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Cultivating All Tomorrow's Culture Vultures

Institutions such as LACMA use 'young affiliates' events to bond with donors of the future.


Kathy Holden, 28, moved to Los Angeles from Chicago for a job as a movie set dresser and soon realized that she had no social life outside of film networking events.

"I wasn't going to the museum or going to plays--all of the things that I loved back home," said Holden. "It's hard to make the time to do that when I have to go to all these events to meet people and get ahead with my career." Not to mention that industry parties are fun and a taste of the glam Hollywood lifestyle that Holden moved to L.A. in search of.

It wasn't until a friend brought her to an event sponsored by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Muse program, dedicated to attracting younger membership, that Holden decided non-Hollywood parties were worth making time for. "It's really cool--there are stars here too and great art. . . . I definitely plan to join Muse."

Seeking to lure young professionals and creative types who would otherwise be celebrating the latest Web site launch or film opening, Los Angeles' cultural institutions are starting young affiliates programs in which they throw their own parties--and make them as star-studded and rock 'n' roll as any other party out there.

That's exactly what LACMA did for its recent Charles and Ray Eames design exhibit. The party featured rising glam-rock band Tsar and such attendees as actors Brad Rowe and Leelee Sobieski lounging on Herman Miller chairs with Jones sodas and Absolut vodka drinks in hand. After a very competitive game of musical chairs and a few hours spent chatting under the stars, the hip young crowd left carrying gift bags stuffed with Banana Republic eau de parfum and copies of Flaunt, a stylish fashion and design magazine that co-sponsored the event.

Such sponsors, according to Billy Fong, former director of Muse, make a big difference. "You're giving [members] the whole lifestyle," explained Fong, "We were picky with our sponsors and really focused on showing ourselves as the hipper, edgier side of the museum."

With more than 5,000 members, LACMA's Muse is one of the city's most successful young affiliates programs--aimed at getting art-conscious, up-and-coming members of the coveted 25- to 45-year-old demographic to join the museum. Cultural institutions like LACMA want to establish a history with those who can, in later years, be counted on to support the museum with generous donations.

LACMA is not the only place to realize that a little extra is needed to bring in younger members--and that the strategy may pay off in years to come. Last summer, the Mark Taper Forum established Backstage, a social and educational program aimed at the same key age group. The Los Angeles Opera runs UFO (Urbanites for Opera), which invites "20- and 30-somethings" to "meet new friends. Enjoy cool, hip parties." Even the Los Angeles Philharmonic, not known as a hotbed of youth culture, is starting Music Now!, which hopes to attract a new generation of members. And the Museum of Contemporary Art, comparatively a youth magnet, has run Contemporaries, an educational group with a strong social component, since 1986.

Though none of these programs is quite the size of Muse, they all offer enticing extras like parties and frills ranging from backstage tours to Tarot readings, to lure young professionals.

"These people are at the height of their busy-ness," explains Paige Glickman, a lawyer in her mid-30s and the founder of Backstage. "It's hard for them to take the extra time to search out the plays and come downtown."

With that in mind, Backstage puts together packages that feature popular plays, like this season's offerings of "Death of a Salesman," "Glimmer, Glimmer, Shine" and "Swing." Besides show tickets, group members have been invited to attend the opening party for "Glimmer," an event usually reserved for cast members and VIPs. They also will convene for dinner at the Water Grill before watching "Swing" and can join a round-table discussion of "Death of a Salesman" with Frank Dwyer, the Taper's associate artist.

"I had only been to the theater twice since 1991," said Lindsay Chomyn, 32, of Los Angeles, a corporate communications specialist. "But I've gone four or five times since joining Backstage--the packages gave me inspiration to go, because I was always too busy to search for plays myself."

The Los Angeles Opera's UFO program offers deeply discounted tickets to four popular operas this year--"Aida," "La Boheme," "Don Pasquale," and "Tosca." In late September, after attending a performance of "Aida," UFO members met in the garden of Traxx restaurant at Union Station. Quaffing wine and tasting mini-desserts provided by the restaurant, opera attendees like Augie Paculder, a political consultant, and Andy Ball, who does online business development, also lined up for palm and Tarot card readings. The pair, both in their early 30s and collaborating on a new Web site, say that UFO's choice of operas, coupled with premium seating and free post-parties, caught their attention.

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