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Fall Arts 2016: A Changing of the Guard

In Culture, Music
ART NOUVEAU: There's a new gang in town. Highly motivated and extremely creative, they are changing the face of the Silicon Valley arts and culture scene. Photo by Paul Tumason.

ART NOUVEAU: There's a new gang in town. Highly motivated and extremely creative, they are changing the face of the Silicon Valley arts and culture scene. Photo by Paul Tumason.

In decades past, five big arts groups dominated the Silicon Valley culture scene, slurping up the majority of public support and private donations, while dozens of much smaller organizations fought over the table scraps. With annual budgets that in better times passed the $5 million mark, Ballet San Jose, San Jose Rep, San Jose Museum of Art, Opera San Jose and the Symphony were big companies that were dominated for years on end by big artistic forces—Dennis Nahat, Timothy Near, Jim Reber, Leonid Grin or the late Irene Dalis and George Cleve.

The local arts scene looks quite different these days. San Jose Symphony declared bankruptcy after its 2001 shutdown, ending a 64-year run. Silicon Valley Ballet called it quits earlier this year, while the Rep gave its final curtain call in 2014.

The 13-year-old Symphony Silicon Valley, a nimble successor to the original company, recently took a hit when Target ended its sponsorship of the annual Summer Pops series, and Opera San Jose dipped into its cash reserves from 2009 until this past season, when the organization’s new director put together a program that actually put the opera—barely—back into the black.

Still, even as these major groups have struggled, the performing and visual arts have proved resilient. The companies are younger and more diverse, both artistically and in terms of their leadership, virtualizing their operations and striving to do more with less. They are breaking out of the rigid confines of European tradition.

“There are a lot of things that aren’t right with the arts,” says Andrew Bales, executive director of Symphony Silicon Valley. But, he continues, that doesn’t mean the South Bay has given up on culture. In fact, according to Bales, “There really has been quite a resurgence of young folks in the arts—and it’s not even that they’re so young—it’s just a new generation of people.”

While there are fewer concentrations of power in Silicon Valley’s art scene today, there are many more important players—all of them working hard to bring relevant music, art and stage productions to the Bay Area’s most populous metropolis. Read about these new arts and culture leaders here and plan your fall calendar by checking out our Fall Arts 2016 listings.

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