When Lily Carbone and Cav Cavanaugh launched the Facebook page “Friends of Performance Santa Fe” on New Year’s Day, they didn’t wait around for people to happen upon it. Instead, they released a volley of intriguing messages to young, culturally engaged friends and acquaintances. In exchange for inviting a friend or two to the new online community, Performance Santa Fe was offering heavily discounted tickets to a cirque performance by The 7 Fingers in February—and a chance to rub elbows with the troupe afterwards.
"We got 100 likes in less than three days," says Cavanaugh, Performance Santa Fe's operations and education coordinator. "I told my friends about it, and they said, 'Are there even 100 young people in this town?' There are, but they're in hiding." She and Carbone, the nonprofit organization's design and web manager, had been working for months on a strategy to flush younger Santa Feans from their dens. It's a notoriously elusive audience for arts organizations—especially those that specialize in classical music performances—but this project has a secret weapon: At 26 and 33, respectively, Carbone and Cavanaugh are their own target audience.
Performance Santa Fe has an 80-year history, beginning in the late 1930s. Until 2014, the organization was called the Santa Fe Community Concert Association, and was a presenter for Columbia Artists Management. Eight straight decades of performing arts seasons later, the group has hosted theater, opera and dance performances, but it's best-known for attracting a world-class array of classical musicians to Santa Fe. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, 80 is also a common age among Performance Santa Fe's supporters.
"Most of our audience is 45 and up, which is very consistent with any kind of performing arts organization," says Jonathan Winkle, the organization's executive director. Back in November, he posed a question to his staff: "How can we approach the sub-40-year-old set in a way that makes sense?"
Winkle has seen other arts organizations try to engage younger demographics with mostly poor results. "So often, it seems to be a top-down approach, where people who are much older are trying to crack into the younger crowd," Winkle says. "I thought it was really important that people from the actual community really craft how it's going to look and sound and taste and feel."
Enter Carbone and Cavanaugh, Performance Santa Fe's youngest employees. They swiftly sketched out a program for a 21- to 39-year-old demographic that would offer affordable tickets to performances, discounted drinks at local bars and behind-the-scenes access to performers: Friends of Performance Santa Fe.
The goal was to foster a casual, culturally engaged community, something that both women struggled to find when they were Santa Fe newcomers.
"It's a little bit harder to find a group here, because they can be so tight-knit," says Cavanaugh, who moved here five years ago from Tallahassee, Florida. "Finding things to do is more difficult as well, and I think creating social groups that are based around organizations like this is a great way to give people that outlet."
Carbone, who's originally from Maryland and has lived here off and on for about four and a half years, adds that she often faces a trade-off when she's deciding what to do with her time and money. "It's expensive to live here," she says. "I have to budget between activities that I actually can do. Do I go to a nice restaurant, get drinks, or go to a show?"
Fostering friendships and changing perceptions about the cost of attending performances became central goals of the project, as did avoiding some of the more awkward quirks of the average networking event. Cavanaugh and Carbone categorically rejected the term "young professionals" to describe the group, instead opting for the more open term "friends."
"I've been to so many soul-sucking networking activities in my lifetime, and we definitely wanted to change that idea," Cavanaugh says. "This is about appreciation of the arts, and bringing people together from all subsets to make these classical performances more relevant and accessible today." Carbone adds, "We wanted to create events that we ourselves would be excited to attend."
Friends of Performance Santa Fe's first event is a production called Cuisine and Confessions by The 7 Fingers, an offshoot of the legendary production company Cirque du Soleil. Friends of Performance Santa Fe members can purchase seats that regularly run $78 for just $19, a markdown of over 70 percent, though the only way to access that price point currently is to call Performance Santa Fe (984-8759) and join the Friends program. Carbone and Cavanaugh say they'll update the Performance Santa Fe website to make buying discounted tickets a simpler process in the coming weeks.
Following the Feb. 21 performance at The Lensic, a Friends of Performance Santa Fe launch party is scheduled at Agave Lounge (in the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, 309 W San Francisco St., 988-4455) and several of the featured performers are slated to appear. Cavanaugh and Carbone are busy planning a Friends of Performance Santa Fe schedule for the to-be-announced 2017/2018 season, which should be up on their Facebook page, facebook.com/FriendsOfPSF, soon.
The 7 Fingers: Cuisine & Confessions
7:30 pm Tuesday Feb. 21. $19-$85.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,