So asked a twenty-something techie I met one night at dinner (what are the chances of that happening in San Francisco?) A recent Berkeley grad, he was telling me about the job he’d just landed – something to do with big data (or was it big brother?) I went on to explain what I did for a living, and he posed the question above.
SF Opera’s simulcast of La Traviata in the ballpark Saturday attracted a crowd of 26,000. But as reported at the Opera America conference here last month, attendance nationwide has been declining. Companies have been curtailing schedules or even, in some notable cases, shutting their doors.
We’re all looking for innovative ways to reach new people. The theme of last month’s conference “Audiences Reimagined” invited a record number of opera companies from across the U.S. and Canada to consider ways of increasing civic impact, getting opera out into communities, and engaging new audiences through media and technology.
The internet so often seems an isolating force. Our ability to access quality audio and video in almost any setting brings the arts to us rather than require we go out to meet it.
But there is nothing like experiencing the arts in public venues for which they were created – the impact it delivers, the focus it enables. The ephemeral exchange between performers and live audience, the sense of community – we need to relate not only in cyberspace, but in the immediacy of physical space.
Creating audiences of the future is almost always cited as a main goal for education programs at arts organizations. I believe our work has a much more significant aim: to make possible moments of personal discovery and transformation, to “give voice to potential” as the San Francisco Opera Guild’s mission states. If we can do this, there will always be seekers of great art wherever and however it is to be found.