Performing Arts Patron Reflects
Longtime performing arts patron Anne Melvin of Columbus, Ohio, considers her own personal history when choosing which organizations to support. She also credits Woody Hayes, the legendary football coach, for inspiration.
While Anne never played football growing up, attending a music conservatory after she graduated from Smith College taught her that aspiring musicians also undergo rigorous training. “Once I left the conservatory, I told myself my job was to help other classical musicians make a living wage – that was very important to me,” she says.
Need for Proximity
For a performing arts organization or other charity that relies on public support, Anne believes they should focus on nurturing the idea of proximity. This might include bringing the public behind the scenes or providing more interaction with musicians in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (CSO), of which Anne is an honorary trustee.
“It’s analogous to why some in Columbus are nutty about our football teams in Ohio,” she explains. “Ohio State had a wonderful football coach, Woody Hayes. Every night after a game, he would bring some of his players on television. They were far from eloquent, but as a viewer you began to identify with them, you began to care about what they did.”
Anne believes that same effort for proximity could help a performing arts organization. When people feel close to a team or an orchestra, they’re more engaged. “If they see a need in the organization, or even before a need arises, they can feel the urgency or just the delight of it,” she notes. “This might relate to their own life or goals, or just their love for music and the feeling that every performance is special.
“For an orchestra, fostering proximity requires a great deal of staff time and money; most nonprofits are chronically short of both,” Anne explains. “Such activities also take a lot of imagination and coordination.”
Anne says one successful activity is CSO’s Side-by-Side program, which she hopes can be expanded. “Each CSO musician is joined onstage by a community member – whether a semiprofessional musician or someone who just loves to play. It’s such a thrill; our hall is filled with this incredible sound,” she remarks. “I think we should begin opening up these events to audiences, whether as a perk for donors or to the public for a small donation.
“Our new ‘Access’ series provides the audience with ‘proximity’ to the music,” Anne comments.On Thursday night before the weekend concerts, the CSO conductor, Rossen Milanov, choses one work. During the first half he talks about the composer and has the orchestra play excerpts. After an intermission and wine, the orchestra plays the work in its entirety. “After ninety minutes, it is done, and everyone loves it!” she remarks.
Anne describes one of her own philanthropic philosophies similarly to the Side-by-Side program, using the acronym KTB: Know the Business. She advises donors to really understand what they are supporting. For example, Anne worked in the CSO library for 13 years. “When you’re close to an organization, you learn how it works, what support is required and if they are spending funds wisely,” she states. “It takes a lot of time to know an organization well.”
Because of this, Anne recommends donors focus on one organization if possible; she credits a fellow board member for this advice. “Supporting many of them is like throwing a drop of water into a bucket: it doesn’t make much difference,” she advises. “With focus, you can really have an impact.”
Anne’s own focus as an arts patron is music, mainly CSO but also Opera Columbus and Ballet Met. She often helps underwrite CSO musicians playing with the opera. “This provides work for them and also makes the opera experience richer for everyone,” she remarks.
To enrich the musical experience for CSO musicians and audience members alike, Anne partially underwrote the cost of a Wenger Diva full-stage acoustical shell that was installed in the historic Ohio Theatre several years ago.
“Before this new shell, musicians were unable to hear each other, making it very difficult to play as an ensemble,” she recalls. “The new shell has greatly enhanced onstage communication and the audience is thrilled by the improved sound projection.”
Her Three Wishes
If Anne was granted three wishes in the performing arts, her first would be “greater awareness of the CSO – who they are, what they do and their importance.” She considers the CSO a critical element in the culture of Columbus, for the city’s people, reputation and education.
Anne knows that enlarging the CSO’s profile requires public relations efforts far beyond simply issuing press releases. “We need to tell our story in broader terms. We need to have a presence at community events and celebrations,” she comments. “There are so many places we need to be!”
Her second wish would be greater pay and respect for professional musicians. As noted earlier, Anne’s conservatory education showed her the tremendous dedication required for this career. “I want all our fabulous musicians to feel appreciated and to be paid a more substantial living wage,” Anne declares.
Third, she hopes for more youth involvement in the performing arts. “Young people are the future,” she concludes. “Only they can really provide more long-term awareness and participation. I believe music transforms their lives and creates a wonderful, lasting impact that passes down through the generations.”