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Branding the arts for fun and profit

Borrowing an idea from the pop world, nonprofit groups are embracing the tchotchke market. Anyone care for a Bowl Dog?

September 28, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Push past the snow globes. Ditto the key chains, cuff links and charm bracelets. Don't linger over blankets, backpacks and stuffed bears. You see those pencils twisted into clef shape? So five minutes ago.

Head straight for a piece of the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. Or, rather, a symbol of it.

Beginning Oct. 23, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be selling 6,400 commemorative souvenirs -- one for each of the 6,400 stainless steel panels on the building -- in the new Disney Hall retail shop. Plus, of course, the usual mix of tchotchkes, children's instruments and classical CDs.

"We tried to do something that was limited in production that would use the authentic materials of the building," says Jan Moya, director of retail operations for the Philharmonic. "This will commemorate the hall in a very special way."

The Disney Hall keepsakes have stainless steel fronts backed with Douglas fir, the wood used inside the building. On the front, there's a laser-etched sketch of the building and the signature of the architect, Frank Gehry.

Price: $75.

For a long time, pop music acts have been selling T-shirts, videos, coffee mugs, beach towels and the like as a separate revenue stream. Now, increasingly, nonprofit arts groups are getting into the act.

New York City Ballet's second workout video was No. 1 this summer on Amazon.com, replacing its own earlier workout video at the top of that list. The Chicago Symphony grosses $1.5 million a year in sales at its company store. American Ballet Theatre has just launched a three-year licensing agreement with Capezio dancewear. That's on top of an earlier partnership with Movado watches.

And though there hasn't been a Philharmonic outlet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for years, a Hollywood Bowl store has long offered a panoply of sweatshirts and other paraphernalia.

The Philharmonic won't give out figures on what it makes at the Bowl store, however. "We cover our expenses," says marketing director Joan Cumming. "The hope for retail is that we would not lose money. For the Walt Disney Concert Hall, we don't have any idea at this point."

But administrators of performing arts organizations generally say they're doing more than selling souvenirs. They're engaged in "branding" and developing new audiences.

The Chicago Symphony says its merchandise -- which includes women's socks, jewelry, baby clothes and wrapping paper -- takes the name of the organization into the community.

"That's a positive thing, an extension of our brand, putting it out, reinforcing it," says CSO marketing director Kevin Giglinto.

Besides, the store is the single place to get many of the orchestra's archival recordings. "It's important for our brand and for the future of the Chicago Symphony and classical music in general to provide access to that music to a buying public," Giglinto says.

New York City Ballet has the future on its mind too. It's teamed with Mattel Inc. in projects involving the Barbie doll. Already in release is a "Barbie in the Nutcracker" video. "Barbie in Swan Lake" will be out Tuesday.

"One task we face today is how to develop the next generation of an audience and also how to distinguish ourselves from all other entertainment options out there," says Christopher Ramsey, the NYCB director of external affairs. "Getting Barbie, who clearly speaks to girls all over the world -- her being an advocate for ballet -- is very important."

Ramsey warns arts organizations "not to be too much on a high horse. We need to do things well but not depend necessarily on people buying expensive ballet tickets just out of the blue.

"It's critical to reach out to a new generation of arts lovers and introduce them to the arts, basically going where they are, instead of expecting them to stumble across our temples of culture."

American Ballet Theatre marketing director Patricia Weber calls the troupe's licensing agreement with Capezio "very mutually beneficial."

"What it's done is identify what I call a top-line revenue stream that allows us to build incremental revenue without sizable expense," she says. "I like that. It eventually will help drive sales. We're in the ticketing business, not in the clothing business. But this will be a means to an end.

"Workout videos, dance clothing -- that creates a new way of getting to potential audiences rather than putting an ad in the New York City subway and hoping people will come to performances. Over the new year, you're going to see ABT doing a lot of things like this."

From the idea to the sale

Like ABT and City Ballet, the Philharmonic comes up with many of its own ideas.

"We go to professional gift shows here and in San Francisco and New York," Moya says. "It keeps us aware of what's going on out there. But we develop much of our merchandise by brainstorming among the staff.

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