Supporting the arts

Ellen Futterman, Editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Putting together this year’s Fall Arts Guide (pages 1B-8B), I got to thinking about a conversation I had earlier this summer with philanthropist Ken Kranzberg. I was interviewing Kranzberg for the Arts and Education Council’s newsletter, asking why he and his wife, Nancy, have been so passionate – and so generous — about giving to so many arts organizations in the St. Louis area over the years. 

“Nancy always says that the arts nourish the soul,” Ken told me. “She grew up loving the arts,” he continued, quickly adding, “I was moldable.”

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Another reason the Kranzbergs give, said Ken, is because they are “big boosters of St. Louis.” Both grew up here. Ken is chairman of TricorBraun, the industry’s largest distributor and designer of glass and plastic containers. Nancy sits (or has sat) on dozens of arts boards. She also hosts a weekly radio show highlighting the local arts scene on KDHX (88.1) and sings with a band called Nancy Kranzberg & the Second Half. Most of her performances raise money for various charities.

“We think St. Louis is a great place to live and we want to do all we can to support it,” Ken explained.  And by supporting he doesn’t mean just the large institutions in town, such as the symphony or the art museum, but also smaller ones and obscure groups that do good work. He pointed out that there are so many small institutions where if you give $100 or $500, your money goes far and you are considered a major giver. 

“It’s a shame that people who can support some of these smaller groups in a major way don’t do it,” he said. “They’ll give a million to a large one but nothing to a smaller organization where the money would make a huge difference.”

Anyhow, our conversation came to mind because in putting together the Fall Arts Guide, I realized that while it lists more than 100 local performances and events (from September through early December), it still doesn’t do justice to the breath and depth of all there is to see and do in St. Louis.

Frankly, space doesn’t allow us to list everything. Nor do human or financial resources. In the case of some of the smaller groups, their websites are out of date or don’t exist at all, and they can’t afford a marketing and publicity staff to tell us about what’s going on.

But that doesn’t necessarily make them, or what they do, less worthwhile. 

And it isn’t just the small groups that sometimes fall through the cracks. The Sheldon, for example, a major arts institution and one of my favorites, has so much going on this fall it can’t possibly give full attention to everything. First of all, it’s celebrating its 100th anniversary with the 2012-13 season; the hall opened in late 1912 as the Ethical Society of St. Louis. So in addition to a major retrospective of caricaturist (and native son) Al Hirschfeld’s works (Sept. 7-Jan. 5) and a special celebration featuring Peter Martin, Christine Brewer, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride and the St. Louis Symphony (Oct. 11), the Sheldon will continue to host “Notes From Home” on most Tuesday nights throughout the year. This gem of a series, which features some great musical talent from across the Midwest, has been going on for 17 years. Admission is 10 bucks.

All the information about “Notes from Home” is on the Sheldon’s website (www.thesheldon.org), but of course you have to know about it first to look for it.

A few years ago, I stumbled onto what is now a never-miss adventure thanks to OnSite Theatre, which stages plays at various locations throughout the city. The idea is to create an interactive, unconventional theatrical experience where the actors, the audience and the location all play a role. Let’s see, I’ve been to a bowling alley, a hostel, a gym, and a Maplewood bar. And I don’t think I ever paid more than $20 for a ticket.

While I could go on and on, the point is that beyond all the wonderful, well-known St. Louis area cultural and arts organizations that need your support lie another batch of wonderful but lesser-known cultural and arts organizations that also need your support and beyond them other wonderful ones that are more obscure but sure as heck need your support. And though few of us are in a position to give generously to every arts group in need, we can lend a hand by purchasing a ticket, especially when the cost is nominal. 

As the fall arts season kicks off, consider attending something tried-and-true as well as something new to you. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Oh, and on the subject of the Kranzbergs, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that they also generously give to Jewish groups here, including the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. In fact, since 2007, the Kranzberg Family Foundation has donated more than $200,000 to projects that benefit the local Jewish community, including cutting-edge “next-gen” programs geared toward teens and young adults and one to the Jewish Light for journalism workshops in Jewish day schools.

“Nancy and I like to joke that she takes care of the arts community,” said Ken, “and I take care of the Jews.”