Arts & Entertainment

Hang Out on the Phil’s New ‘Front Porch’

A freed-up space offers the pleasure of the art less formally —and for free.

BY October 30, 2012

Just before its september opening, Philharmonic Center for the Arts CEO Kathleen van Bergen stood in front of a small crowd of local arts journalists to announce big changes for the Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art.

The bit that grabbed the most headlines is the partnership that moved arguably the museum’s most famous piece—Louise Nevelson’s mammoth sculpture Dawn’s Forest— to Southwest Florida International Airport for the next two years. (For more on that see p. 105.)

The piece will surely act as a great advertisement for the wonderful cultural offerings in the region as a whole, and the Phil in general. It’s a shrewd move on van Bergen’s part in a space that attracts several million people annually. If just a tenth of those visitors come through the museum, it would double the annual attendance.

But to me, the more intriguing news is what they are doing with the considerable space Ms. Nevelson is vacating. On the last Wednesday night of the month through June, it will be opened up to the public—as will the museum itself—for free. There will be a series of exhibits and performances, but nothing requiring people to show up at a specifi c time or block off a certain number of hours. Visitors can explore the museum, enjoy food and beverages from the café and use the free wifi that was installed over the summer.

The idea, as van Bergen explained, is similar to something she saw in Denver, where an organization had what they called the “front porch.”

“I like that because it’s not as intimate as inside your bedroom or your house,” she says. “But it’s more personal than just meeting out on the street or in a public place.”

The genius of this is simple: The more people she gets on her campus, the more people are going to participate in what the Phil has to off er. The folks who show up could be converted into paying patrons for other events. But it also helps clear some of the air of exclusivity that often has surrounded the organization. While that might not be exactly what some of the Phil’s current patrons want, it certainly is the direction in which van Bergen and her board are taking the organization.

This new concept strikes me as the perfect place to explore more collaboration with other local arts groups, giving them space on the Phil’s campus and access to the organization’s considerable roster of supporters. The possibilities could be endless.

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