Lonely Arts Clubs

CHRISTY DESMITH | Updated 8/17/2012

Looking for an alternative to the bar scene? Twin Cities "young patrons groups" offer eye candy as well as edification.


One Saturday at 8 p.m., I arrive at my destination to find a backlit bar and mop-haired mixologist serving peach martinis. I'm new to these parts, so I go on reconnaissance: How sexy is the crowd? How stiff is the competition? With whom might I strike up conversation? I stroll about the party's perimeter. I spy in the corner: sofas and chairs tossed with lovers. At the bar: two good-looking men dole out their phone numbers. Front, center: a dance floor clogged with hotties. They jiggle and writhe as the DJ spins vintage Prince tunes.

No, it wasn't another sloppy night in Minneapolis' Warehouse District. Rather, this sticky scene unfolded recently at the Target Park Courtyard at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It was a festive meeting of the Circle, the museum's hip young patrons' group.

I was so intrigued by the Circle's event that I embarked on a survey of similar clubs. The Minnesota Orchestra has a relatively new group called the Crescendo Project. The Minnesota Opera has Tempo, a social network and discount program for people in their 20s and 30s. The Ordway Center recently launched its own group, called Urbanites.

Needless to say, these groups make great alternatives to the bar scene for an arty singleton.

Following the Minnesota Opera's opening night performance of "The Abduction From the Seraglio" on Nov. 1, about 100 Tempo members and friends headed to the St. Paul Hotel for a post-show reception. The relative sterility of the hotel's carpeted "James J. Hill" meeting room paled in comparison to the Circle's opulence, but the nibbles were good: heaping platters of fresh berries and mountains of stinky cheese. The scenery wasn't bad, either -- a few devos and at least one Botticelli beauty attended.

As I bounced around the room, chatting with Tempo members and opera administrators, I found the conversation consistently friendly and smart. Fun, fun, fun -- folks were hungry to exchange critiques of the opera they'd just attended. The most common complaint was that they couldn't hear the production's bass. But because there were plentiful opera staff members on hand, everyone was made privy to a handy fact: The poor fellow was fighting a cold.

I wasn't able to properly observe the Urbanites. Only four members showed for the poorly publicized event I attended. But the club's keeper, Ordway employee Katie Rye, assures me that 30 to 60 people consistently attend the Urbanites' regular post-show parties at Pazzaluna.

I had better luck Nov. 3 when Crescendo held an educational event backstage at Orchestra Hall. It was during the orchestra's annual composers' institute, so several living-and-breathing composers were on hand to discuss the mysterious and reportedly endangered art form.

A crowd of about 50 huddled into an Orchestra Hall conference room to nibble on finger sandwiches and sip gratis glasses of wine -- tasteful trimmings that made up for the uninspired setting. Heck, Crescendo is so fancy it even has napkins printed with the organization's logo, a scribbled treble clef.

While it was fascinating to hear the composers discuss their music, I was more interested to find the room jammed with good-looking men: a foppish real-estate agent, a 24-year-old foreign exchange trader. I was similarly impressed at the Circle event, but here -- finally -- the ratio tipped in my favor. Nevertheless, the club's female membership seemed unimpressed. They elbowed their way toward the cutest composer in the room: a New Yorker named Antonio Carlos Defeo.

The brainchildren of marketing and development departments, these young patrons groups, or YPGs, are designed to serve purposes far nobler than matchmaking. According to Next Generation Consulting, a market research firm that helps marketers reach young consumers, the average arts patron is 52. In other words, arts organizations had better lure 20- and 30-somethings or they'll kick the bucket along with the baby-boomers.

Happy hours, invitations to cast parties, dirt-cheap tickets for decent seats -- these are the ways in which YPGs capture young hearts. But interlopers should take heed: Some of the clubs have the secondary goal of cultivating young donors.

At the Crescendo event, for example, multiple members talked about the importance of financially supporting the orchestra. "I don't want to end up like Detroit or Cleveland!" said Matt Chua, a 26-year-old Crescendo member and corporate strategist at ADC Telecom. For him, the biggest motivator was "supporting the orchestra as an institution."

But broke folks needn't retreat. Luther Ranheim, a 35-year-old Crescendo board member, said members might "try to become supporters, but that's down the road." In the meantime, the club provides a safe, even warm environment in which to learn about classical music and socialize. Of course, the cheap tickets aren't bad, either.

Individual giving was not discussed at the opera event. Tempo is "entirely focused on building a community of the next generation of operagoers," said Jamie Nieman, the opera employee charged with ordering the cheese plates and otherwise managing the club. The same goes for Urbanites, said Rye.

Lawyers -- these clubs are packed with lots and lots of lawyers who enjoy networking. Other popular professions included engineering and finance. I also met a couple of graphic designers, a few marketing and PR professionals, someone in human resources at Target, even the recreation supervisor for the city of Plymouth.

Non-native Minnesotans were also highly prevalent. At the Crescendo event, I met Megan Gardner, a 31-year-old strategy consultant for Ameriprise Financial who recently moved to Minnesota from San Francisco. Gardner is co-chair on the Crescendo board and also belongs to Tempo and the Circle. The groups helped her break the ice, she said -- after all, we Minnesotans are notoriously tight with our social networks.

"You might go to a Walker event and see someone you saw at a Crescendo event six months earlier, and it doesn't take long to form your own community," she said. "If the arts community wasn't here, I'm not sure what that forum would be. Book clubs maybe."

And finally, the most depressing characteristic of these YPGs, at least in the case of the Circle and Tempo: They are woefully underattended by eligible heterosexual men. Sure, I met plenty of young ladies who toted their boyfriends along, especially to the Circle's saucy soiree. But more women went stag. Needless to say, opportunity knocks if a gentleman wants to admire such works of art.

Twin Cities Young Patrons Groups

TEMPO Minnesota Opera

  • Age requirement: 21-39
  • Annual fee: $40
  • Perks: Subscribe to five operas for $120, four for $100 or three for $80. Best of all, Tempo members get great seats.
  • Parties: Every opening night, plus regular happy hours, cocktail parties and group outings to simulcasts of New York City's Metropolitan Opera.
  • Next up: "Opera 101: Divas to Demons," an educational event Dec. 3 with Prof. Vicki Fingalson. Of course, the lecture is both preceded and followed by drinks.
  • Info: www.mnopera.org/tempo

URBANITES Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

  • Age requirement: 21-40
  • Annual fee: None
  • Perks: Significant ticket discounts -- $14.50 for rockin' ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro and $25 for the musical "Grey Gardens," both in March -- as well as backstage tours and, on occasion, access to cast members.
  • Parties: Each after-party is held at Pazzaluna, in downtown St. Paul. Members have access to happy-hour specials and receive complimentary appetizers.
  • Next up: A party March 10 after Shimabukuro's 7:30 p.m. concert.
  • Info: www.ordway.org/urbanites

THE CIRCLE Minneapolis Institute of Arts

  • Age requirement: 21-44
  • Annual fee: $100
  • Perks: Regular museum membership benefits, such as free audio guides, a 10 percent discount at the museum shop and free tickets to special events.
  • Parties: The Circle hosts numerous gallery events, lectures and parties throughout the year. Invitations and updates are sent via the club's e-mail newsletter.
  • Next up: "The Finer Things -- Art, Architecture & Jewelry" at JB Hudson Jewelers this Thursday.
  • Info: www.artsmia.org/thecircle

CRESCENDO PROJECT Minnesota Orchestra

  • Age requirement: none
  • Annual fee: $99 to start, $120 after the inaugural year.
  • Perks: $25 to attend concerts when there's an affiliated Crescendo event; 50 percent off Minnesota Orchestra's create-your-own-package purchases.
  • Parties: Every year, the club hosts three concert events with pre- and postparties as well as two educational lecture events.
  • Next up: "Inside the Classics" concert event Jan. 28 featuring Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4.
  • Info: www.crescendoproject.org