«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
Board minutes, editorials, and personal correspondence reflect the vast difference between the civic leaders and the municipal government; the CGC selected the political officers, but these businessmen and professionals continued to run the city. When the CGC slate, featuring project supporters, passed in November 1967 it reiterated Phoenix leadership’s influence on the city’s cultural direction, and their power as performing arts patrons.100 A key part of the Convention Center plans included an auditorium that would finally end the reliance on the PUHS and Phoenix Junior College auditoriums. The Stanford group updated their initial study in 1966, noting that Gammage was a valuable addition to the Valley’s cultural sites, but arguing Phoenix needed its own civic facility.
Gammage was a state university facility in another city. ASU had priority in booking events, and its faculty and students had priority at the box office. When the city was still developing plans for the auditorium in 1965, a group of Phoenicians petitioned the city to name the concert hall ‘Linde Hall’ in honor of Mrs. Archer E. Linde. City Council instead chose the generic Symphony Hall to avoid offending other arts patrons. However the Hall’s Green Room features a portrait of Linde and plaque praising her work as a Newton Rosenzweig to Thurman Johns, 11 January 1967, Box 2 Folder 32, FM MSS 119, Newton Rosenzweig Papers, Arizona Collection, Arizona State University Libraries, Tempe, AZ.
“Week’s News in Brief.” “talented and tireless impresario.” Symphony Hall and Civic Plaza finally opened in 1972 after a decade of wrangling.101 The original plans for the Convention Center had also included a theater, but this aspect of the plan was dropped when the Phoenix Little Theatre and Arizona Repertory Theatre joined to create the Phoenix Theatre Center and expand facilities. The alternative, including a theater in the Convention Center site, could have strengthened the artistic footprint in the downtown area, and it might have saved Phoenix’s first chance at a viable professional theater. The Phoenix Theatre Center board consisted of eleven members, each group nominating three representatives plus a controller elected by a majority vote and a Civic Center Management Board member. The three groups maintained separate identities and boards but delegated facilities management to the PTC board, which set prices, scheduled usage, oversaw maintenance, and budgeted funds. ART members felt they lacked PTC executive board representation and claimed their delegates were “illegally nominated by an illegally constituted board of directors.” 102 They discharged their delegates and instead nominated their manager Tom Quillen and two others to the executive board, but the clashing worsened. In May 1966 executive board member Kenneth W. Ball, not a member of the ART delegation, wrote his fellow board members claiming the infighting was due to lack of decisive leadership and “certain dislikes for Eric E. Duckstad, The Need for Convention-Cultural Facilities in Phoenix – A Reassessment (Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1966), 5-6; Kyle Lawson, “City Owes Its Cultural Life to Woman Named Jessie,” Phoenix Gazette, November 8, 1992.
“Arizona Repertory Theatre: A Resolution,” 30 March 1966, Box 9 Folder 14, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers.
and intangible jealousies of a group of competent actors.”103 Ball suggested the city assume leadership, appointing a new board whose members were invested in the theater and would lease the venue to the three companies. It would have to be that, or the current members would have ignore their biases and focus on the theatre center’s mission. His suggestions came too late: the next day, May 12, ART dissolved their relationship with PLT and PCT.104 Many of the Phoenix Theatre Center’s issues stemmed from board members struggling to allocate PTC funds among three groups and deciding how to assign the space they all were funding. The dissolution of the Center in 1966 left the PLT paying for the Arizona Repertory Theatre’s renovations, but ART’s leadership needed to find a permanent location to continue staging productions. This dilemma led to changes in ART leadership, and its new manager, Bob Aden, asked the Theatre Center if ART could return, but received no reply. A second possibility involved Richard Charlton, who was planning a performing arts center to save his flailing Sombrero Playhouse after he had lost the financial support from his wife Helena, a Woolworth’s heiress, who died in 1965.
ART was unable to negotiate a deal with him, however, and the center soon failed. ART then presented its case at the Governor’s Conference on the Arts and Humanities in January 1967, hoping to become the resident repertory company for the State of Arizona.
Walter Bimson agreed to help the group, and they finally found space in a small Baptist Kenneth W. Ball to Fred Steiner, 11 May 1966, Box 9 Folder 14, Stephen C.
Charter: Phoenix Theatre Center, September 1, 1965, Box 1 Folder 1, Phoenix Little Theatre Records; Phoenix Theatre Center executive board meeting minutes, May 12, 1966, Box 9 Folder 14, Stephen C. Shadegg Papers.
church on North Central. One Phoenix Magazine reporter presciently observed, “Phoenix seems to be in the peculiar position of having an excellent professional company and not knowing quite what to do with it. Let us hope that by fall someone will have found the answer. Or we may find ourselves in the position of having no professional company at all.” The author was right: lacking substantial financial and administrative support, they never found a theater, and the group dissolved.105 Civic, city, and university leaders worked together through the 1950s and 1960s to create venues befitting a growing city with expanding cultural offerings. The government helped through bond measures, taxes, and other funding, but civic leaders were integral in proposing plans, researching possibilities, mobilizing community support, and using their resources and influence to physically manifest the performing arts in Phoenix’s built environment. The midcentury performing arts venues embodied the vision postwar civic leaders held for making Phoenix into a major urban center replete with the necessary cultural amenities.
Towards Civic Maturity Phoenix performing arts boards were tasked with organizing and administering groups that would advance the city’s culture, but their efforts were restricted by a lack of talent, audience, funding, and venues in a city constantly growing in population and size.
They not only had to foster a vibrant, quality arts scene, but also had to generate enough revenue to keep their groups operating by anticipating the cultural tastes of the audience and convincing donors their cause was worthwhile. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Anita Welch, “Homecoming for A.R.T.” Phoenix Magazine, May 1967, 19;
Reynolds, Golden Days of Theaters, 122, 126-127.
boards struggled to accomplish their basic administrative functions and realize their
goals. Typically, performing arts boards had ten to thirty members whose duties included:
promote the musical or theatrical knowledge of the public through educational activities and performances; establish, maintain, and operate a group of performers; secure loans and bonds; and rent or own, maintain, and operate a suitable venue or venues. Auxiliary groups also performed key roles, like the PLT First Nighters, who volunteered at performances, and the Phoenix Symphony Guild, dedicated to encouraging musical education for local youth and fundraising for the PSO. Fundraising activities included hosting social events like the annual Symphony Ball, which Phoenix Magazine declared “traditionally a highlight of the spring season in Phoenix.”106 The PSO and PLT had numerous supporters serving a variety of functions. Board members are vital to the success of their organizations by directing them towards improvement, but they can also generate problems if too many big personalities believed that only their way was best.107 The PSA found difficulty defining the role of its auxiliary group. Some members felt the Guild’s primary responsibility was improving the standards for young musicians, but the PSA Board under Ruskin felt all of the Guild’s funds should go towards the PSO “Orchids to… Phoenix Symphony… Arizona Biltmore…” Phoenix Magazine, May 1967, 35.
Articles of Incorporation of Phoenix Symphony Association, May 20, 1947, Box 2 Folder 1, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection; Charter: Phoenix Theatre Center, September 1, 1965, Phoenix Little Theatre Records; Board Minutes, 1978-1979, Box 1 Folder 4, Phoenix Little Theatre Records; Board of Directors, 1979-1983, Box 1 Folder 3, Orpheus Male Chorus Records.
first, and only after that to the youth.108 Former Guild members Monica Agnew and Jeanne Herberger both described a managerial culture where financial and political leaders made artistic decisions without understanding the consequences; board president was merely “a title to be added to a very busy businessman’s schedule.”109 The Guild strongly protested dismissing Guy Taylor, believing it would ruin the symphony.110 Agnew recognized the board members truly loved music, and that a good board balances business and artistic goals, but Herberger claimed the board was really “a closed circle of people and there was very little developmental work… it was for the one percent and that was it.”111 Twenty years after Barnett’s dismissal, the PSA’s goals were moving past the initial goal of cultivating a musical community towards growing the organization.112 The PSO’s conductor turnover rate stemmed less from the actual state of the symphony, or disagreements over its artistic vision, and more from personal problems between board members and the conductors. Barnett’s two successors, Hodge and Taylor, both left because of social tensions. Despite seven seasons of largely favorable reviews, board member Lewis Ruskin felt Hodge did not know how to conduct and was “very Monica Agnew, interview by Bryan Carrol Stoneburner, September 4, 1980 Box 1 Folder 2, transcript, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection.
Jeanne Herberger, interview by Bryan Carrol Stoneburner, May 1, 1980, Box 1 Folder 3, transcript, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection.
Agnew, interview; Herberger, interview.
amateur.”113 Ruskin urged the board’s executive committee to investigate Hodge’s credentials, and it discovered that Hodge had lied about receiving his doctorate from the University of Melbourne, having only studied there for three years. Whether Hodge voluntarily resigned or was pressured by the PSA is unclear, but the official story was Hodge accepted an offer to conduct in Yugoslavia, leaving “with the board’s full support.”114 If the board was happy with Hodge’s performance, as it presumably was if they allowed him to stay a final season, Ruskin (one of the symphony’s most generous patrons) must have carried great influence on the board. Revealing their careless mistake would have harmed the board and the symphony’s credibility, so it was beneficial for the PSA and Hodge to keep the details vague; however, it reflected the board’s poorly defined expectations for its conductors and fostered board tensions that would erupt during the next conductor’s tenure.115 Guy Taylor’s dismissal was the most controversial change in leadership. By 1968 Ruskin had served three seasons as PSA president and had been appointed board chairman in 1965, a position he held for fourteen years. When Taylor was fired many board members had no advance knowledge of the decision. Agnew told Phoenix Magazine Ruskin wanted a say in programming decisions and convinced the board that Lewis Ruskin quoted in Roberta Bender, “Turning Up,” Phoenix Magazine, October 1979, 69.
When Guy Taylor learned his contract would not be renewed, he said he would lie and claim he resigned to study in Europe, explaining this was industry code for ‘fired.’ Taylor, interview; “Offers Abroad Lure Phoenix Conductor,” Arizona Republic, May 2, 1958.
Bender, “Turning Up,” 69, 164; R. D. Speechley (University of Melbourne) to Bryan Carrol Stoneburner, May 27, 1981, Box 1 Folder 6, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection.
most symphonies had an advisory committee, something which the article’s author disputed. Agnew argued that, “no conductor worth his salt” would agree to anything but complete autonomy, and that PSA policies reinforced such artistic license.116 Taylor conceded the PSA could do what they pleased, since they paid for everything, but argued that it was unwise for them to make artistic decisions. Ruskin was upset by Taylor’s refusal to consider other programming suggestions and spoke ill of Taylor in public and private. Ruskin’s vision of Symphony operations differed from what the conductors expected from the position – and sometimes from how the rest of the PSA envisioned board involvement. Agnew commented, “Mr. Ruskin’s vision has prevented this orchestra from having its place in the sun that it deserves, because he has no vision, really; he has a vision of the box office.”117 Agnew’s condemnation of Ruskin’s commercialism is complicated, however, by the reality of conditions at the time.
Ruskin’s “vision of the box office” had made Gammage a reality, thereby quadrupling season ticket sales and allowing for its most successful seasons yet. In a speech to board members PSA president Wade Hampton pointed out Taylor was not totally responsible for the symphony’s improvement, and multiple factors (which the board facilitated) contributed to its success, including Gammage, new donors, and professional salaries.
Ginger Arlington Hutton, “The Phoenix Symphony: At the Crossroads,” Phoenix Magazine, August 1968, 12.
PSA/PSO leadership suffered in the first two decades because the board struggled to define what the symphony needed as the group and the surrounding city matured. 118 The PSO’s problems differed from many other city orchestras because it developed with a city undergoing tremendous growth. Taylor said Phoenix’s explosiveness attracted him to the job, even though his position with the Nashville Symphony offered better quality musicians.119 Herberger compared the Board’s priorities to the city’s, claiming: “There weren’t any priorities. It’s like everything else in this city.