Where are the Wealthy, Educated Patrons?

The denizens of San Jose are already known to be among the wealthiest, on average, in the nation. Now, an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly identifies us as the most highly educated large city in the country, based on the number of college graduates per capita. This is very good news for all of us. I would expect that such statistics would translate into a population that is the most supportive of arts and culture in America, financially and intellectually. However, I am not so sure when I look at the continuing problems of the Rep Theater.

Certainly, the institution has been mismanaged from the top, given that they were unable to reach fundraising goals and subsequently make do financially on what they did raise. But, why have they not been able to reach their fundraising goals in the first place? They weren’t entirely unrealistic, given the importance of the institution to the community and the past history of the Rep.

Some of the Rep’s productions may leave many patrons scratching their heads, including me, but they are the town’s number one professional theater company and meeting the public’s expectations that the Rep should cater to their wide range of aesthetic points of view is an impossible task. And, as has been suggested by some, the solution is not for the company to resort to appealing to the lowest common denominator by importing a never-ending series of Andrew Lloyd Webber extravaganzas. Programming is not the biggest factor in the financial condition of the Rep; the theater is doing its best to present highly polished professional productions that have recognized value not merely as easy entertainment but as thought-provoking experiences too. It’s a balancing act, as I have said before, and, perhaps, some years the whole thing goes a little flat or bumpy. We should be taking a more long-term view of the institution’s value. The economic success of this valley was built on innovation developed through years of intellectual struggle coupled with the human ability to learn from failure, and it seems logical that our top stage company falls into a similar pattern in their annual season of productions at times.

The Rep Theater is an important cultural institution in our city. Why isn’t the population—and resident corporations—adequately supporting it with their wealth and educated attendance? As I wrote in a recent column, financial and operational management must be handed over to a more professional and highly capable group of specialists. Will enough supporters step up to the plate to save the theater and insure its future in the city if this happens? I have my nagging doubts, but, given our population’s award-winning wealth and education, there is hope. Scott Herhold suggested in the Mercury News this week that the board should hire an omnipotent “special master” for a year to make changes and decide whether the Rep can be salvaged. I think this is a good idea, but I would say the person needs to be more “miracle worker” than dictator. However, I believe that such a person, with the dedicated help of the community, would have a good chance of finding a way to save the Rep—and not entirely through the public purse.

21 Comments

  1. DING! DING! DING! DING! DING!

    NO MORE CALLS PLEASE!  WE HAVE A WINNER!

    The problem is bigger than the Rep.  The problem is the nouveau riche who made their money in the boom (part I or part II) have not been raised in an atmosphere of philanthropy.  They don’t support the community, it’s culture and the arts.  They support themselves.  It’s not “see how I support my community with my riches?”  They live by a credo of “see how rich I am?  And I’m getting richer!”

    Until we see a sea change in the boomer culture, we won’t see support for the Rep or anything else cultural in this community, no matter how good the Rep gets.

  2. Your assumption that because we have so many college graduates we automatically have cultural advocates. But where do we find the statistics on the quality of the degree.
    Major problem! It seems we have a large population of people who are, supposedly, knowledgeble regarding the arts. Don’t think so, if it’s not loud and in your face it’s not considered a cultural event.
    Do miss the good old days! But change happens.

  3. If you want first-rate theatre, you have first-rate productions, first-rate stars and an ongoing list of contributors and supporters.

    Without the Shorenstein’s, Getty’s etc. in San Francisco, culture would not exist.

    We have John Sobrato and Mike Fox—but many others play on a global level—witness the Packard Foundation and Steve Jobs. 

    Steve Wozniak built the Children’s Discovery Museum and Luis Valdez has been a major supporter of plays—so we are not without promise.

    I’m not sure any tax money goes to the cultural entities in SF—does anybody know how much tax money is spent in San Jose on nonprofits and how it is allocated?

  4. #4 Richard Robinson

    From my June 15 column:

    The City of San Jose grants just over $2 million to arts and culture annually. While this is certainly not inconsiderable, it is comparatively small for a city our size. San Francisco, at the other end of the spectrum, grants over $60 million to the arts, financed in part by $13 million from a dedicated hotel tax fund.

  5. #2,

    Instead of greed, many that work in Silicon Valley are not all that interested in the traditional art experience. 

    I have worked with many technical people over the years here and cannot recall anybody ever mention they went to the theater, symphony or ballet. 

    Most computer types would rather spend the evening cruising the Internet than sitting through a long play that does not compute.

  6. You have all made good points why the Rep has big problems.  Here is some more food for thought.  We all talk about our need for affordable housing in San Jose, what about the need of very,very high end housing.  The kind of places where CFOs and CEOs of big companies like to live.  They may work in San Jose but they live in Los Altos, Saratoga, Atherton, Palo Alto, and Hillburough.
    When it comes time for giving and supporting the arts, they give back first to where they live.  If they want to see a show, they may find it just as easy to drive to the SF from Palo Alto for instance, as it is to drive to San Jose.  We need to make the heavy hitters true San Joseans.
      Many of the well educated people that come to make their fortunes and homes in San Jose are not made to feel part of a greater culture.  Too many residents only see San Jose as a stopping off point between their hometowns and their dream homes.  Once we have these indaviduals with bright futures, we need to keep them.  That is where a real feeling of community comes in.
    Much has already been said about San Jose’s lack of self respect for its traditions and heritage on past discussions regarding the importance of historic preservation.  This is only an other example of how the building plays an important role of the total experience, while attending an event.  Most people would rather attend events at the California , Jose or any of the historic theaters in SF, than the Rep or better known as the Big Blue Dumpster.

  7. Another thought is the following:

    we have a large amount of two income families; who live in a very expensive part of the country.  How do expect them to have the time or money for the Arts?

  8. The problem is the people here are very poor quality with no taste for arts and a cosmopolitan downtown atmosphere.  They’re just looney.  They’re just dull and suburban.

  9. Good points…an educated person’s reason for not attending:

    Last time I went, I wanted to walk out of the theatre halfway through.  My pride wouldn’t let me do it – which made it more painful.

    The last theatre expereince I enjoyed was in Walnut Creek.  It helps that the people who were there walked out at intermission and there was a buzz.  Those are the people you want to sit in a room with – not people who look like they just spent too much time with their in-laws.

    There are may people who want to support the arts in San Jose.  Many who support the Rep reluctantly.  Have they ever done a thorough survey of their existing season ticketholders or past patrons to see what they think?  It may be helpful “keep your customers happy” and then tackle the next target market.

    As we have all stated, there are probably some very smart people associated with the rep – maybe their board should be more active – a shocking revelation in the non-profit world.

  10. Maybe you guys have the question upside down. Perhaps the reason the highly-educated people of our fair burgh don’t give money to the Rep and other arts institutes is precisely BECAUSE they’re smart. They see that these institutions are not well-run businesses, they’re not targeting their local cusotmers, and they have a snooty, ‘we deserve public money’ attitude that strikes the hard-working business managers here as the sort of assertion that would get run out of their boardrooms. Simply put, the fault, Dear Rep, may not be in our backers but in ourselves.

  11. Biggest problem of all: the “arts” are downtown. SJ is neighborhoods. There is no downtown, and there may never be one. The neighborhood folks I know HATE downtown. If they want a theater experience they go to SF. Wozniak may have a downtown street named after him, but you can often see him in downtown Los Gatos. Anyway, he’s an engineer—like most degreed San Joseans—for whom the arts are an uninteresting unprofitable mystery. George Green

  12. San Jose is also just a tougher demographic market.

    Families with children are less likely to attend theater than other groups.  The south bay has more families than San Francisco does.

    Those families are likely to have time for a children’s museum, and ours is doing quite well.

    It isn’t that we don’t have culture.  It is just culture of a sort that is relevant to the population.

  13. Wensday I passed through downtown. It was awful. I crossed the street to avoid the half-naked guy. I entered the Fairmont where a filthy shopping cart was parked by the door. I crossed Chavez Park and looked at people sleeping on the benches and lawns, one in dirty pajamas. I avoided the guy loudly bragging about the iBook he stole from “white people”. I waited for the trolley, but there was a system breakdown. I looked around the Tech cafe, but got a bite at Zanotto’s; thought about a movie at Camera 12 and then decided to leave before dark.  I was uncomfortabe walking around during the daytime, that’s why I never visit during the nighttime.  All the time I was downtown I was thinking about a NYT article re: “bunks for drunks” in Seattle.  The neighborhood is just not inviting, no matter what’s offered on the marquee.

  14. The correlation between affluence and education is not that revealing.  It does tend to follow that those who are motivated to be highly educated may also be motivated to succeed, and a certain affluence follows that path. 

    What doesn’t compute is that those who have the first two attributes are the natural source for audiences for the arts.  While it is true that some in this category are strong arts supporters, it is equally true that some never attend.  The existence of wealth and education is not a value statement about the arts worth to the community.

    Communities often define themselves and their civic pride by their pivotal institutions. Baseball teams, libraries, symphonies and elite schools – these mean something to the sense of place—to the pride of place that citizens have for their community.  San Jose has struggled with pride of place and therefore it struggles to find adequate formulas to support those institutions that could help distinguish San Jose from anywhere else. 

    San Jose is not seen by the bulk of citizens in the region as a major urban center.  The proximity to the airport keeps the high-rise development rather close to the ground.  That in turn spreads the downtown core from a walking city to a driving city.  Civic destinations are few and far between. There has been work on a theatre here and a park there and a museum or an Arena across town, but that hasn’t yet pulled together to define a destination.  (First Act is posing a vision for this and their work bears watching.)

    The arts in San Jose are seen as a service, not a point of pride.  Many attend the theatres and enjoy their evenings.  Attendance in San Jose is quite respectable compared with many other cities.  What is missing is that those who attend and even those who support these organizations, often quite generously, still see it as a valued service but they fail to take full ownership of these institutions as pivotal anchors to San Jose’s sense of place. 

    In many major cities it is an embarrassment for a corporate CEO or other senior community leader not to be actively embedded in one or more of the major civic institutions as donors and as trustees, often as its chair.  CEO’s on arts boards are rare in San Jose, and when there, they are rarely in the company of their peers.  There aren’t five CEO’ on any board that I know of, so when CEO #1’s term ends, where is his/her replacement to come from?

    The challenges facing the Rep may stem from some failed management efforts, but one has to remember that the title “non-profit” is a misnomer.  The proper legal title to this sector of our economy is “public benefit.”  The Rep is a “public benefit” corporation. If we see the Rep struggling, then where was our communal support base when the challenges developed? What did we, the public, do to govern this public asset?  What are we going to do about it now?

    The question is not what is the Rep going to do? Or what is the City going to do?  It is what are we going to do? 

    I run an arts group in San Jose and I have come to terms with the great values that our community has, but I also recognize its limitations. I serve a niche audience with a high quality product.  In other cities that niche might be bigger, but here it is this size and it works well.

    Do others want more for San Jose?  We are the 10th largest city in America by population – does anyone place us in the top 10 on a civic pride scale?  Why not?  What will it take to turn that corner.  The Rep is a symptom of a city ambling along without direction.  Don’t castigate the canary in the mine – take heed of its warnings. Pay attention to the needs of our public assets.  Care a little bit.

  15. Thank you Andrew B.  Very astute and well thought out observations.
        San Jose seems to lack “Pride of Place”.  Most people living in the outlying cities, Campbell, Saratoga, Mountain View when asked where they come from most likely would say “San Jose”.
    Myself I live in Santa Cruz, where we defenitely have a large “Pride of Place”.
    Unlike urban San Jose we also have a “youth hostel” where young people from all around the globe can stay for $18 a night.  Most travelers, even the techies, nerds and geeks, will not visit the great San Jose area museums, Winchester House, etc. because they are traveling along the Coast.  “Silicon Valley” is not located on any map.  There is no Silicon Valley-San Jose Hostel to attract them.
      If there would be a SV-SJ Hostel then it would be self-supporting, attract many highly educated young international and domestic travelers to SJ (athletes, conference attendees, school groups, families of reservists, etc.) and begin revitalizing the tourist aspect of the City and its region.
      Many HI Hostels are in unique locations, such as log houses, Victorian mansions, farms,lighthouses, aboard ships, city parks, former military, some medieval castles.  A unused obsolete semiconductor fab facility with much of the equipment intact would make a great SV-SJ Hostel.  An “Inside Intel” (or AMD, Sun, HP or ? logo) atop such building is dirt-cheap advertising.  Even a industrial tilt-up near public transport, restaurants, shopping and entertainment would OK.  Does not have to be fancy!
        I suspect some of you readers have hosteled around Europe and elsewhere when you were young and had some, if not great, but very memorable experiences. 
      Now that you’ve made it, it should be payback time!  Unlike gifts to many other “public benefit” organizations, this one would leave a very lasting legacy.  Driving by the hostel (or volunteering) will provide “Pride of Place”.
    PGP

  16. There is little civic pride about San Jose among most Silicon Valley companies and their employees with even less volunteerism and contributions since they view San Jose like a business apartment or motel room some place to temporary live

    San Jose because of our politician / developer pro growth policies and very low housing fees provides most of working class labor and affordable local Silicon Valley housing for Silicon Valley companies

    We are Capital of Silicon Valley Housing and working class labor while other cities provide jobs and retail stores to San Jose’s disadvantage  

    Later this week when you are working or shopping in Campbell, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Gilroy, Palo Alto, or San Francisco and see your neighbors shopping and paying those city’s sales taxes you will know why we do not have money to support our arts, theater and city

    Not the way to city financial stability, economic success or greatness

  17. my longer version of this evaporated when my sbc DSL connection just disconnected without warning this a.m.

    Anyway, Jack, the majority of the college graduates settling here were engineering graduates, not liberal arts graduates.  They appear to have litle taste for artistic stuff, and even less of a taste as a group for donating money to anything but large custom home builders and fancy car dealerships.

    Further, the big money earners live north of Cupertino, so why would they come to hip hop/gangsta/vato-land (aka downtown San Jose) on a weekend night when they can get a broader selection of the arts in The City?

  18. Thanks, #16 and #17.
    Your pessimism about San Jose City is catching.

    The area’s super wealthy, movers and shakers, Costco shoppers live in suburbs and in the hills.
    Locals only talk politics and upcoming elections.

    Some of the super wealthy are only talking to architects, yacht builders or jet plane decorators.  That segment doesn’t have much San Jose “Pride of Place”.

    Trying to find the few wealthy people that hostelled around Europe in their youth, had some great life changing experiences may be overly optimistic.

    Still believe that a Silicon Valley Hostel should be in the San Jose area because of good public transportation for tourists without cars, far away from the many SF hostels, near some great musuems, Winchester Mystery House, convention centers, universities, some less expensive car rental places than the airports, near popular Fry’s and Costco stores.

    A San Jose Hostel (perhaps Santa Clara or Campbell might do just as well) will attract many young-well educated international travellers, families, as well as groups of all kinds (schools, Elderhostel, scouts, athletic teams) and bicyclists, convention attendees, anyone who can’t see spending $60 and up for just 8 hours of sleep.

    Hostels don’t attract the homeless, the $20 to $25 per night is too costly and at HI Hostels you can’t stay more than three or six days in a month.  If you don’t behave you’re gone!
    HI Hostels aren’t fancy, but affordable, clean, safe and friendly (and have kitchens, large living rooms, laundry, bike storage, and Internet).  More like a frat house than an Army barracks. 

    Perhaps some corporation with people who have vision should help us. It’s a one-shot investment, once a hostel is open it’s self supporting. 

    Imagine a hostel at a unique location sponsered by a local company with it’s logo prominently displayed, such as “Intel Inside”, or AMD, HP, 3Com, Sun, National, Apple, Applied Materials.  We could house eBay’s PEZ collection.
    What cheap advertising for a multinational in a place that attracts a large international upwardly-mobile crowd.  They should be beating down our doors to get aboard!

    Read in Monday (9-25-06) SJM, page B3, that the City is trying to dispose of many neighborhood
    community centers.  Any suggestions which could be converted into a great 200 bed HI Hostel??
    PGP

  19. Over ten years ago, a group proposed moving the historic Zanger House, located at 1st and Alma, up the steet to the Historical Museum at Kelley Park.  It was to be used as a Hostel. The project never got off the ground. A young family saw the vale of preserving a part of our rich past and moved the home to a place that respects our heritage (the city of Santa Clara).

  20. 19.  Hello Just the Facts…
    Remember that, but wasn’t involved. Was sad, the organization didn’t have the dollars and some didn’t have the vision.  We still don’t have the dollars.

    But that was ten years ago,  lots of water under the bridge.  Can’t cry over spilled milk.

    That was then, this is now!
    Who’s going to come up to the plate??
    PGP

  21. One year and half has passed.
    No one has come to the plate.

    Sadly, no Hostel in San Jose or surroundings.

    Santa Cruz Hostel is doing great.
    Many visitors from all over the globe, the worthless dollar is attracting many overseas visitors (most travel the Coast and don’t venture into Silicon Valley).
    Lots of school groups and girls scouts.
    Our 42 beds are often full, even in the off season. This is our best year since 9-11.

    PGP of Santa Cruz, hostel volunteer.