«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
Phoenix leaders actively supported the performing arts, not only as patrons and audience members but sometimes as performers too. Like many other cities, wealthy Anglo civic leaders founded Phoenix’s arts and cultural institutions – what sociologist Paul Dimaggio termed “cultural capitalists.”69 Wealthy patrons often privately funded cultural institutions based on their personal collections, such as the Heards and the Heard Paul DiMaggio, “Cultural Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth Century Boston,” in Paul DiMaggio, ed., Nonprofit Enterprise in the Arts: Studies in Mission and Constraint (New York, Oxford University Press, 1986), 41-61.
Museum, and Valley National Bank president Walter Bimson’s Phoenix Art Museum, thus dictating content through their own interests. Culture was important to them, and it was important that others saw them and their city as cultured. In creating a performing arts culture, patrons founded and ran organizations, built venues, and fostered financial support. Through their activities on the boards of directors, patrons fostered community outreach, civic connections and private donations for their organizations and provided performers the infrastructure necessary to develop quality organizations. As the organizations and the city grew, patrons had an increasingly difficult time determining what their groups needed to become artistically talented, financially stable, and culturally significant. Because many of the people populating the boards were also managing other aspects of the city, civic leaders used the performing arts to signal civic and cultural maturity, thereby serving the growth agenda.
Early Boosters Early Phoenix may have lacked performers, audiences, and venues, but whatever scene it had resulted from the efforts of promoters determined to provide Phoenicians with the cultural amenities befitting a city. The Musicians Club, noted earlier for its efforts to cultivate local talent was also the greatest supporter of the performing arts in Phoenix’s early decades. Their mission went beyond improving its members’ interests, hoping to also “advance the interests and promote the culture of musical art in Phoenix.”70 They used their performances to advance civic causes, fundraising for local “Musicians’ Club Great Factor in City’s Culture,” Arizona Republican, January 1, 1922.
hospitals and liberty bonds, greeting winter visitors, and providing scholarships.71 Club member Blanche Korrick arrived from New York in 1921, the wife of downtown’s Korrick’s Department Store owner Charles Korrick. Classically trained in music in Chicago and New York, she hoped to bring music to the city by joining the club and inviting people over for refreshments while hosting a local musical talent. Phoenicians came to enjoy these recitals, and fifty to seventy-five people listened to the city’s best musicians in the Korricks’ living room or garden.
Another woman with classical music training fostered public music performances.
Mrs. Archer E. (Jessie) Linde, “the pioneer of the good things of the Phoenix concert stage,” had Phoenicians coming out in droves to see the hottest talents.72 As a concert manager, booking agent, and ticket seller, Linde heavily influenced the cultural programming of the city, travelling 485,000 miles during her career to scout the best musical talents and bring them to the desert. A Midwesterner, she suffered from arthritis and like many early Phoenicians hoped the desert air would offer relief. Linde joined the Musicians Club and in 1939 agreed to help piano teacher Cornelia Hulburd run the Musical Events civic organization. This led to the Mrs. Archer E. Linde Concert Series, which presented the Ballet Russe, Charles Laughton, Leonard Bernstein, H. G. Wells, Liberace and other stars. Linde somehow convinced top talents to come to Phoenix (still the middle of nowhere), perform in the high school auditorium, and stay in her home. She came to exemplify what it meant to be an arts patron in midcentury Phoenix, pouring her Kirkland, “Musicians Club,” [ca. 1952], Musicians Club Records.
Charlotte Buchen, “Phoenix’s Own Mrs. Archer E. Linde,” Point West, December 1959, 33.
time and resources into every step of the process, from negotiating bookings to driving performers to their destinations. Before there were formal organizations with their own managerial staff, there was Mrs. Linde.73 One of the city’s major limitations in attracting performing artists was the lack of a suitable venue, for the high school auditorium was the only facility of any size with reasonable acoustics. The first attempt at a municipal civic center came as early as 1917, with Dwight Heard and a few others trying to obtain the land from a demolished central Phoenix school as part of a City Beautiful project. This civic center would have joined other public buildings to create a centralized municipal building block. The public killed the plan when it voted overwhelmingly against a $50,0000 bond to build the center.74 Civic leaders did not discuss the idea again until 1940 when Mrs. Heard donated her land at Central and McDowell to the city. Mrs. Heard suggested the city erect a library, an art museum, and a venue for the Phoenix Little Theatre on the land. Barry Goldwater, then a young merchant running his family’s department store Goldwater’s, organized a drive for public funds, but had to abandon the project with the outbreak of World War II.75 Postwar Optimism The Valley was home to several military bases during the war, hosting thousands of troops who looked to Phoenix for entertainment. The region also attracted military Ibid., 33, 51; Stocker, “Mrs. Archer Linde,” 95; Community and Civic Concert Series Programs, 1936-1952, Ephemera Collection.
“A Passing Opportunity,” Arizona Republican, January 27, 1917; “Civic Center to Come Before the University Club,” Arizona Republican, January 29, 1917; “The First Phase,” Arizona Republican, February 4, 1917.
Stephen C. Shadegg, “Strictly Personal,” in Oldendick and Uithoven, Phoenix Little Theatre, 29.
industry, with Goodyear Aircraft Corporation arriving in Litchfield Park in 1941 followed by AiResearch. After the war manufacturers shifted their focus to Cold War defense products and consumer electronics while more firms relocated to the Valley to take advantage of its good weather, outdoor recreation, open spaces, and businessfriendly tax laws. Electronics plants like Motorola were ideally suited to the region, as they needed little water, were environmentally friendly, and created easily shipped products. Additionally, they brought well-trained, middle class workers and their families into the city.76 Leaders wanted to maximize the boom’s potential, and growth became both ideology and reality. Local government pushed geographic expansion, middle-class housing, industrial recruitment, and airport and highway improvements. Phoenix jumped 311 percent in population between 1950-1960, and grew from seventeen square miles to 187 square miles in the same period.77 Annexation played a large part in these increases as the city gobbled up surrounding areas, increasing tax revenues and retaining human capital. John Beatty, who served as city planner for two decades, said leaders wanted to prevent businesses and residents from relocating to the suburbs. They annexed because, “We didn’t want white flight, or brain drain, or whatever you call it.”78 Decentralizing war industries remained a national policy during the Cold War as a safety measure, and Phoenix actively courted businesses hoping to bring more industries to the wide Valley.
Luckingham, Phoenix, 153-157.
County and City Data Book, 1962 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1962), table 6.
Michael T. Kaufman, “Phoenix, Ariz., Grows to Be Bigger Than Chicago,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, FL), June 27, 1975.
The Valley lacked the necessary talent for skilled jobs, making it hard to compete with larger metropolitan areas; however, companies found if they posted a job notice for employees, they had a hundred qualified applicants willing to relocate immediately. As one journalist described it in 1972, “Everybody, but everybody, wanted to move to Phoenix and Arizona.”79 The city hurried to meet the demands of its new residents. Housing and infrastructure became top priorities, allowing real estate developers and bankers to rise as the new civic elite. Because of ineffective government before and during the war, business and professional leaders began taking control of government operations by ousting incompetent officials and suggesting candidates who shared their economic vision. The nonpartisan Charter Government Committee successfully directed Phoenix politics for decades, nominating candidates who were committed to building the economy, not serving as career politicians. A list of CGC members boasts the most influential leaders in Phoenix, and the same people often led cultural institutions’ boards and topped donor lists. Though many genuinely loved the arts, and some were artists themselves, the performing arts fit the vision of the CGC. Therefore with these goals of attracting firms and human capital, they needed culture.
The formation of the Phoenix Symphony Association on May 20, 1947 reflects that ambition. As five of the eight board members of the new Association met in the Professional Building to sign the articles of incorporation. Board president Dr. Howell Randolph asserted, “This is a project that will contribute much to the already Edward H. Peplow, Jr., “The Four C’s to Cosmopolis: From Cow-Town Capital to a Cosmopolitan Center in Less than Three Decades,” Phoenix Magazine, August 1972, 71.
cosmopolitan atmosphere of our city and it should have the backing of every Phoenician.”80 The board’s goals for improving the city’s culture and expanding its reputation were clear though their initial aspirations were regional, looking to become “the finest in the Southwest.” Given the city’s size just after the war and before the boom, it was wise to keep aspirations realistic.81 Following the first two successful seasons, the board felt it had a better sense of the direction the symphony should take: for the PSO to truly be a Phoenician institution, it needed a resident leader with community ties through a teaching position at nearby Arizona State College. Despite rave reviews for John Barnett, the board told him not to apply for the position, and speaking to the musicians before the last concert, Barnett claimed he would never apply to a job for which he had already proven himself. His reaction to his dismissal underscored the conflicting priorities of board and conductor. In his speech to the orchestra before his last concert in April 1949, Barnett claimed his dismissal stemmed, first, from his failure to attend a PSA party held after violinist Sidney Tretick’s performance in the second concert December 27, 1948. He wanted the party to be moved to the evening before the concert so he was not so tired. A second set of complaints involved his advocacy for performers: he rejected the proposal to broadcast concerts and not pay the orchestra extra, and he complained about the lack of dressing rooms and hotel accommodations for out-of-town performers.82 “Phoenix Symphony Group Incorporates,” Arizona Republic, May 21, 1947.
“Barnett Fired as Orchestra Head He Says” Arizona Republic, April 26, 1949.
Barnett’s grievances highlight the difference between the better-developed Los Angeles symphonies the conductor was used to, and the PSO’s fragile state. Barnett gave the PSO credibility with a highly credentialed conductor who could professionally develop the musicians, but the PSA wanted a leader who could also promote and facilitate the organization. The board’s desire for a resident conductorship matched their goals for a truly local operation. A resident conductor would provide full-time quality leadership, promote music in the Valley, and demonstrate its residents’ musical talent.
Barnett’s controversial dismissal was only the first of many battles between conductors and the PSA; the board’s new visions of development often dovetailed with social conflicts due to unclear expectations.
The reputation of the PLT, the second major cultural group, grew nationally as the oldest continually operating community playhouse. The operation was almost entirely volunteer-based, with only six paid staff members during the 1960s. The Board of Trustees comprised five lifetime members, while 25 civic leaders served three-year terms on the Board of Directors. The last names of the board members often matched the names of the businesses advertising in the programs. Programs were bursting with advertisements for Valley National Bank, First National Bank, Porters Store, Rosenzweig’s, Goldwater’s, Korricks, Diamond’s, and other local businesses. Not only were the actors, crew, and staff community volunteers, but donors also shared an interest in supporting the community theater.83 “Phoenix Little Theatre, Phoenix, Arizona,” ENCORE: The Community Theatre Magazine, September 1964, 17-19; Phoenix Little Theatre programs, 1955-1963, Phoenix Little Theatre Collection.