What's Behind Mellon's Classical Music Grant to Texas Performing Arts?

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded a $400,000 grant to the University of Texas-Austin's Texas Performing Arts (TPA) organization to support classical music production for various shows and performances on campus.

Mellon's goal in awarding the funding to TPA is a simple one — to raise awareness of classical music amongst the student population. According to Kathy Panoff, Director and Associate Dean of TPA, "The Mellon Foundation was looking to elevate classical music. They were attempting to make classical music more popular, which is difficult in modern times with the younger generation."

Of course, Mellon could have given $400,000 to any classical music organization that caters to a younger audience, but it didn't. It gave the cash to TPA. Why? As you can imagine, we have some theories.

For starters, TPA is blessed with access to a huge market of young people. UT Austin has the fifth highest single-campus enrollment in the nation, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty and staff. (This figure, of course, excludes other local colleges and universities.)

On the other hand, competition is fierce. Austin is the self-proclaimed "live music capital the world" and students have dozens of live music choices on a nightly basis. Fortunately, we here at IP are optimists at heart, and our feeling is that Austin is a great testing ground for expanding classical music's reach precisely because it's filled with so many savvy and sophisticated music lovers.

But at the end of the day, Mellon awarded the grant because TPA is great at what it does, particularly regarding student engagement. Support from donors and sponsors underwrites TPA's recently established Student Ticket Fund, which makes it possible for students of all ages to purchase $10 tickets to all of TPA's performances. TPA also has a student organization called Hook 'Em Arts, which aims to "increase student engagement and awareness of Texas Performing Arts so that it becomes an integral component of campus life."

With this engagement architecture in place, it's no surprise that Mellon felt confident in TPA's ability to increase classical music awareness among the student population.

On a related note, click here for IP's analysis on Mellon's music-related work at John Hopkins University.