"Go artsy. Be a foodie. Meet people." This is the battle cry of Culture Vultures, one of the latest efforts in the arts community to appeal to the under-40 set with straining-for-hip marketing, social events and edgier programming -- at least by Washington standards.
Will it make a difference?
The Washington Performing Arts Society sure hopes so. That's the venerable institution behind the Culture Vultures series of performances and after-parties packaged to lure younger ticket buyers to WPAS events in greater numbers. Last season, WPAS drew 150,000 people to 66 programs -- its standard mix of touring symphonies, classical recitals, jazz, dance and other acts -- but found that less than 25 percent of ticket buyers were under 45.
That figure doesn't represent a crisis, says Rebecca Menes, WPAS's marketing and communications director, as long as younger audiences stay true to form and migrate to WPAS's cultural offerings later in life.
But is it safe to assume that today's twenty- and thirty-somethings will clamor for the likes of Kathleen Battle or the Chicago Symphony a couple of decades from now at the same rate WPAS's 40-plus audience base currently does?
Um, better cue the Culture Vultures.
WPAS markets the program to ticket buyers between the ages of 21 and 39, promising them drinks, hors d'oeuvres and mingling time aplenty after some of WPAS's less-traditional programs. The organization introduced Culture Vultures last season in conjunction with performances by flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia and the Ballet Boyz. The current Culture Vultures season kicked off last month on the opening night of multimedia performance artist Carl Hancock Rux's "Mycenaean."
The first three Culture Vultures events attracted about 100 people each, a respectable start to an effort that joins the ranks of outreach programs for young professionals by such cultural mainstays as the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington Ballet, Smithsonian Institution and Corcoran Gallery of Art, to name a few.
Upcoming Culture Vultures parties are planned at various restaurants after the Putumayo Latin music divas concert Oct. 22 at Lisner Auditorium, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's premiere of Wynton Marsalis's "Suite for Human Nature" on Dec. 11 at Lincoln Theatre, and the Kodo Drummers performance March 18 at Constitution Hall.
Despite the obvious need for arts organizations to shore up future generations of ticket buyers and donors, Menes insists that Culture Vultures isn't all about building WPAS's audience. That's a byproduct to a higher calling WPAS has to enhance its programs for ticket buyers.
"We want to provide a social component," says Menes, "but we're also searching for something deeper. It's not just about cocktails. We also want to provide opportunities for compelling conversations about our programs."
And true enough, at the Culture Vultures party last month at the National Geographic Society after "Mycenaean" -- a spoken-word-driven piece with apocalyptic themes -- some attendees availed themselves of the opportunity to meet performer Rux and discuss his work, while others pondered its implications in conversations throughout the night.
Still, many attendees seemed content to enjoy Culture Vultures on a simpler level. As Lauren Nelson, 23, observed: "It's just nice to be around your age group where you're not in a bar."
To learn more about upcoming Culture Vultures events, call 202-785-WPAS or visit www.wpas.org.
Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi and his wife, Nada, held an open house Friday to show off a collection of contemporary Hungarian art that fills their new Massachusetts Avenue Heights home. They want the four-story mansion, purchased last year from Sen. John Edwards, to be a showplace reflecting the cultural strengths of post-communist Hungary.
"These are the best of the best of Hungarian artists," says the sprightly ambassador. He hopes the collection will bring greater attention to the artists and lead to the acquisition of contemporary Hungarian art by major American museums.
The artists in the collection include Imre Bak, Jozsef Bullas, Laszlo Feher, Istvan Haraszty, Karoly Klimo, Istvan Nadler, Tamas Soos and Gabor Tari.
Simonyi says great Hungarian artists' careers were stymied under communist rule. "Everybody knows about Hungarian music -- Bartok, Kodaly, Liszt -- or cinematography, but our painters and sculptors are not known," he says. "We want art to catch up."
Most of the artists were on hand for the open house. Soos, a painter from Budapest with three works in the collection, said the ambassador's initiative marks his first showing in Washington.
"I feel very strongly about promoting Hungarian culture," he said. "This will concentrate my works for good eyes in Washington."
Nadler, another Budapest painter, explained through the unfazed ambassador that his two large, abstract works, hanging horizontally on opposite walls in the dining room, were intended to hang together -- and, well, vertically. Alas, space constraints dictated otherwise, but Nadler was honored to be included nonetheless.
Additional open houses are being planned for next spring and fall. For more information, call the Embassy of Hungary at 202-362-6730 or visit www.huembwas.org.