Barely a day in the word of the arts passes without a mention of "education". And of course, education programmes can attract lots of money from sundry charities or government bodies. Our own principal programme for this is the Free Tickets Scheme and I have to confess, I find it easier to raise money for this scheme than for almost anything else we do - £25,000 this season and counting. We are happy about this of course because we believe in the scheme - over 1200 young people will get the chance to attend normal, public performances in 2007. Every major opera company has an education programme of one kind or another; some focus on going into schools (we do that too), some are designed to make opera accessible to one group or other and some, like Grange Park’s prison project, have more ambitious aspirations to help turn people’s lives around. Most, however, when all is said and done, are about developing potential new audiences for the future. But I think the cultural benefits of introducing opera in its formal state to young people should have higher ideals than to merely increase the chance of them growing into future audience members (which is not a bad ideal I should add!) In Britain, among young people, the arts seem to me to be polarised. And too many people who work among young people are setting the agenda – in a sense telling kids what it is they can, will, should or are entitled to enjoy. It is incredibly damaging and patronising. It is getting better but I think exposure to the classical arts of young people is still criminally low. It needs to be pointed out that there is no “choice” to be made – one can still enjoy jazz, soul, rock or whatever alongside opera and classical music.
Among commercial sponsors of the arts, there is a growing desire to be involved with projects that are accessible. Korn/Ferry, our main sponsor, was very attracted to the open and informal nature of Opera Holland Park and they can be sure that their investment is indeed helping to sustain that principle. I recently met with another company and in the course of our conversation I saw an opportunity to present an “education” idea that has been floating around the office for about two years. As is the nature of these things, I can’t tell you the idea or the company! Suffice to say that it will offer thousands of children the opportunity to spend at least one hour of their lives thinking about, studying and listening to opera. I am glad to say that the company have responded well to the idea. It will be expensive – very expensive – but we as a company would retain not a single penny of the money from the sponsorship of the project, which we will in reality only be a partner to. We have to be clear about what the aims of these schemes are and that we a) follow through with them and b) ensure that should we succeed in sparking a love of opera in young people that we make it possible for them to actually enjoy the art form.
I note that Wasfi over at Grange Park has begun to fulfil her blog obligations (link provided in the column) and mentions meeting with James and I. It was a very enjoyable evening – Wasfi is never anything less than fully engaging company and it is easy to see why she has been so successful in building and sustaining the Grange project. Over a couple of bottles of wine, we had an interesting philosophical chat about the role of companies such as ours in the great opera picture; about how people on the outside see us as “competitors” when in fact we are nothing of the sort and actually spend a good deal of time communicating with one another in a cooperative fashion. We talked about how we might add some flesh to that co-operative bone so to speak. You’ll be the first to know how we get on.