He notes that about a third of the Toronto Symphony’s audience is under the age of 35 – a remarkable statistic, by North American standards. And he also suggests that Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is enjoying popularity with young people, too.
But let’s get back to audiences. Since I live here, and attend performances by various musical organizations, I’m pretty much used to the composition of Toronto audiences. They seem normal to me. But looking around, I can confirm that some concert presenters seem to be doing a pretty good job of attracting that coveted younger demographic. (On the other hand, there are a few presenters in town who seem content to run seniors’ clubs.)
To what can we attribute this enviable state of affairs? For one thing, there are a lot of college-aged people in Toronto. With three big universities and several community colleges, Toronto attracts an inquisitive and better-educated class of young people from all over Canada.
Some organizations, such as the TSO, have made building young audiences a high priority. The orchestra’s near-death experience, ten years ago, seemed to wake the organization up and force it to re-think the way it was doing many things. (Maybe orchestras should almost go broke more often.) The decision was made to aggressively market cheap tickets to young people.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the twenty- and thirty-somethings currently taking advantage of the orchestra’s largesse can be turned into “real” subscribers later on. Are they just “checking out” the orchestra, out of casual curiosity – or will they become hooked on classical concerts?
And something else that any American who’s interested understanding how the TSO does things should know is that arts funding in Canada is quite different from funding in the USA.
In Canada, most civic orchestras will receive anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their revenue from various government sources. That’s much higher than it is in the USA. Canadians are well aware that government funding for the arts is substantial here (in fact, many Canadians think it’s higher than it actually is), and this creates a different kind of relationship between the arts and the public in Canada.
Because so much money is comes from the public purse, arts organizations in Canada are perceived more as public institutions, and less as private rich peoples’ clubs. After all, the question of who owns something is usually determined by who pays for it, isn’t it? It’s my theory that public funding helps to break down social and economic barriers that might inhibit less affluent sectors of society from participating in the arts. And that can help with attracting young audiences.
Of course, Canada isn’t in the same league as many of the wealthier European countries, when it comes to government funding for the arts. And government arts funding also has its down side. For one thing, it makes private-sector fundraising harder: philanthropists and businesspeople are less likely to give to the arts if they perceive them to be all ready well provided for by government. Even the largest Canadian arts institutions rarely attract the kind of major private gifts that American institutions do.
And it should also be noted that if the TSO and some other classical-music presenters in Toronto are doing a good job of attracting young adults, their success, if measured in racial terms, appears less impressive. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world: half of the people who live here weren’t born in Canada. Yet the typical TSO concert is a sea of white faces, lightly sprinkled with East Asians. Blacks, South Asians, people from the Middle East and other demographic groups who live here are underrepresented.
Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to know that everyone attending a TSO concert today won’t be dead in 20 years.
© Colin Eatock 2012