such and such ballet because it was "so good" or so and so was so"wonderful" - and I'm thankful for the good advice I've gotten by word of mouth!:)

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BW, thank you for finding the Diva program :) I think that's a good idea, too -- and a way of adapting a usual procedure so that people who don't usually go to the ballet BUT WANT TO are given a way to do it. (It sounds similar to New York City Ballet's Fourth Ring Society, which I also think is a very good idea.)

I think that's the key -- I agree with Calliope that if you have a good product, that's the most important thing, but I don't think people will come naturally. They have to know about it, and they have to feel comfortable -- with the theater, with the process, with everything. The first time I went to ballet at the Met I was very nervous. I felt as though I was going into a strange church and wouldn't know the hymns, nor when to sit and when to stand. I think this is the key to reaching young and minority audiences. If you don't feel comfortable going to the Met, or wherever, you need somebody to make it easy for you. I wish they'd go into colleges and say, "Hey, curious about the ballet? We're all going on Friday, you get a student rate and we can meet here about 20 minutes before you leave and I'll tell you something about what you're going to see. And if there are any questions, we'll answer them." I think that's the way to get people who aren't your usual audience to come, not saying, "Gosh, what do those folks like??" And then do a ballet to a pop composer because "they" will all read about it in the paper and flock in droves. I think the past 15 years have proven that it doesn't work that way.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

BW, thank you for finding the Diva program :)  I think that's a good idea, too -- and a way of adapting a usual procedure so that people who don't usually go to the ballet BUT WANT TO are given a way to do it.  (It sounds similar to New York City Ballet's Fourth Ring Society, which I also think is a very good idea.)

It reminds me of something which was done by the region or the city when I was a student in Lyon: there was something called "chèque culture" for students, you could buy it once or twice a year for a very low price (less than the equivalent of 10$, I think), and it gave you something like one cinema ticket, one opera or dance ticket for some institutions (Lyon Opera, Maison de la Danse...), one museum ticket, and a reduction on the price of a book (in a large list of bookstores) equivalent to the price of the whole stuff. So I knew some people who bought it mostly to get the cinema ticket or the book, and then decided to attend an opera or a ballet because anyway it was free (I had just started my dance pages then so some people asked me for advice about the programming of the Maison de la Danse). I don't know if that program has ever created ballet or opera fans, but I think it was a good idea. Of course it was subsidized quite a lot by the region or the city, but perhaps some cultural institutions could do similar things (a bit more expensive perhaps) to try to enlarge their audience?

Another convenient idea was a ticketing system of the Lyon Orchestra, which was a bit like the "Diva night": people under 26 could buy a four-ticket card, and those tickets could be used by between one and four people to get tickets for their performances on the day of the performance (the best remaining seats), so it was quite convenient when a group of friends wanted to attend a performance. The first performance of the Lyon Orchestra I attended was thanks to that system, three friends of mine had planned to attend and had asked me if I wanted to be the fourth one...

The only problem with such systems limited to people under a given age is that when you get older but your income remains the same, you suddenly realize that ouch, it's expensive :)

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In the 50's and 60's did they do outreach programs?

I'm assuming ballet made money back then that companies are still around.

I liked your Met comparison, Alexandra, it is a bit like going to a new "church". But with ballet, you have the Nutcracker that can "break the ice" so to speak and I think that's when most young people go first.

I still think the younger generations are marketed to way too much. I think where you market to them makes a difference. And how, if you market ballet as an art form, you won't draw in much of a crowd, they already know that. But if you market it as entertaining, you run the risk of insulting those people that think of it as an art form!

I'm still waiting to see advertisements before the movies for the ballet.

I'd be interested to see what the financial demographics are according to seating.

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Ballet companies did do outreach programs in the 50s and 60s, only they were called "tours". Ballet Russe would usually use trains, Ballet Theater would use buses, the Joffrey, famously, started with one station wagon! Ballet would play then in towns where ballet has not been seen since the days of the bus-and-truck tour, for various reasons, but still, companies don't tour like that any more!:(

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Being someone who likes other arts as well as ballet,I always can't help notice the lack of young people in the audience.I don't feel ballet is an elite art(now opera is!).It's so obvious the arts are not of first importance in the USA.I see classical music not being written anymore-only in a small way.There are few classical composers left.What are the first subjects to go in our schools?Music and art.The future of the arts is in our young people.We aren't doing a good enough job reaching out to them with the arts.The Pennsylvania Ballet is doing some eye-catching advertising to draw in a younger audience.I recall Septime Webre promoting "Beer and Ballet" not long ago for the Washington Ballet,Miami City Ballet has some unusual programming grabbing a new audience.We need to spread all the arts more. Ballet needs to be more affordable and available and on television and brought into schools and to youth!

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I don't know that it's enough to only introduce it in schools. Companies would have to really work with schools on curriculums, I'd bet there's as many teachers out there that haven't been either. But it has to be the family, it's not enough to just introduce it. It's like drug education, not enough to just say no, you have to go beyond the school. And the cost of tickets make it tough for a family of 4 to go to a ballet once in a season.

I think the arts are so selective and it's why they get neglected in education. They're such personal tastes/decisions. Sooner or later I'm sure you wind up with controversy over a piece, whether it's ballet, music, painting....

I think marketing should be aimed as a family experience, offer discounts to people that bring kids, that will do far more than watching a videotape.

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