It's the least we can do.
This simple notion translated into a very big idea.
September 11th fell right at the beginning of the fall cultural season. Performing arts organizations were preparing for opening nights, galas and season premieres. Due to the unprecedented act of terrorism, some had to postpone performances, some had to change programs, some tours were cancelled. One thing was clearly certain things had changed.
The marketing directors from the Zoo, Science Center, Art Museum, Sheldon, Symphony, Black Rep, Repertory Theatre, Botanical Garden, History Museum, Edison Theatre, Jazz at the Bistro and Dance Saint Louis decided to take matters into their own hands.
Rather than wait for things to return to "normal," we decided to band together to stimulate demand during this uneasy and stressful time. Could we soothe the collective psyche through attending concerts, plays and museums? Could our art forms, venues and events be more relevant and uplifting than ever?
There was one common thread among the 12 attractions we all depended on the people of St. Louis for our existence. Furthermore, as not-for-profit entities, we relied not only on attendance but also on the generosity of the people and corporations of the region through financial contributions. It was clearly time to give something back and recapture the Spirit of St. Louis.
It was determined that what we really wanted to say was, "Thank You." A very big thank you. What better time to say thank you than at Thanksgiving?
With the immeasurable assistance of The Hughes Group in Clayton and The Miller Group in Kirkwood, we decided to launch a website at www.bigthankyou.org.
The purpose was to have people in St. Louis go on-line and find discounts to all our venues that could easily be changed and updated. It would function much like an on-line TKTS booth in Times Square.
Longtime regional benefactor and collaborator Des Lee served as master of ceremonies at a memorable press conference at the Sheldon Concert Hall on the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving. All of the 12 organizations participated the Zoo brought animals, Dance Saint Louis brought Nutcracker dancers, the Science Center brought liquid nitrogen. Speaking for the organization, Ron Himes, founder of the St. Louis Black Repertory said, "Art and culture nourish the soul of all of us. With bigthankyou.org, the community will have a great incentive to enjoy the vast number of culture experiences available in St. Louis." Perhaps Zoo President Charlie Hoessle summed up the group's efforts best: "We're happy to be able to give back to a community that has given so much to us. This effort is a tribute to the spirit of cooperation that makes non-profit institutions in St. Louis so vital."
The site has received nearly 400,000 hits. At the Saint Louis Symphony the site drastically boosted attendance the first weekend in January. The first weekend of the New Year is traditionally difficult for us. It's right after the holidays, credit cards are maxed out, the weather is lousy ... need I go on? But we put a very attractive offer out on bigthankyou.org and were pleased with the results. The public really responded to our offer, and patrons were able to attend the concerts at 66% off the normal ticket price.
Since its launch in November, other not-for-profit organizations have joined the unique consortium. The Magic House and Center for Contemporary Arts are new additions. Speaking on behalf of my colleagues, I can categorically state that it is our hope to be inclusive and think regionally. We hope as winter turns to spring and spring to summer, that we will be able to announce more additions. We have already had encouraging discussions with Stages St. Louis and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
In a region not renowned for collaboration, it is inspiring to see the arts providing a worthy example of what can be achieved through unqualified solidarity. The arts are life enhancing and triumphant. There could not be a better time to remember this while giving something back to the region we are all proud to serve. It is, after all, the least we can do.
Stephen Duncan is the Director of Marketing for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.