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Madison Politicians Wrong To Jab At Overture Center For The Arts

March 25, 2015

The latest pointed remark I heard about Overture Center For The Arts–one of Madison’s jewels in the downtown–came from Mayor Paul Soglin during last night’s election debate.  Once again the old refrain was offered that the lack of diversity from those attending performances at the center was somehow a foundational problem that justified attempts to appropriate fewer tax dollars in the city budget.  Over time there have also been attempts to portray Overture tickets as over-priced and the center not user-friendly to a larger segment of our city.

That is simply a ridiculous way to look at the situation.

I placed a call to the Overture ticket office today to inquire about the lowest price tickets that one might request so to listen to the magic created by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.  For $16.00 a person can buy a ticket.  If you are student there is a reduction, and if you are a senior citizen there is a 20% reduction.  There are also great deals on ‘rush tickets’ the day of a performance.

Simply put there is no way to claim that people can not attend the Symphony–as an example–or to use Overture.  That argument is not one that sails.

Several years ago my partner and I wanted to attend plays that were presented at Overture.  We were still paying off our home improvement bills from when we moved in and therefore sought out a different path.  Instead of paying full ticket price for an actual performance we bought a season’s worth of final dress rehearsal shows.  We were even seated in the front row.  Every other month James and I had a really nice night out and loved the experience on a budget.

The arts matter in our lives as I know it does for a wide swatch of Madison.  I also am aware that it takes prioritizing budgets and desires to make any entertainment outing doable.   We all know people who have no problem buying sporting tickets, attending movies with the purchase of popcorn, and carry their portable electronic gadgets and cell phones at all times and yet have the gall to complain they can not afford tickets to a performance at Overture.

It all comes down to what is important to us as individuals.

So to then have the mayor over and over again paint Overture as some elitist and over-priced whites-only playground is truly offensive.

There is not a city our size in the nation that would not drool heavy for the chance to have a performing arts center of the type we enjoy.  Or the fact that this building was presented to the city as a gift!  There is a not place in the nation that would not love to have our symphony orchestra or our chamber orchestra play in such a building.  Yet there is the chorus from some that Overture is a place for rich white people.

There is no way to deny the benefits that the arts provides to a community with continuing economic energy.  I would argue even more importantly the arts provides to individuals texture about life, awakening of the senses, and adds insight about how we feel and interact with sights and sounds.  In a nutshell the arts are essential to being a well-rounded person, and makes for a harmonious community.

I would hope that all our local elected officials–starting with the mayor–might come to the understanding of what the arts provide and how we should all embrace Overture and what it gives to our city.

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