The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced a new membership program that blows the doors off of any classical music ticket deal. The legendary ensemble released details of its new plan earlier this month: for a mere $5 a month, members can get unlimited tickets to the 100 concerts in the SPCO’s upcoming 2012-2013 season. This deal, which makes concerts more accessible than perhaps anyone had ever dreamed, was announced in tandem with the content of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s upcoming season. The season will contain 100 concerts, and, if a member of the new ticket program chooses to attend one performance of each different concert program, the cost will come around a jaw-dropping $2.
“I believe it’s probably the boldest model of its type, certainly in our industry and maybe in the performing arts at large,” said Jessica Etten, the orchestra’s senior director of marketing and communications. It’s certainly difficult to think of any arts organization, especially on the level of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, that offers a value even close to that of the new program. The program has just one catch, but that’s quickly and definitively offset by the many perks of membership. The best seats in the house–the $40 seats at St. Paul’s Ordway center–are off-limits to program subscribers. This seems like a minor thing to put up with when the benefits weigh in on the other side: members can choose seats online for an unlimited number of concerts, or they can simply show up the night of the concert and be seated (provided the concert isn’t sold out). All in all, members in the new program will have access to a full 80% of the available tickets for any given concert.
The obvious question for anyone thinking about the practical side of things is this: how can the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra afford to be practically giving tickets away?
Jessica Etten has the answer: “Over 80 percent of our revenue is related to philanthropy, and less than 20 percent comes from ticket sales. We exist because people come to the concerts and fall in love with what we do and want to support the organization. So, we’ve always said that what we need to do is make it possible for people to come to concerts and come often and come over a long period of time, so the SPCO becomes a big part of their lives. Then other institutional funders are able to say: ‘Wow, this is an organization that’sreally serving this community well through affordable pricing and lowering barriers to participation.’”
In today’s economic climate–in which high ticket prices can easily spell the end of concert attendance for those with little disposable income–perhaps the SPCO has hit on a winning formula. If the news in the classical world is anything to go by, big-ticket gifts, endowments, and donations are still alive and kicking, as wealthy donors, foundations, and corporations continue their sponsorships of the arts. The ticket-sized contribution of the average Joe, though, is not as secure. By acknowledging their income base and turning the concept of ticket sales on its head, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra may be accomplishing that which other orchestras and arts organizations have yearned to do: make classical music really, truly accessible. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, all it takes to have access to one of the world’s most highly acclaimed ensembles is $5. For music lovers and even those looking to get their feet wet in the classical pond, this is a deal that can’t be beat.
Will programs like it be coming to your local symphony? Let’s keep our fingers crossed, and, while you’re at it, give generously to your local arts organizations if you’re in a position to be able to do so. It’s the generosity of arts lovers of all stripes who have made this incredible gift of music possible in St. Paul. By giving to the arts, maybe you too can help bring music to everyone for mere cents on the dollar–and that makes everybody’s life a little brighter.