«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
lagged in per capita arts spending compared to other Valley cities, spending only $0.94 in 1984-1985 compared to $10.50 in Scottsdale, $2.48 in Mesa, and $1.56 in Tempe.131 The 1984 bond ballot included two bond proposals: one to renovate the former PUHS buildings, including the auditorium, for adaptive reuse ($13.5 million), and one to improve various downtown structures such as the Orpheum Theater ($32.6 million). Both failed. In 1986 City Council narrowly passed an ordinance imposing 1 percent of the city’s capital construction budget to be spent on art.132 By 1988, the economy had improved, and Phoenicians were more open to spending on cultural improvements. The arts and culture bond ($61 million) passed with 52.6 percent support and expanded the Phoenix Little Theatre and Phoenix Art Museum, improved Symphony Hall and the Orpheum Theater, and funded the new Arizona Science Center and Phoenix Museum of History. The parks and library bond ($139.2 million) passed with 58 percent approval and built a new Central Library in Hance Park and three new library branches and improved parks.133 Under Goddard’s leadership, the arts community, private, and public interests collaborated with intentions that echoed the initial push for the arts in the postwar era.
The city support helped facilities, but many groups struggled to cover basic operating expenses, particularly groups with professional payrolls. By the late 1980s the Arizona Theatre Center had accumulated crippling debt. In March 1989 ATC told Montini, “Panel Frames Design.” Deborah Shanahan, “PUHS, Downtown Bids Fail; 16 Other Questions Approved,” Arizona Republic, June 6, 1984; Hal Mattern, “Phoenix Council Approves ‘Percent-for-Art’ Ordinance,” Arizona Republic, November 26, 1986.
Dee Michaelis, “Election Covering All Basis,” Arizona Republic, April 17, 1988; Dee Michaelis and Venita Hawthorne James, “Phoenix Voters OK 14 of 17 Bond Proposals,” Arizona Republic, April 20, 1988.
audiences that unless it raised $972,000 by June 30, it would fold. In a Phoenix New Times article, Deborah Laake attributed the debt to the poor economy, preventing top donors from contributing, and to dramatic programming Phoenix audiences found depressing and repellant. But Laake argued that the main problem was managerial infighting, as with the PSO and failed Phoenix Theatre Center. ATC insiders claimed artistic director Gary Gisselman’s wanted to be the face of the company, causing infighting with two managing directors and ultimately distracting administration from the budget issues. It was also part of a national trend of performing arts institutions closing due to lack of funding, paying the price for bringing art to communities starved for it.134 Phoenix still lacked the infrastructure – funding, personnel, and audience – ATC needed to realize their vision, but the ATC barely managed to survive. Before the June 30 deadline they were able to raise $1,003,415 in donations, mostly from individuals and became the main tenant of the new Herberger Theater Center in the fall of 1989, proving the Valley cared to keep professional theater.135 The transition from postwar business and professional leaders as patrons to government leaders as advocates in the 1980s shifted the way patrons supported performing arts groups. As the city expanded, so did the performing arts scene, making it more difficult for organizations to secure patronage and establish their cultural identity.
Behind the sea of new groups and venues, there were more funding opportunities ranging William H. Honan, “Arts Dollars: Pinched as Never Before,” New York Times, May 28, 1989.
Deborah Laake, “Anatomy of a Crisis,” Phoenix New Times, May 10-16, 1989;
Richard W. Bruner, “Arizona Theater Group Finds Arts Funds Tight,” Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 1989.
from private donors like the Herbergers to direct government support from entities like the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Philanthropic organizations like the Arizona Grantmakers Forum culled resources from multiple foundations to provide additional resources to competitive organizations. The state’s larger, more professional groups like the PSO, ATC, and Arizona Opera were helped by the $5.7 million National Arts Stabilization grant that taught leadership how to manage the organizations as a business.
Between 1998 and 2001 the city waived over $2 million in rent and parking waivers for the PSO, recognizing its financial need. It has had similar rent-free deals for the Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona’s use of Symphony Hall, and gave $100,000 to help Phoenix Theatre meet its payroll.136 New venues like the Herberger Theatre, Mesa Arts Center and Tempe Center for the arts, all providing their own programming and demanding their own forms of support. Since the 1970s, the individuals and groups patronizing the performing arts were more diverse and differ in function, size, affiliation, and mission.
Subsequently, their ideas of the performing arts’ role in Phoenix’s development were varied, no longer unified under the pro-growth banner of postwar civic leadership.
Despite increased opportunities, Phoenix still needed the core group of supporters who see the performing arts have an integral role in the city’s growth.
Conclusion Supervising a performing arts group through postwar Phoenix required flexibility in a rapidly evolving city. Postwar civic leaders dictated how the city grew, and in their role as arts patrons they steered groups grow with that vision. Patrons donated not only Elvia Diaz, “Phoenix Poised to Aid Symphony,” Arizona Republic, May 15, 2001.
their money, but also their time and resources to build quality, sustainable arts programs.
When they retired or died, they left a leadership vacuum in the city and arts groups who were unable to support themselves without increased government funding. The performing arts groups who survived in the 1980s did so because the groups and their leaders got creative, and often generated just enough support to eke out a season. Postwar civic leaders made significant strides in enriching Valley culture, but transitioning to city leaders meant it was more difficult for the performing arts to prove their worth to new benefactors. It was easy to support the arts during times of prosperity, but when elected officials had to divide scarce resources, the arts were often the last priority. One community leader and Phoenix 40 member suggested arts groups slash their budgets, and when questioned about how this would affect quality, he responded, “You know what?
Most people won’t know the difference.”137 Forty years after the postwar artistic vision, arts supporters still had to prove to politicians and residents that the arts were not only vital culturally, but economically. Performing arts organizations not only needed financial support; donations and funding needed to come from understanding that culture would improve the city.
Deborah Laake, “Anatomy of a Crisis,” Phoenix New Times, May 10-16, 1989, 24.
PUBLIC RECEPTION AND COMMUNITY BUILDINGCivic leaders supported the arts to give Phoenix a good cultural reputation. The last piece of that puzzle for the young city, after forming organizations, importing performers, building venues, and establishing funding sources, was to develop a relatively large, sophisticated audience who appreciated high culture. Civic leaders deliberately built the postwar performing arts scene around a culture that would appeal to their ideal citizen. Their vision hinged on attracting an intelligent group of people who actively participated in Phoenix culture, specifically the high culture of theater, symphony, ballet, and choral music. These audiences would likely be involved in civic organizations, flood technological businesses with their skilled labor, pay their taxes and invest their lives in a bright future for the city. Wealthy civic leaders could host parties for themselves if they wanted to see their favorite performers, but if they wanted a city recognized for its fine arts, they needed to convince residents of its value. Patrons and performers struggled to find a successful formula partly because audience’s taste changed rapidly as population and diversity increased and Phoenicians became accustomed to different modes and qualities of performance art.
Initially, high culture was top-down: civic leaders sponsored theater, symphony, chamber music, choirs, ballet, and opera because they understood these programs as necessary urban cultural institutions. Phoenician culture amalgamated Southwestern, Western, Indian, and Hispanic identities with the cultures migrants brought from other parts of the nation, largely the Midwest. Phoenix developed later than other major cities and its local, semi-professional performing arts scene arrived after radio, television, and film. In order to establish high culture, arts advocates had to compete with the mass culture these mediums provided. Additionally, the performing arts developed in Phoenix while postwar consumerism boomed nationally, giving consumers and their dollars more power to influence programming. Because groups struggled for money, the interactive process between audience’s influence on art and art’s influence on audience skewed, preventing groups from staging challenging productions in favor of guaranteed revenue from pops or comedies. Phoenix’s later urban development meant a performing arts culture was not engrained in its residents, so civic leaders and arts organizations catered to their audience’s desires while trying to showcase quality performances. Once the audience appreciated and invested in these institutions, performers, patrons, and the public could build the city’s cultural atmosphere.
A Tough Crowd Early Phoenicians were not all rough-and-tumble. Miners and farmers engaged in the performing arts scene, though was mostly lowbrow. It began in the 1880s when saloonkeepers used entertainment as a front for gambling, which was outlawed in the territory. Acts ranged from a man playing the piano while balancing a drink on his head to blackface minstrel shows to legitimate theatrical and musical performances by touring groups. Phoenix was rough and disproportionally male, and the audience was often distracted by the noise from the saloon, or preoccupied with the escorts they rented for an entertainment fee. Sometimes, the female performers’ duties were twofold, as they entertained men on and off the stage. Even as the arts were legitimized, with groups like the Phoenix Players Club (1897), Phoenix audiences engaged with the arts the most when actors partied with the public after the show, dancing in the foyer of large halls like the Park Theater. The nation’s largest cities had well-established symphonies before 1900 – the New York Philharmonic (1842), the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1881), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1891), but at the turn of the century Phoenix was just a town of 5,544 people and had only existed for thirty years. It would be decades before its citizens had the wealth, education, sense of community and critical mass to make the performing arts a top priority.138 Even if a determined few brought the top acts, they still needed an appreciative audience. When Blanche Korrick joined the Musicians Club, others told her the Phoenix social set drank tea and played cards; “music was not the thing” in the 1921.139 Women like Korrick in the Musicians Club brought performers to the people, inviting musicians to hold recitals at social events. Club member Mrs. Archer Linde expanded the mission, and her unwavering attitude brought big enough talent that Phoenicians flocked to the PUHS auditorium. She set up her Linde Box Office in Goldwater’s and later other department stores, creating a convenient stop for her customers. An expert businesswoman, Linde memorized the seating chart and knew everything about the tickets. She literally taught Phoenicians to care about the arts, taking the stage to shake “No Biz Like Show Biz in the Old Days!” Phoenix Magazine, August 1970, 5;
“Phoenix, 1890: This Was News 75 Years Ago in Phoenix,” Phoenix Gazette, October 22, 1965; Reynolds, Golden Days of Theaters, 19-21; “Phoenix, 1900: This Was News 75 Years Ago in Phoenix,” Phoenix Gazette, August 30, 1975; U.S. Census of
Population, 1900: Vol. I, Population: Population of States and Territories (Washington:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1900), 64 Blanche Korrick, interview by Nancy Edwards, July 18, 1977, transcript, AHS-Tempe Oral History Collection, Arizona Historical Society – Papago Park, Tempe, AZ.
her finger and lecture on the importance of culture.140 Linde ignored segregation laws to bring performers like Marian Anderson, and told her patrons, “There may be a Negro person sitting next to you at the concert. If you don’t like that, don’t come.”141 One admirer mused, “There were times when Mrs. Linde simply couldn’t stuff culture down Phoenix throats. But she tried.”142 Linde brought the day’s hottest acts, but used her popular concert series to introduce Phoenix audiences to high culture and instill appreciation for the performing arts.
Linde and Korrick offered their arts programming to supplement the mass culture audiences absorbed through radio, television, and film. Movie theaters were in their heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, when they served their original purpose as vaudeville stages in addition to presenting films. Film palaces lined Washington Street, featuring still recognized institutions like the Fox Theater, Orpheum Theater, and Rialto Theater. Theaters proliferated to accommodate the high demand for entertainment, and the larger theaters sat as many as 1,800 people. Residents flocked downtown to Washington Street, the main entertainment district where people could listen to bands and dance, and watch movies, variety shows, and circus acts, while plugging them into the larger movie scene sweeping the country. The varied entertainment experience encouraged legitimate theater, as touring stock companies stopped to play a show in Phoenix between their Los Angeles and El Paso bookings. Phoenicians also turned to the Pauline B. Yearwood, “Profile: Gerry Kroloff: Pointe Woman for Ballet Arizona’s New Image,” Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, June 18, 1993.
Lawson, “City Owes Its Cultural Life,” November 8, 1992.
Stocker, “Mrs. Archer Linde,” 95.