«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
The chamber of commerce can say yes to business, that we have a symphony orchestra, yes, we have an art museum, yes, we have the sun, the stars, and the desert. But there was no real interest in doing any more than that… It was like, well, he’s the bank president so he can sit on the board. There was no focus and direction; there was [sic] no goals and objectives.”120 In reality, the Board did have a general vision, if not a specific artistic vision: they knew the symphony was an important part of a sophisticated city, and they knew they wanted the PSO to grow. Two decades and four conductors later the symphony was making progress, with a somewhat professional orchestra and plans for a new concert hall, but they were still stumbling along the path to achieve its goals.
The PSO and the other two cultural institutions also struggled partly because they lacked a reliable funding base. When the OMC was fundraising for their trip to the Hutton, “The Phoenix Symphony,” 12; Taylor, interview; Agnew, interview;
“Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Season Ticket Sales, 1947-1978,” Box 2 Folder 2, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection; Hampton, Statement to Phoenix Symphony Association Board of Directors, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection.
Austrian International Song Festival in 1958, Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes, and Carl Hayden all pointed director Ralph Hess to possible funding sources, including the State Department, the military, and a New York grant program, but none provided any support.
Ultimately, the OMC found funding from local Goodyear Tires, publisher Eugene Pulliam, and private donations after a plea in the Arizona Republic.121 In 1966 Governor Samuel P. Goddard created the Arizona Council on Arts and Humanities, later the Arizona Commission on the Arts, complying with the newly created National Endowment for the Arts’ mandate that each state create an arts agency to manage funding. The council consisted of 35 appointed officers who distributed state and federal funds, encouraged professional development, fostered opportunities in small communities, and through these actions defined the arts scene in the state. Goddard campaigned on his arts support, advertising in PLT programs that featured his photo and read, “Support the Living Theatre – SAM GODDARD.” 122 Arizona was one of the last states to create an arts commission, signaling its delayed cultural maturity and reliance on private patronage. In Phoenix, the lines were blurred between artist, donor, private citizen, and public official. For example, Newton Rosenzweig was a founding member of the PSA, served on the CGC and influenced city politics, led the Civic Plaza Building Corporation which built a hall for the PSO, all while Ralph Hess correspondence, 1958, Box 3 Folder 44, Orpheus Male Chorus Collection; Butler, “Orpheus Male Chorus,” 35-38.
Samuel P. Goddard, “Executive order No. 66-1: Arizona Council on the Arts and Humanities,” January 24, 1966, Executive Orders, GV 1.3:E 93/1966, Law and Research Library, Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records, Phoenix, AZ;
Samuel P. Goddard, “Executive order No. 66-8: Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities,” November 16, 1966, Executive Orders; Phoenix Little Theatre programs, 1962-1963, Box 6 Folder 64, Phoenix Little Theatre Collection.
running a successful family jewelry business, which he advertised for in various programs. Boards turned to government and philanthropic support through bond drives and foundation grants when necessary, but they strived to create strong organizations that generated enough revenue to sustain operating costs. The arts commission aided the state’s cultural development and grew as the National Endowment for the Arts program expanded and Arizona’s government committed more money to programs. By 1975 Arizona performing arts programs had received just over one million dollars from federal and state grants through the agency.123 Still, government funding had been slow arriving and relatively limited, so during the two decades following the war civic leaders built and supported the arts scene they wanted. Once they were gone, Phoenix would need government agencies, or new patrons, if its institutions were going to survive.
A New Generation of Patrons Losing the first generation of arts supporters, a poor economy, and rising cultural expectations in the 1970s made it difficult for performing arts groups to earn community support. Phoenix had grown exponentially since the 1950s, and it was now competing with the nation’s top urban centers for business. Through that time civic leaders maintained the growth vision but lost the steps they needed to get there. Instead of creating a diverse economy with high-tech firms supported by a strong educational system, leaders allowed unplanned growth and prioritized quantity of students over quality of education. Further, they ignored programs like the arts – a civic feature that intrigued high-tech executives like Motorola’s Dan Noble – in recruiting tech firms to the “Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities Annual Report to the Governor,” 1975, Ephemera Collection.
point where, as VanderMeer described it, the “postwar high-tech suburban vision” became a “fixed stare.” Phoenix was too fragmented for leaders to control all of the pieces of the vision.124 In 1975, Margaret Hance became the first non-Charter Government candidate to become mayor, while four of the six city council seats were also won by independents, effectively ending the CGC’s influence. Through the CGC, the elite had controlled city policies, pushing their vision of what the city should look like. Political change came, in part, because the city had expanded for so far in space and population – the city spanned three hundred square-miles and included 750,000 people – that the old elite no longer expressed an agreed upon vision.
A second part of the change involved the economy. The industries that helped Phoenix grow were collapsing by the 1970s and 1980s: the rush of skilled employees and high-tech firms plateaued, construction companies overbuilt, and local businesses like Korrick’s and Goldwater’s were absorbed by large chains. Businesses and employees found cities like Austin and San Diego more desirable. Such changes had an impact on the arts, for as local leaders retired or died arts organizations lost their top patrons, and others did not automatically fill their positions. National chains were not invested in Phoenix’s community arts scene, so when the old elite left private funding decreased. In order to continue performing, groups turned to government funding to compensate for the loss. Federal and state spending on the arts had increased since the NEA and Arizona Commission on the Arts in the mid-1960s, so there was more aid available beyond the local elite. However, new civic leaders, now largely public officials, needed to promote VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 296.
economic recovery and develop a new strategy, one that would sharpen rather than merely identify Phoenix’s strengths. But because leaders built their new vision around a poor economy, and the group lacked the same cultural priorities as the old guard, they abandoned the arts. The performing arts needed a formal commitment from government officials who understood culture’s role in the rapidly changing city, but competing interests made it difficult for groups to secure the same level of support. The government – at all levels – became a vital supporter for the arts out of necessity.125 The PLT had the greatest difficulties with fundraising. After it failed to professionalize, funding organizations no longer wished to help the flailing theater. The Arizona Commission on the Art felt the PLT was not professional enough to warrant underwriting. The local business community neglected the PLT, not wanting to pour money into an organization that continually proved financial unstable. The PLT owed Valley National Bank $60,000 from the Theatre Center plan, and additionally owed the Phoenix Art Museum $20,000 – with no ability to repay either debt. Local sponsors, quick to help before the professionalization debacle, no longer saw the theater as a worthy investment compared to other cultural ventures.126 Despite the struggles, the theater continued producing during this time, for it still had an audience and some sponsorship. The theater had been struggling for so long that it was no longer fashionable to fundraise through traditional venues – everyone could assume the PLT always needed more money. In the mid-1970s PLT solicited corporate support for productions by making one business a producer. The company would pay up VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 304-309, 314.
Vetrie, “Theatre Phoenix Concept,” Phoenix Little Theatre Collection.
front to receive special billing in the program and advertising, for example, “Special Thanks to Our Producer-Sponsor for ‘Barefoot in the Park’ – The Arizona Bank” (September 1975). The program ended when the Ramada Inn withdrew support if the theatre because their name was on a particularly poor production of Life with Father. The theatre would have to improve in quality before it could raise more money, and it could not attract the necessary personnel without providing compensation. It was a cultural catch-22. Michael Vetrie demonstrated innovative and successful financial strategies.
After his first year as manager, the PLT had a net operating profit of $20,624 (before loan obligations). Vetrie secured $43,400 in federal funds from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which provided training for public service jobs, and he was able to hire more staff. Vetrie helped the PLT stabilize and improved its quality during his short tenure, but in a situation reminiscent of Guy Taylor and the PSA, he refused to tolerate the board’s increased encroachment on day-to-day operations and programming choices, and he left the theater.127 Phoenix did provide some public support for the arts. Its Parks and Recreation department housed a Music Unit and a Drama Unit, and like the private institutions both were crippled by the poor economy of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Budget cuts eliminated projects like the Lillyput Pops, which provided free monthly concerts for children at the Convention Center featuring a variety of professional artists, and the People’s Pops, the Ibid.; “Phoenix Little Theatre Presents Barefoot in the Park,” September 1975, Box 7 Folder 79, Phoenix Little Theatre Collection; Phoenix Little Theatre board minutes, March 7, 1979, Box 1 Folder 4, Phoenix Little Theatre Collection; Bonnie Bartak, “Council Tentatively Approves $43,400 for Phoenix Little Theatre Program,” Arizona Republic, September 12, 1978. Hardy Price, “Phoenix Little Theatre Director Resigns Over Dispute,” Arizona Republic, November 9, 1979.
PSO’s free monthly concert. The Children’s Opera received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, but when the city was unable to provide matching funds in 1979 the group had to return the grant money. Theresa Perez, music coordinator for the city, posed the important question: “Can you measure music and the arts against layoffs?
You’re going to look like some kind of monster if you say music is as important as people’s bread and butter.” If the performing arts were going to survive, they needed civil servants like Perez who had a vision of business, government, and the arts working together.128 The performing arts found an ally in Terry Goddard, a young lawyer and son of former governor Sam Goddard, who became mayor in 1984. Goddard was the last piece in an evolving administration more representative of Phoenicians, garnering 53.8 percent of the vote in one of the city’s most heated mayoral elections. Goddard was an instrumental arts supporter. In 1985 he appointed Edward “Bud” Jacobson, an attorney who had led the Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum boards, head of the Phoenix Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on the Arts. The committee formed a five-year plan for the city’s arts, which included creating the Phoenix Arts Commission and tagging a percentage of the construction budget for the arts. Previously, support only came from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Humanities, established by Goddard’s father. Some city officials were reluctant to support a commission that would primarily serve Michael Dixon, “Music in a Tough Economy: Do Bread and Butter Come First?” Phoenix Magazine, April 1981, 72.
downtown, but Goddard and Jacobson, echoing rhetoric from earlier civic leaders, argued the city’s tax base would only increase if people found Phoenix livable.129 Goddard and his staff were also crucial in creating an official arts district within the city. Phoenix had unofficial arts districts for decades, notably the area including the Heard Museum and the Civic Center, but in 1986 public and private stakeholders formulated a plan to create one recognized and easily accessible district. The Heard and the Civic Center’s organizations were the largest supporters from the arts community, as the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Little Theatre, and Phoenix Public Library all hoped the designation would increase funding to improve their facilities, nearing forty years of use. Privately, neighborhood associations particularly representatives from the Willo, Roosevelt, and Alvarado districts, were looking to improve quality of life and maintain property values through the arts district and historic designation. The Roosevelt neighborhood was designated a Special Planning District, and city planners worked to protect its historic integrity while reversing declining trends, eventually creating the Roosevelt Row arts district. The pro-growth elite understood that good neighborhoods attract executives who want to invest in a strong community for their families.130 City leaders capitalized on the cultural momentum throughout the 1980s, ensuring groups had solid municipal support, but they were building from a low base. Phoenix Joel Nilsson, “Goddard Coasts to Easy Win,” Arizona Republic, November 2, 1983; E. J. Montini, “Panel Frames Design to Upgrade Art in Phoenix,” Arizona Republic, April 14, 1985.
Marshall, “Cultural District Formation,” 124-125, 128, 132; Harvey L.
Molotch, “Strategies and Constraints of Growth Elites,” in Business Elites and Urban
Development: Case Studies and Critical Perspectives, ed. Scott Cummings (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1988), 40; General Plan for Phoenix, 1985-2000 (Phoenix: City of Phoenix, 1985), 38.