By GUY D’ASTOLFO
After 118 years, the Monday Musical Club is disbanding as an organization, ending its concert series and its performance and education efforts.
The MMC will, however, live on in name as an arts funding source that will be managed under the umbrella of the Youngstown Foundation.
In the past few decades, the club’s focus was mainly on its annual concert series at Stambaugh Auditorium. But the series had been struggling with weak attendance, and the number of shows per year had been dropping.
The series was heavily dependent on season subscriptions, and those had fallen to well under 500. Stambaugh Auditorium has a capacity of about 2,500.
Barb Tinkham, treasurer and a past president of MMC, said changing tastes in music and the burgeoning number of entertainment options available to the public caused the plummeting attendance and led to the decision to conclude the series.
“The culture has changed,” said Tinkham. “The music the public wants I don’t think was our type of music. It has become more casual.”
The Covelli Centre, which opened in 2005, is more capable of serving current musical tastes, said Tinkham. “We can’t bring in those kind of artists because the auditorium isn’t as big as Covelli,” she said. “We had to have a base of season-ticket subscribers.”
The MMC found itself in an untenable balancing act, according to Tinkham. It would alienate its subscribers, who were generally older residents, if it booked more pop-friendly acts, but couldn’t increase ticket sales if it didn’t.
Monday Musical’s 2013-14 series included just three concerts: Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne, “American Idol” veterans Casey Abrams and Lee DeWyze, and veteran pop-rocker John Waite.
Still, Tinkham is pleased with the changes and the MMC’s new phase of existence.
“We’re changing with the times,” she said. “We wanted to continue in some form. We can still support artists and productions, and continue our outreach program [as a funding source]. We are pleased with what we are doing, and in knowing that our role will continue in perpetuity.”
While the club no longer exists as an organization, the Monday Musical Club Fund has been established under the Youngstown Foundation.
Jan Strasfeld, executive director of the foundation, has been working with the MMC board through the transition.
“The Youngstown Foundation is honored to serve as steward of this prestigious organization’s fund and to ensure that the Monday Musical Club’s mission will continue for future generations,” she said.
Strasfeld commended the MMC’s leadership for its “visionary response to the critical financial challenges” that it, along with most arts organizations, is facing.
“The Monday Musical Club’s decision is a significant endorsement of the quality programming that exists in our community and the essential role that the arts play in the revitalization of the local economy, economic development and the quality of life,” she said.
The Youngstown Foundation will work with the MMC Fund’s advisory board in handling grant requests from local arts organizations. Tinkham did not reveal the value of the MMC Fund.
Grant requests from the Monday Musical Club Fund will be considered beginning in 2015. Petitioners should follow the foundation’s guidelines, which are available at youngstownfoundation.org. Grant requests to the Youngstown Foundation from musical organizations will be referred to the MMC Fund advisory board, said Strasfeld.
The MMC’s Tinkham has fond memories of the organization when it was still in its heyday, going back five decades.
Tinkham said she joined the Monday Musical Club in the 1960s, following in her mother’s footsteps. She recalled watching her mother overseeing the hostesses for the events, and wearing a beautiful gown for each performance.
“In its day, it was an elegant event,” said Tinkham. “I’ve seen the atmosphere transition over the years to cocktail attire, then to informal, and in recent years, the events have accommodated an extremely casual audience.”
One of the greatest accomplishments during Tinkham’s tenure was the club’s awarding of more than $60,000 to local youth programs and scholarships. This degree of support for the arts will continue as part of the Youngstown Foundation, she noted.
The Youngstown Foundation is the largest community foundation in the Mahoning Valley, with more than $100 million in assets. It distributes more than $ 4.1 million in grants annually and operates as an umbrella organization to more than 60 funds.
The end of the MMC concert series will leave a hole in the Stambaugh Auditorium calendar. But in the past couple of years, the management of the venue has become much more active in booking its own concerts.
That trend will continue, said Kelly Geisel, marketing manager for the hall.
Recent concerts promoted by Stambaugh include country music acts Florida Georgia Line, Kellie Pickler and Josh Turner, and classic rock bands America and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Upcoming concerts include teen act R5, classic rockers Kansas, and classical-crossover ensemble the Annie Moses Band.