City should restore Brown Bag Concerts
Original post made by Tyler Hanley, online editor of Palo Alto Online, on Aug 8, 2006
For some unexplained reason, Palo Alto has opted not to seek donations this year to keep the summertime Brown Bag Concerts around next year. Thursday's concert in Cogswell Plaza is billed as the last of the 25-year-old series.
Two years ago, longtime resident and YMCA volunteer fundraiser Elliot Bolter took it upon himself to solicit pledges to save both the Brown Bag series and the better-attended Tuesday evening Twilight Concerts, which are to return next year. Bolter's efforts and enthusiasm -- he's the tall man who wore a bright, funny hat while handing out pledge cards at the concerts -- produced more than $40,000 and saved both series, for a time.
But the city staff, with City Council acquiescence, opted last spring to jettison the Brown Bag series -- and officials quietly let it be known that fundraising efforts would not be welcome.
There is no comparison in popularity: Twilight Concerts typically draw 800 to 1,000 persons, peaking to nearly 2,000 at one recent concert, according to producer Suzanne Warren of the city Recreation Department.
But the Brown Bag Concerts at Cogswell Plaza in downtown Palo Alto are attended by 80 to 100 persons -- a quite different audience. There are some young mothers with children or babies in strollers and some college-age attendees. But the audience is predominantly older -- seniors from the adjacent Avenidas senior center or Lytton Gardens a few blocks away, some in wheelchairs. And there are some homeless.
The city expects to save about $10,000 in a tight budget year. But that doesn't explain why staff discouraged fundraising efforts, which could have made it a break-even deal.
When the council returns from its August vacation, we hope someone will ask, "Why?" Thursday's event should not be the last of this long-running, human-scale series, mostly attended by persons who usually can't attend such performances.