Diversity at Center Stage

May 07, 1993

Anyone who regularly attends concert or theater performances in Baltimore probably has noticed that the diversity of the metropolitan area is not reflected in local audiences. Though the Baltimore region is home to large numbers of young people and African-Americans, the typical symphony or playhouse audience here consists largely of older white adults with a median age of around 55.

Thus the news this week that Baltimore's Center Stage playhouse has been awarded a $1.4 million grant to fund efforts to attract more young people and minorities is significant. The grant, awarded by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, one of the country's largest private donors to arts institutions, will be used to implement an ambitious plan by theater director Irene Lewis to diversify audiences and quadruple the number of young people visiting Center Stage by 1997.

The homogeneity of arts audiences isn't unique to Baltimore. It is a demographic fact of life for arts administrators across the country, who recognize that it poses a serious long-term obstacle to efforts to sustain a vibrant, economically viable arts community. Companies that fail to attract young people and minorities today won't be able to rely on their support in coming years as the current generation of theater and concert subscribers fades from the scene. Moreover, as arts groups increasingly rely on public funding to cover costs, they face growing pressure to reflect the communities that support them. So diversity is a political as well as an aesthetic imperative.

Music, theater and dance are powerful tools for building community. Yet for the arts to be a vital force, their power must reach across boundaries of age and race. The arts should truly bring people together. Center Stage's new grant will go a long way toward helping it achieve that laudable goal.

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