You too can be a patron of the arts

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: I know a lot of public radio listeners are patrons of the arts. We support the arts with our time and our dollars. But when was the last time, you not only bought a ticket for the theater, but actually commissioned a new play? Or a new symphony? Not wealthy enough for that you say?

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler found out you don't have to be filthy rich to leave an artistic legacy.


Sound of trombone

Jeff Tyler: Charlie Staadecker doesn't exactly hide his affection for his wife Benita. For their 25th wedding anniversary, he commissioned this:

Trombone and orchestra continue

It's a trombone concerto by the Seattle Symphony's composer-in-residence, Samuel Jones. The price tag: $30,000.

Charlie Staadecker is in commercial real estate. He wanted to commission more art works, but couldn't afford it.

Charlie Staadecker: With the downturn in the real estate market, we ran out of money.

So Staadecker found partners. Four other couples are sharing the cost of a new concerto. $8,000 per couple, payable over two years. When you break it down, it comes to a little more than $300 a month.

Staadecker: You don't have to be a Vanderbilt or a De Medici to fund a new work of art. That can be equal to or even less than your monthly car payment.

Commissioning clubs have been around for decades. Many people credit Jack and Linda Hoeschler, a couple from Saint Paul, Minn., for creating the model.

Linda Hoeschler: Many people for years had complimented us on the fact that we were commissioning new music. And they'd say, "Well, how do you do it?" and we would tell them and nobody would ever do it.

Then one night, about 20 years ago, they had an epiphany.

We'll start an investment club, but get people to contribute to composers.

The Hoeschler's got other couples to join this investment club. They've funded 18 new works so far -- more than half of them by composer Stephen Paulus.

Musicians playing a piece by Stephen Paulus

Hoeschler says each couple ponies up $3,000 a year.

Hoeschler: It's an amount of money we probably all, unfortunately, waste in a year. Maybe eating out more than we should.

For people on a tighter budget, some clubs, like the People's Commissioning Fund, accept donations of almost any size. It funds more contemporary, avant guard stuff, like this work by composer Ken Thomson.

Musicians playing a piece by Ken Thomson

In many commissioning clubs, funders get extra perks. Gerard Schwarz is musical director at the Seattle Symphony.

Gerard Schwarz: The commissioners also get to come to all the rehearsals. They get to come to the premiere performance. If we record it, they get credit for that. For the life of the work, it will be associated with these people.

A few years ago, Charlie Staadecker commissioned a new play for his wife Benita. It's being staged this month at the Pacific Resident Theater in Venice, Calif. Before act one starts, artistic director Marilyn Fox tells the audience about Charlie.

Marilyn Fox: He wanted to give her a 60th birthday gift, so he commissioned -- as they did in Shakespeare's day -- a work of art. He had no promise of anything but a reading.

The play got more than a reading. The comedy, "Becky's New Car," has been a commercial success.

Becky: He didn't even do the one thing that I asked him, which was to get the dishwasher loaded. My son was loaded and the dishwasher was not.

Audience laughs

The play's been selling-out regional theaters in 10 cities. Staadecker couldn't be more proud.

Staadecker: It's probably the best investment that I have ever made.

He says, funding a new play or a new symphony comes down to a matter of priorities.

Staadecker: Instead of taking a safari to Africa, or a European cruise, or buying a new car, you can take the same amount of money and make an investment in a work of art that will last generations.

It will be months before Staadecker hears his latest investment. The concerto funded by his commissioning club will debut next summer.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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