Drawn to art: Museums court next generation of patrons

As part of its Summer Solstice Soiree, MCASD La Jolla’s Avant Garde members enjoyed a three-course dinner with beer pairings from Stone Brewery, amidst a dramatic video installation by artist Jennifer Steinkamp.  Courtesy photos
As part of its Summer Solstice Soiree, MCASD La Jolla’s Avant Garde members enjoyed a three-course dinner with beer pairings from Stone Brewery, amidst a dramatic video installation by artist Jennifer Steinkamp. Courtesy photos

By Pat Sherman

As art organizations across the country are saddled with cutbacks and rising costs, they also must consider the graying of the audience they depend on most to attend and fund exhibitions, performances and other cultural events.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, the average age of museum attendees increased from 36 in 1982 to 43 in 2008.

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), The Lux Art Institute, and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library are working to counter that trend, cultivating a new generation of patrons through groups that offer exclusive events geared to young professionals.

Each group offers art lovers in the under-
45 age bracket fun, enriching programs with a chance to socialize and develop a lifelong appreciation for the arts. Museum administrators trust this appreciation will awaken philanthropic leanings.

A List

Hoping to engage young art aficionados, Annina Torri founded the A List group at the Athenaeum in 2005.

“I’ve been going to the Athenaeum for a long time,” said Torri, 39. “I always loved the openings … but I never saw a lot of young people there. I wanted to start something with a fun environment where they could explore art and culture that would be social.”

Membership in the A List, which is open to people ages 21 and older, is $75 per year and includes five to six A List music and art mixers per year, plus all the benefits of a standard Athenaeum membership. New members can get a feel for being on the A List by attending single events for $10 in advance or $12 at the door.

A-List mixers are held at the La Jolla Athenaeum space on Wall Street and include live music, a small bar, hors d’oeuvres, a communal art project and door prizes.

December’s event, dubbed “Rendez-vous in the Stacks,” coincided with Kathleen Marshall’s exhibition, “Still in Paris.” It included on-site portraiture sketching, Left-
Bank-style refreshments, a create-your-own crepe station and a performance by acoustic trio Les Shelleys.

The next A List event, March 15 at 7:30 p.m., coincides with an exhibit by illustrator and sketch artist Alexander Jackson.

“As with many other arts institutions, a majority of our members are getting up there in age,” said A List co-chair and Athenaeum marketing and promotions manager, Katie Walders. “We’re trying to bring in more and younger members and show them everything that’s out there for art and music.”

Walders said the A List currently has about 90 members who also have a chance to vote in an A List Members Choice Award during the Athenaeum’s annual juried art show.

Influx

In December, Lux Art Institute in Encinitas launched a similar group for people ages 21 to 39, which is free with a regular museum membership of $50. Titled “Influx,” the group is a way to encourage younger contemporary art lovers to join the museum and to encourage existing young members to engage at a deeper level.

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