Haven’t quite hit 40 birthday candles? You’re young — in the eyes of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) — which means free or discounted tickets to any seat at most of its 2016-2017 concerts.
The orchestra announced its New Generation Initiative on Tuesday, a program designed to attract people under 40 to its productions. Children ages 6-17 and students of any age — from high schoolers to doctoral candidates with valid IDs — can order free tickets starting this week. SPCO subscribers also received two free guests passes to give to anyone under 40.
“Twenty years from now, there will be people in our audience who started coming to concerts as result of this initiative,” said SPCO President Jon Limbacher. “It’s an investment in the future, but it’s also an investment in now.”
Five individuals from the Twin Cities area, including members of the SPCO’s board of directors, donated about $200,000 to support the initiative. Spokeswoman Lindsey Thorseson Hansen declined to share the individuals’ names.
The grant applies to all concerts outside of co-presentations and special events, such as the orchestra’s newly announced series at Icehouse, a hip music venue on Minneapolis’ Eat Street. After all, those tickets may include drinks. No further explanation necessary.
The initiative is not a move to increase sales, as SPCO concerts typically sell out, Hansen said. The orchestra simply hopes to build an audience that better reflects the region’s diversity. To ensure that young people can get seats — the best ones, at that — ticket sales are opening a week earlier for these groups. Ticket presale for the younger audiences began Tuesday and runs through Aug. 16.
Hansen said the orchestra expects to give out 5,000 to 6,000 free tickets this season.
The initiative is the next step in a long history of making the orchestra more accessible, Hansen said. Since 2002, the SPCO has cut $1 million from its marketing budget. It also has managed to pull 80 percent of its profits from philanthropic donations, relying less heavily on ticket sales. This strategy has allowed the SPCO to lower prices, while introducing free clubs and $5 membership programs. In the 2015-16 season, the orchestra offered more than 50 percent of its seats for $12 or less. And the organization still hit an all-time high in net ticket revenue.
Student and discounted tickets at highbrow institutions are common, but they often come with strict limitations, such as rush seating, Hansen said.
In April, the Guthrie Theater announced a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund its own audience initiative. Originally priced from $15 to $35, tickets for shows on the ninth floor in its Dowling Studio became available at $9.
SPCO Artistic Director Kyu-Young Kim worked with the orchestra from 2000 to 2005 when the almost-half-empty hall demoralized performers, he recalled. Upon returning in 2011 to lower prices and sold-out shows, he said the improved accessibility was palpable. “You can feel it in the hall when new people come in,” Kim said. “It just creates a buzz in the air. It’s hard to find any other way.”
For tickets and information, see www.thespco.org.