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City should restore Brown Bag Concerts

Original post made by Tyler Hanley, digital editor of Palo Alto Online, on Aug 8, 2006

Weekly editorial, Aug. 9:
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.

Comments (3)

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2006 at 9:52 am

The character of the Palo Alto community will get chiseled away in the next several years, as traditions like the Brown Bag Concert Series are eliminated or die from lack of support from our public officials, elected and appointed.

Stagnant to declining municipal revenues, coupled with growing intractable expenses such as retirement pension obligations and infrastructure replacement, mean that there is not enough money or city staff time available for many community treasures like this Series to continue without a change in the model of how it is supported and funded.

The financial crisis we face will not go away easily. What can be adjusted more easily is a change in approach by our officials in how they work with the greater community to make sure that both the direct and indirect costs of continuing the Brown Bag (and other community programs that will soon face similar circumstances)are met.

These types of programs, which are so critical to preserving and enhancing the character of what we all love about Palo Alto, should not die from nelgect, any more than our medians should be allowed to go brown from lack of watering. It is OK to end something if it has reached its useful life. That is not the case with the Brown Bag. I detect a pernicious trend if we merely "give up." We must now figure out how to develop future models for Palo Alto that enable our uniq


Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2006 at 9:55 am

The character of the Palo Alto community will get chiseled away in the next several years, if traditions like the Brown Bag Concert Series are eliminated or die from lack of support from our public officials, elected and appointed.

Stagnant to declining municipal revenues, coupled with growing intractable expenses such as retirement pension obligations and infrastructure replacement, mean that there is not enough money or city staff time available for many community treasures like this Series to continue without a change in the model of how they are supported and funded.

The financial crisis we face will not go away easily. What can be adjusted more easily is a change in approach by our officials in how they work with the greater community to make sure that we can meet both the direct and indirect costs of continuing the Brown Bag (and other community programs that will soon face similar circumstances.)

These types of programs, which are so critical to preserving and enhancing the character of what we all love about Palo Alto, should not die from nelgect, any more than our medians should be allowed to go brown from lack of watering. It is OK to end something if it has reached its useful life. That is not the case with the Brown Bag. I detect a pernicious trend if we merely "give up." We must now develop models to support these programs that enable our unique character to continue and thrive.


Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 16, 2006 at 2:35 pm

It's a shame to see these discontinued. They were such a pleasant part of the downtown experience. I don't see why the city objects to private fundraising for them.


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