Blog: Rebekah Johnson

Bravo! Bravo! Rebekah Johnson, public relations coordinator for the Michigan Opera Theatre, is staging a program to open the curtains on a younger crowd's appreciation of music and libretto.

Post 1 - Detroit, the Opera: Act I

Sustainable Business and Art as vital parts of a living community organism

The curtain went up on the opening opera of the spring season.  The house lights went down, and smoke, red lights, and hundreds of people filled the stage.  The set, a giant dragon, commanded attention. The singers were mesmerizing.  It was my very first opera, Turandot at Michigan Opera Theatre – and I was hooked.  Since then, I have seen every opera presented at the Detroit Opera House and am constantly reminded why I love working there.  

As both a musician and a music fan, my musical experiences taught me that I want to support the talented, creative people who provide cultural life to our region and make it a more enjoyable place to live.  More than performing itself, I love being a part of "the big picture" and recognizing how integral the arts are to Detroit.  Working at Michigan Opera Theatre has taught me a lot about opera, and if you'll indulge me, I'd like to make some comparisons between the city and the art form.

Detroit's story contains many operatic elements, including lots of divas and drama.  Usually operas end tragically, but fortunately, I don't believe Detroit's story will end this way.  In fact, with a creative community and creative class, it can grow, thrive, and flourish in time.  Let me convey, most importantly, that I understand the dire nature of our economic situation in this state.  Those of us with jobs are lucky to have them.  However, the point I want to make is that healthy regions that attract business have arts organizations that give them life and vibrancy.  

Arts institutions have a larger economic impact than most people realize.  They support musicians, stagehands, curators, marketers, advertisers, local newspapers, artists, restaurants, printers – the list is endless.  According to Americans for the Arts, America's  nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year?$63.1 billion in spending by the organizations alone and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by audiences. The national impact of this activity is significant, supporting 5.7 million jobs and generating $29.6 billion in government revenue. 

Over 15% of the $11 billion spent on leisure travel in Michigan is spent on history, arts, and culture travel.  Even without the economic implications, imagining life in Detroit without its proud arts institutions – well, it paints a pretty bleak picture.  What person would want to start a business or move their business to a city with no cultural life?  

Opera companies, like so many arts institutions, are facing a national crisis.  Detroit is certainly no exception, and the very existence of our arts institutions is a downright miracle when other cities like Baltimore and Orlando have lost large, seemingly solid organizations.  But we need them.  And they need us.  It's a symbiotic relationship that keeps us all alive and gives Detroit an international artistic trademark for world-class art and music.

This isn't to say that these organizations can't learn new ways of cutting costs and adapting to change – this is something we're all working on.  We're all doing more with less – and in some cases, a lot less.  We're all in this together, and Detroit can't afford to lose its artistic identity.

In these next few posts, I will convey the reasons why young people should get involved and get behind these organizations.