One of the most important European contributions to world civilisation is the symphony orchestra, an ensemble frequently seen as an epitome of Classical music and Western culture.
The birth of the modern orchestra, a homogenous instrumental ensemble and thus different from its early predecessors, is related to its institutionalisation and the conscious adoption of similar organisational traits and goals under various influences of governing models . The first of the European typologies substituted the church, the princely or the royal court with the city or state administration as main financial supporters, the musicians and the management being thus assimilated to civil servants (e.g. Orchestre de Paris). The second model combined public and private support, the institutional framework being that of a cooperative of owners-musicians (e.g. London Symphony Orchestra). The American prototype was that of the not-for-profit organisation, where the governmental support is minimal and the majority of revenue comes from commercial operations and private contributions (e.g. New York Philharmonic Orchestra) .
All symphony orchestras are known for the fact that their earned income could not cover their growing operational expenses. Thus, non-performance incomes from endowments, public subsidies or private donations are an absolute necessity in supporting their structural deficit. A consequence of the so-called ‘cost disease’ and of deficit accumulation is that non-performance income should raise at an equivalent pace; unfortunately, this kind of revenue is related to complex economic and political factors and does not represent always a certitude .
Colorado Symphony Orchestra The roots of serious orchestral performance in the state of Colorado can be traced back to 1922, the year when Denver Civic Orchestra was formed. The community ensemble became professionalised in 1934 and renamed Denver Symphony Orchestra. In the late seventies and early eighties, a series of musician’s strikes generated by the institution’s troubled finances culminated with the cancelling of more than half of the 1988-1989 season, putting even the existence of the orchestra in jeopardy. After a bankruptcy filing in the autumn of 1989, Colorado Symphony Orchestra emerged as a successor to the old ensemble after an unexpected and courageous action of a part of the musicians backed by several local leaders. The new collaborative business model changed the internal balance of power by involving the artists in ‘all aspects of governance and operation’ .
Presenting over 150 concerts annually, with a repertoire ranging from core classical to contemporary and crossover events, Colorado Symphony Orchestra is the most important performing arts organisation in the region. During Marin Alsop’s tenure as a Music Director (1993-2005) the quality and the profile of the ensemble raised to international prominence and the institution is regarded today as ‘one of the finest performing orchestras in the country’ .
Cannabis: The High Notes Series fundraising events Classically Cannabis was a set of fundraising concerts launched in partnership with the industry that supports legal cannabis in Colorado. They took place on May 23rd, July 18th and August 14th, 2014, at Space Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe arts district.
The events featured musical performances from the CSO chamber ensembles as well as gourmet food and beverages. Cannabis was not sold during the concerts, but guests (who needed to be over 21) were encouraged to bring their own and were allowed to smoke in the enclosed patio of the Gallery.
Due to legal restrictions, the concerts were organised as private events, and were available by invitation only. Each of the about 275 people invited to every concert donated a minimum of $75. The series culminated with a large outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on September 13th .
The events were curated in coordination with Edible Events Co., a full service event production company that specialises in hosting gatherings were legalized cannabis can be consumed . The company, directed by Jane West, has a strong focus in rebranding cannabis and linking it to high-scale social events, and arts and non-profit organisations. According to West, key sponsors saw the concerts as an opportunity to ‘brand their brand with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and also give back to the arts’ .
Classically Cannabis is only one of the unconventional concerts scheduled by the CSO in search of new audiences and funding sources. It has organised Comic Con and Animation themed concerts, played with rock, pop and folk groups, and combined Beethoven with beer tasting.
Funding results and other benefits ‘We saw the opportunity to one, raise significant amounts of funding and two, to reach into a new audience that would be different from the ordinary audience we serve’, said CEO Jerome H. Kern .
Sponsors reportedly paid nearly $130,000. The three events ended up netting a total of $250,000, $50,000 more than the initial expectations .
According to Laura Bond, CSO director of community and media relations, ‘a significant percentage of those who attended these events were totally new to the Colorado Symphony experience’, and ‘many of them have returned to see the orchestra perform since that first exposure’. The symphony concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre that followed after the series attracted a crowd of 4,719, of whom 28 percent were first-time ticket buyers, Ms Bond said as well .
Media reception and critiques The concerts garnered wide media attention, including The Times of London, The New York Times and CBS This Morning. They became even more popular when the City of Denver warned that open and public use of marijuana was illegal and the CSO was forced to turn the concerts into invitation-only private events.
The CSO also lost 20 prominent donors when announcing its partnership with the cannabis industry. Concerns were raised that ‘fundraisers should not take advantage of someone who is vulnerable to impairment, whether it be from alcohol, legal marijuana or other substances. It’s a form of exploitation, which the Code explicitly prohibits. Given the changing politics of marijuana, it’s something fundraisers need to be aware of’ (Jay Love, chair of the Ethics Committee for the Association of Fundraising Professionals) .
Questions: Why do you think the Colorado’s marijuana industry chose to sponsor a classical orchestra concert and not another kind of performance?
Imagine that you are working for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. How would you explain and justify this partnership to other funders? Also, why do you think some sponsors abandoned the institution after hearing about this collaboration?
1. Spitzer, J. and N. Zaslaw, The birth of the orchestra: history of an institution, 1650-1815. 2004, Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press. xviii, 614 p., 16 p. of plates.
2. Carter, T. and E. Levi, The history of the orchestra, in The Cambridge companion to the orchestra, C. Lawson, Editor. 2003, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, U.K. ; New York.
3. Flanagan, R.J., The perilous life of symphony orchestras : artistic triumphs and economic challenges. 2012, New Haven: Yale University Press. viii, 224 p.
4. Organization Summary Sheet. 2011; Available from: www.denverfoundation.org/postfiles/Colorado_ Symphony_Orchestra.pdf.
5. COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. Available from: http://www.naxos.com/person/Colorado_ Symphony_Orchestra/35321.htm.
6. Colorado Symphony Orchestra official webpage: http://www.coloradosymphony.org/
7. Edible Events official webpage: http://www.edibleeventsco.com/