Pam’s Pictorama Post: This weekend I am fresh back from a trip to Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first time I set foot in the state of Wisconsin and even for the residents of Madison, it was unseasonably cold and snowy. Manhattan was suffering from a modified version of the same, but it was a shock to my system nonetheless and required a scamper to find my snow boots (hidden under the cleaning products that generally live under the sink, but currently reside on the floor of the living room closet during the enduring kitchen renovation), and to retrieve my winter coat from storage. The chaos from the kitchen work has meant that the summer clothes have not been exchanged for the winter clothes here (a ritual of small apartment living) and the best I could do was to grab a few things from the basement containers, buy a few others and plan to layer a lot. (For those of you who are just tuning into my home renovation story you can find the origin post here.)
Leaving Kim and cats to fend for themselves amongst the workmen, I left Tuesday afternoon for a whirlwind two days in Madison. This was originally meant to be a longer trip with the orchestra as they made their way to Chicago, but that part never gelled so I just zipped in and out of Wisconsin. (I will do the same in Milwaukee in December as Big Band Holiday tours the Mid-west. My prediction is more snow there!) Madison is the long-time former stomping ground of one of my colleagues and many of the people we were visiting were supporters of local Madison projects with whom she had worked for many years. Walking down the streets of Madison with her was like being with the mayor of that town so glad were they to see her back!
It was lovely to experience their hospitality and generosity. Several of them support Jazz at Lincoln Center now, largely in tribute to her, but also because they are interested in our music education programs (some in their community) and because essentially they are philanthropic people. Their support is evident in named spaces and on donor plaques throughout that town and the pride in what they have created is tangible.
Madison, the capital of the state, is a city of about 260,000 people and a whopping student population at the university of 45,000, 10,00 of those doing graduate work year round. This makes it a little more than half the size of Minneapolis which it reminded me of in their devotion to supporting arts and culture in their community. (And not to mention winter weather.) The capital building, a slightly smaller version of the one in DC, is at the heart of downtown and I am told it is an area that teems with local life from a robust seasonal farmers market, to art fairs, music on the green and even as the starting point for their local marathon. I was also told that the building is open to the public seven days a week and in many ways this puts New York’s City Hall, increasingly inaccessible, to shame.
It makes me reflect on how different it must be to raise money in an area like that – with a dedicated, but more finite donor base, sharing them with the other major charities in the community such as the hospitals, and of course the enormous fundraising machine that the university must be.
I can see pros and cons of raising money in that milieu, but at the end of the day it is a very different animal than the sort of day-to-day I experience working for an international performing arts organization in the heart of New York City. One conversation I had with someone, who spoke with great gratitude for the work my colleague had done for their city by raising money for two significant projects there, a student union and an arts complex, stayed with me in particular.
While over the years individuals may have expressed gratitude for what I had done for them personally (access to the Museum’s collections, an opportunity to hear a concert for example) never had a donor expressed gratitude for the work done on behalf of the community. This struck me as an especially thoughtful perspective – imagine being thanked for raising money. Feeding the giant maw of need of one of these magnificent gems in the crown of Manhattan’s cultural life does not have the same resonance with individuals here and we are the facilitators are seen as a necessary part of the machine at best. Generous individuals see it as their responsibility to be philanthropic or even their pleasure, however never has anyone thanked me for helping keep the doors of the Metropolitan Museum open, nor for keeping the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra going. I must say, not that I would have expected them to either, but I was touched by the idea. It renewed my faith in my chosen profession.
While I enjoyed my stint in Wisconsin I do not pretend I am cut out for life in a small city. Enticing though space and pretty Victorian or Arts and Crafts houses in the downtown area were, I believe I would chafe quickly. Nonetheless, I will carry the experience with me and it makes me more reflective about the nature of my work. Meanwhile, I have returned contentedly to our one-room home, piled high with boxes of kitchen items for now, to deal with the newly purchased faucet with a faulty tap and the microwave which was the wrong size and has to be exchanged. Eventually it will be finished and the winter clothes will be restored to the closets for the season and life on 86th Street will return to normal.