5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples, FL
Like the rest of the known universe, I was shocked when I found out that the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts was renaming itself as Artis-Naples.
What. The. Expletive.
Admit it. Some variation of that was on everyone's lips. Mine too.
I've yet to see a positive response. Most derided the decision, not understanding the decision to toss the two-plus decades of powerful marketing that built "The Phil" into a successful brand name.
Consider this analogy. If you're the chef of a moderately profitable restaurant, but the only thing you're known for is your seafood, you need better marketing and public relations to let folks know about the steak and the lobster. Given enough resources (which the Phil has), word will eventually get out. You don't tear down the bistro and build a new one devoted to surf and turf - exactly what the Phil seems to be doing.
Near-universal scorn greeted the Phil's decision, so I decided to give it a couple days and really think it through. Kathleen van Bergen is nobody's fool; there must be more than a few good reasons why she decided to junk 25 years of rock-solid branding, name recognition and one of the single most iconic names in the Southwest Florida arts landscape.
I repeat: Kathleen van Bergen is nobody's fool.
I think this is the right decision for the future of the Philharmonic. Excuse me, for Artis-Naples. I'm just not wild about the name. I'll tell you why.
Van Bergen understands - perhaps better than folks give her credit for - the need to attract younger patrons to the venue. Esperanza Spalding and the Voca People are a start, but van Bergen wants those attendees to be buying season tickets, attending lectures and sipping coffee in the museum cafe. This move looks at Artis-Naples for the next 25 years of its development.
Naples no longer represents the sleepy snowbird retirement haven it was when Myra Janco Daniels started raising cash by sheer force of personality to house the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. A thriving, year-round community lives here now, with a diverse population and a thirst for year-round entertainment.
Re-naming the venue accomplishes several things. First, it provides a clear break between the Myra Daniels era and whatever is to come. Second, the name-change publicity - even announced on a Friday evening at the end of (if not after) season - has put Artis-Naples in the spotlight.
Most importantly, the name change seems to have re-ignited the conversation about the future of the venue, what role it should play in the community and how van Bergen can best use the Artis-Naples resources to nurture other arts groups.
The Artis-Naples moniker wouldn't be my first choice, but I urge folks to look past that to what the statement says, even if it doesn't spell it out. Van Bergen makes a firm commitment to the future and possibly toward a more youthful, diverse programming schedule and the establishment of Artis-Naples as an arts-focused community center, not just a performance hall.
Don't believe me? Just take a look at the free museum nights - a runaway success and one of the clearest signs that van Bergen knows what people want - and how to deliver it to them.
The one stumbling block remains the sheer depth of the community's obstinacy and the unbridled, passionate resistance to change wrought from the conservative world view that still dominates the area. No doubt the cosmopolitan van Bergen (note that she went abroad for picks to lead both the Baker Museum and Naples Philharmonic Orchestra) made the right choice - to select a path and follow it with conviction. Yet, I worry that she may have over-estimated the ability of the community to focus on what she wants to accomplish, rather than "It's not The Phil anymore?"
At the end of the day, does it matter what we call the place? Or what they do with all that money, staff, volunteers, donors and prestige?
What would you have re-named the Philharmonic? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.