National Press Club

Nat'l Parks, Arts are Synergistic, Wolf Trap CEO Says

March 29, 2009 | By Richard Lee

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Still-popular 60s folk singer Judy Collins was a no-show due to illness at Monday’s Luncheon spotlighting Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts' upcoming summer season. There were murmurs of disappointment from her fans in the audience. Collins has been a frequent performer at Wolf Trap over the years, but speaker and CEO Terrence Jones got laughs from the audience when he promised not to sing.

Jones, in his ninth annual appearance at the Club, recently returned from a three-month solo trek fact-finding trip, taking a close-up look at 86 national parks— “18,500 miles across 32 states, from Acadia National Park in Maine to Death Valley, and on to Joshua Tree in California,” he said. He painted an encouraging, if not always rosy, picture of the parks-arts connection in these belt-tightening times of economic uncertainty. And he stressed the importance of keeping that connection, through good times and bad, and using it more intelligently in future programming:

“Try to imagine life without our National Parks,” Jones said. “Imagine a row of condos on the south rim of the Grand Canyon or a high-rise business complex in the Tetons. Or closer to home, there would be no Rock Creek Park for family picnics, no National Mall on which to revel in the spirit of this nation. Oh, yes, no Wolf Trap. It’s unthinkable. The parks are part of our national psyche. They are America. Or, as Wallace Stegner once said, ‘National parks are the best idea we’ve ever had.’ ”

The Wolf Trap Foundation has a $28 million budget, 80 full-time employees and 270-plus performance schedule every year. And an endowment, created in 1994, that leaves Wolf Trap "in a good position to weather a storm," Jones said.
Wolf Trap’s signature adventure series, “Face of America,” Jones said, will celebrate Glacier National Park in Montana with a commission created by renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre. “ The world premiere of his new work, ‘The Sun Road,’ will allow patrons to experience Glacier National Park through the dancers’ lens with a live performance backed by high definition video.
“This will be the sixth project that we’ve done,” he said. “We began with Yosemite. We went from there to the Virgin Islands and the Coral Reef National Monuments, and have been at various places around the country. We try to move them geometrically so we’re not just talking about one area of the country.”

Jones also announce the summer performer lineup: The National Symphony, the Wolf Trap Opera Company and composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch doing a program of his own music. Also coming back: Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Bobbie Raitt, the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and the B-52s, among others. Making their debuts at Wolf Trap will be rock singers Jackson Browne, Loggins & Messina and Pat Benatar. Also on tap are “High School Musical and “The Ultimate Doo-Wop Show.”

“Wolf Trap is pretty darn affordable,” Jones said. “In fact, it’s part of our mission to keep ticket prices affordable. We believe that being a National Park for the Performing Arts, we really need to make it accessible to as many people as possible. So you may not realize, you can actually, for — I think it’s “Pirates of Penzance,” you can get a lawn seat for eight dollars. I believe that’s cheaper than a movie these days. For many other shows, in fact, this weekend, if you buy the symphony, any of the symphony programs this weekend, lawn tickets will be $10. So you can actually see any of those extraordinary programs, including the ones with film or the guest artists or whatever, for $10.”

As for the down economy’s effect on ticket sales this year: “The early indications are, we’re holding our own, that we are where we were at this time last year,” Jones said. “And I guess the good news to that is, last year was our best season ever in terms of ticket sales. So we’re optimistic. As I said, we should be.”