Where are all the people?
Written by Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer   
October 31, 2009 05:00 am

Do residents of Curry County want a thriving music and arts culture?

It’s hard to tell based on the inconsistent attendance reported at local music, dance, art and theater productions.

“Where are the people?” is a question I hear more and more lately.

It’s not for lack of entertainment opportunities. The number of concerts, plays and  art events has grown significantly in recent years, thanks  to the hard work and dedication of volunteers, musicians, actors, artists and entrepreneurs. It’s these same people I hear grumbling about the poor turnout at many events.

At the same time, I hear grumbling from potential audience members who say they can’t afford many of the events.

Hoping to address the issue, I wrote an editorial in the  Oct. 14 Pilot called “Charge less, get more.” I suggested that event organizers charge less in an effort to attract a large, overlooked segment of our community that would otherwise love to support them.

While a handful or readers lauded my editorial, several event organizers and musicians criticized it, saying it was a slap in the face to those who work so hard to put on such events. They claimed it denigrated the quality of the artists and musicians who already perform for already low ticket prices. Also, they said lowering prices wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a larger audience turnout – “Just look at all the free events where nobody shows up,” they said.

While I respectfully disagree with their first argument (I think very highly of the musicians, actors and artists in our community), they had a point with the second. I’ve attended many free events that had poor attendance.

Which leads me back to the question: “Where are all the people?”

To answer that question, I sought input from the community at large. I sent an e-mail to more than 80 people – and encouraged them to forward it to others who might want to comment.

In the e-mail I asked: “Is it a matter of price, taste or timing? Is it because people are too content to leave their easy chairs, video games and home theater systems? Perhaps together we can crack this nut and figure out ways to get more people to participate in local arts and entertainment.”

The responses were overwhelming. Here are just some of the comments:

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Pete Chasar, artist: “The economy is bad, which has reduced the incomes of most people, resulting in a dramatic fall in their discretionary spending. Unlike food, clothing and shelter, you can live without local theater, art and music events.”

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Gary Milliman, Brookings City Manager: “My sense is that people have different interests – they attend high school sports events, participate in youth/adult sports, do things with their church and/or their family and/or club. Attending local arts/entertainment events is not their passion. They have busy lives with their personal interests. Its more taste and timing than price.”

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Christina Olsen, artist: “I think that there is too much of a good thing, and that it spreads the adoring public too thin. That is not to say that our events are suffering in quality – they are really exceptional.”

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Dell “Marshall” Klein, KURY radio: “Nothing is without reason. The first thing is to identify your market. For instance, if your music event genre is ‘Classic Rock,’ people 35 to 45 are most likely to be interested. With this in mind, do you want to schedule your event during the week? I would say, ‘not a good idea.’ Money is tight and work comes early the next morning. But ‘Alternative Rock?’ Different story. This listener base tends to be more ‘free’ with finance. Another thing to consider is where the event is taking place? Does it sell alcohol? Is it 21 or older? Is it energetic music or more of a dinner feel? Are you playing to the crowd? And most importantly, how are you letting people know about it? Do you have a marketing plan” or are you just believing: ‘If I build it they will come?’”

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Leanne McCurley, member of the Chetco Pelican Players: “Now you are asking the ‘million dollar’ question. I’ve been here 22 years and when we held an audition, we had 60 people for each show. When we did the show we had full houses. The prices were not that much different then today: $8 adults/ $5 students. But now auditions are held and we have the same 5 to 10 people, and houses are a quarter to half full (if we are lucky).

“People don’t realize the cost of doing a show has increased – royalties used to cost $30 a show, but now we feel lucky to pay $90 a show, and then there’s the expense of rent, electricity, printing, etc.

“I hear ‘Oh yes, we are coming to ...’ and they never appear. I don’t know the answer. It is a mystery. If I figure it out, I will let you know.”

~~~

Perry Devine, musician and event organizer:  “As I indicated in my forum article, I think that the main reason for poor attendance is that people are too content or complacent to leave their easy chairs, home entertainment systems or comfy homes. The main solution is to raise people’s awareness of the value of live entertainment. Once they are enticed to attend a few really great shows, I think they will begin to attend on a more regular basis.”

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David Godino, musician/actor: “Firstly, you must realize that we have a very limited-draw population, and the fact that this audience has an older age average than most bigger towns adds to the problem. Older people have problems attending the theater, affording the tickets, getting transportation and going out at night.

“I have been on the board of directors for the Friends of Music for almost 15 years and a participant in the two local theater groups for about the same time. I have come to the conclusion that people like musical comedies and they fill the theater. The show “Grease,” put on by Dori Blodgett last year had to turn away audiences almost every night.

“Ticket prices should be no more than $10 for adults, $5 for teenagers and free for children. Fifteen dollars for an ‘amateur’ performance is ridiculous.”

~~~

Jim Relaford, businessman and port commissioner: “It seems to me to be a basic marketing issue ... I would suggest first that the arts community band together to establish a three-pronged marketing plan. First, Perhaps the Pilot could set aside a section in every Saturdays paper called something like ‘Arts in Brookings Harbor’ where the upcoming events could be highlighted. This would need to be a regular piece as it does take some time for images to be implanted.

“Secondly, KURY and KBSC could do the same. Last would be to build, over time, an e-mail and a mailing list. People who do attend should be asked for their e-mail addresses. Over time a significant list can be developed.”

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Jef Hatch, actor/musician/photographer: “I think that one of the issues that this community faces is that for such a small community, there is a ton of activities. with at least four theater companies and multiple musicians all trying to put on shows and having overlap here and there, there are going to be nights when there are multiple activities and drawing down the viewing numbers.

“With the high number of senior citizens that reside in Brookings, I think that many of them may not like to go out at 7 or 8 p.m. due to driving in the dark or the late hour at which it puts them home.  Also, some of the types of shows that are put on are directed at the younger/middle aged adult crowd, many of whom have children who need babysitters and have a hard time finding them in Brookings.  The other shows that are directed at retirees have no pull for the younger crowd.

“Possible solutions include putting together  a community activities/performing arts board that could set a community calendar that all organizations would be able to work around to avoid having events on the same nights. Have events earlier in the evening, or regular matinées. Lastly, have a babysitter club that had a list of trusted babysitters that you could call on to get someone to watch your kids when needed.”

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Jan Norwood, Brookings: For us it really is a matter of the price for two tickets for most events. Bob and I had planned on going to Dori Blodgett’s play Sunday afternoon and decided at the last minute that it would be cheaper to cook up something for a shared meal at the Senior Center. Also, it doesn’t seem like there has been a decrease in the number of folks along the (monthly) Art Walks, and those are free.”

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Gordon Later, musician/bookstore owner: “As much as I want to believe that the local residents of our fine area want quality entertainment, perhaps (as many of us retailers are already doing) ‘we’ as entertainers/venue proprietors need to look at promoting the ‘area as a whole’ and look to the visitors who come into this area as a source for an ‘audience.’”

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Jo Mochulski, artist/event organizer: “I think the venues that feel they do not get attendance need to evaluate what they are doing and why they are doing it.

 “Some areas to consider:

Honestly evaluate a venue on an ongoing basis and make changes to improve what you are doing as necessary. Are a lot of the artists and entertainers performing because they enjoy it or because there really is a demand for the art or entertainment by the public? 

“Determine the demand for an activity and make adjustments based on your true purpose and the reality of the demand.

“Coordinate efforts of some venues and coordinate the publicizing of these events in one or two places.”

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Horst Wolf, artist/musician: “My knee jerk response is this:

•Weather, especially wind, rain, cold, are a huge factor in attendance;

•Too many events in the same week, or even on the same day, are more than the locals can digest.

“So what is the answer?

•Artists of all sorts: move to a bigger town or ...

•Get more people to move to Brookings or ...

•Both.

“You can sort out the advantages and disadvantages of both by yourself. Personally, after a thorough analysis of the pros and cons, I like it the way it is.”

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Tommy Jones, actor/business owner: “What we should do to counteract the deterioration of community involvement with performing arts other than turning off the electricity to everyone’s TV's, I don’t really know.

“Maybe performing arts should be touted as more than just a show but one of our community's greatest assets.”

~~~

Ted Erdahl, musician: “Lowering the price at the venue is a tough one. It certainly costs money to present a ‘name’ act and pay the costs of the facility. However, I am somewhat hesitant to spend much money for an act I am unfamiliar with. A full service music facility with retail and workshop/clinic  space plus the performance venue would bring enough activity to defray some of the costs.”

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Okay, that’s enough for now – and it’s only about half the replies I received from readers. I will continue this community discussion in my next column. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on this issue, please send a brief e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it