Looming largely over the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts this year are budget shortfalls and an unfortunate lack of student interest.
The Fine Arts Center (FAC) has been plagued in recent years by a noticeable lack of student attendance. To fight this trend, the FAC has lowered ticket prices from $15 to $10 for students in the Five College Consortium. Kathryn Maguet, director of the Center Series at the FAC, said that the lack of student attendance as well as tough economic times led to the decision to lower the ticket prices. “It is our responsibility as an arts group to make performances as attainable to students as possible,” she said. She believes that lowering ticket prices is a good way to attract more students to the FAC and increase attendance, which she notes has been on a slow but steady decline since she took over as director in 2006.
The FAC is also faced with serious budget issues which could impact it as soon as next year. This budget issue is directly related to the FAC’s lack of advertising, which Maguet admits need to be revamped if they hope to attract more students. They are currently in the process of updating the website to make it more user friendly. Changes will include preview clips so that those interested in a performance can see what it has to offer. But until the website is reformatted, the FAC’s main forms of advertisement are its seasonal pamphlets and word-of-mouth promotion.
This lack in publicity means that talented performers like South African flugelhorn player Hugh Masekela go virtually unnoticed. Masekela is legendary in South Africa and well known around the world for his popular jazz music. He is also known for his collaborations with rock group The Byrds and Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel. Masekela has also won a number of awards, including Ghana Music Awards’ African Music Legend award in 2007 and the BBC Radio of Jazz Awards International Award of the Year in 2002. He also received a Broadway Tony Award nomination in 1988 for his musical score for Sarafina, and a Grammy nomination in 1968 for Best Contemporary Pop Performance for his instrumental single “Grazin’ in the Grass.”
This year’s total budget for the Center Series alone is in the range of $350,000-400,000, only $100,000-150,000 of that is allocated by state funds according to Maguet. The FAC is offering a number of other programs this year, which include the Asian Arts & Culture Program, Global Arts, and its year-long jazz program, The Solos and Duos Series (for Fall 2010) and the Magic Triangle Jazz Series (for Spring 2011) which is now in its 22nd season. To put that budget into perspective, Maguet said booking a respected symphony orchestra, like the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra which will be performing at the Concert Hall on Sunday, March 6 at 7 p.m., can cost anywhere between $90,000 and $150,000.
Since taking over, Maguet has focused on trying to bring more multicultural groups and dance groups to the FAC, both of which she says attract the largest audiences. She said both the Center Series and the other programs at the FAC work closely with other venues around the New England area to bring the best acts to the University, as well as the local community. She also acknowledges that getting students to come out and see many of the shows has been a struggle due to the large availability of online media and what she describes as a general lack of interest in the performing arts. “Experiencing live music [and] dance experiences is far better than any digital experience,” she said.
Masekela’s show at Bowker Auditorium on October 13th was played in front of a nearly packed house, but an artist of his magnitude and talent could easily have sold out a much larger venue.
A complete list of performances can be found on the FAC’s website www.umass.edu/fac/