Steven D. Lavine, president of CalArts, once went to the opera in San Francisco wearing shorts and a bathrobe. It was not a fashion statement; he was trying to make a point.
"People looked at me with such disdain--some people whispered: 'How could you ruin this for us?' " said Lavine, 45. "I was trying to make the statement that they're smothering the music that I love in something that is unattractive.
"The stuffiness that surrounds the arts--what is it about? We have sort of smothered these institutions in a social style that is representative of a certain generation. Let's get rid of the trappings, and get to what the real thing is."
At first glance, there might seem to be no connection between Lavine's weird night at the opera and the future of the arts. But Lavine's protest reflects a widespread feeling among younger patrons of the arts, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, that the arts world just doesn't get it.
There is a strong perception among young, influential and often wealthy supporters of the opera, ballet, the symphony and museums that the institutions that present the work they love have not kept up with the times. The formal dress, dangling chandeliers and dated etiquette cover the actual artistic experience like a thick layer of dust.
It is the difference, say, between George Bush's era and Bill Clinton's, a generation gap between those who built the arts institutions and those who now must keep them alive.
"It is our concern that the audience base, literally and figuratively, is dying," said Michael Blachly, 45, new director of the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. "The audiences haven't necessarily gone away, but they've gotten older."
Blachly, Lavine and other Los Angeles arts leaders are equally concerned about the aging of the arts donor pool. In an era of decreasing government support for the arts, they are scrambling to make the arts more attractive to those able to support them with a much bigger contribution than the purchase of a ticket.
Arts leaders observe that systems of raising money are breaking down as the city's demographics change. They say the arts institutions can no longer rely on a handful of wealthy, white, male donors whose wives toil tirelessly as volunteers as their main source of support. They recognize that their future donors are two-career families with no time for the traditional niceties of fund-raising; they also know that eventually the patron base must reflect the city's ethnically diverse population.
They know that relying on the "old money" won't work. They need \o7 new\f7 old money.
Gai Gherardi, co-owner of L.A. Eyeworks, internationally known for its eye-wear designs and with stores on Melrose and in Orange County's South Coast Plaza, put it more bluntly: "It just doesn't feel good to go into White Anglomania, and indulge in some kind of mutual stroking." Gherardi, who is in her 40s, cultivates young local artists by using their work to promote the eye wear. "It's not a good thing. Come on. Wake up."
While Los Angeles has already experienced an influx of young arts leadership--note the Los Angeles Festival's artistic director, Peter Sellars, 35, and the Philharmonic's much-heralded new music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, 34--directors of the main arts venues are hoping for a similar youthful revolution on institutions' boards of directors and in circles of major donors.
Ticket sales and admissions cover only a small percentage of operating costs; dwindling government arts support picks up only a fraction of the tab. So, while these organizations are locked in a much-publicized effort to attract new audiences, an even more frantic battle is being waged over young arts patrons.
The term \o7 young\f7 is relative. Because the price is steep, major donors, board members and trustees in their 40s and 50s are considered young in that venerable network. No one expects the bulk of that group to be in their 30s, let alone their 20s.
But arts institutions realize they need to cultivate potential donors before they reach middle age. Some representatives of these organizations say the job is particularly difficult with today's under-40s, who went to school or launched careers during the Reagan era, when philanthropy was not a key concern.
"The tone set in the 1980s was a lethal time," said Gordon Davidson, producer-director of the Music Center's Center Theater Group. "It's not a cliche to talk about the Me Generation."
Despite those pressures, a handful from the under-40 crowd are already venturing onto the Los Angeles arts scene. For these members of the business community, ambitions range from occasional monetary support to joining boards, from using their business contacts for fund-raising to lofty plans to found a performance hall or a performing arts company someday.