Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Lessons Learned in Fort Worth

Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Lessons Learned in Fort Worth

The fine folks at the Los Alamos Daily Post have let me chew up a lot of digital space over the past 10 days writing about an event in (gasp!) Texas. I have been known to grouse about our local media covering off-the-hill arts events at the expense of local efforts. So what’s going on here? What does the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition have to do with us?

The most obvious answer is, of course, that the Los Alamos Concert Association will be presenting one of the three Cliburn medalists in the not too distant future. That’s why I was invited to attend in the first place. We hope those reports will get y’all excited about buying some tickets. (That’s my first and last “y’all”.)

It was pretty audacious of Fort Worth, a town best known for its stockyards, to say, “Hey! Let’s make a piano competition that is better than the one in Moscow!” Amazingly, they did it.

Having Van Cliburn’s name and plenty of deep pockets at their disposal certainly gave Fort Worth a boost toward becoming “The City of Cattle and Culture.” But it was smart choices more than big bucks and a famous name that created an event known world-wide for excellence.

Fancy Fort Worth footwear. Photo by Ann McLaughlin

The first and really brilliant idea was to engage the entire community in the effort.

More than 1,200 volunteers house the competitors, chauffer guests, man the souvenir shop, and organize receptions. The nice woman who drove us back to the airport yesterday said that in her first year as a volunteer, “They maybe didn’t trust me so much, so my one and only job was to gift-wrap the Stetsons given to the 30 competitors.”

School children paint colorful banners that line the streets in the downtown core.

They formed “The Cliburn 180”, a social and “classical music awareness group” for young professional couples designed to ensure a continuing stream of competition enthusiasts for years to come. The 180s act as social hosts to the competitors who are, of course, in their age cohort. And they add a youthful zip (and some totally awesome footwear) to events like the party at the zoo for official guests.

Fort Worth’s next smart move was to ensure a vibrant city center. The concert hall, the major hotels, dozens of interesting restaurants and shops are all within an easy stroll down tree-lined streets.

They also made sure that their local culture and history enhance what could otherwise be a pretty esoteric three weeks. There is nothing snooty about the Cliburn. Every sublime performance is balanced with some fine barbeque, a party with some good old western toe tapping, and plenty of opportunities to engage with locals.

My take-away from Fort Worth is that the Cliburn succeeds because of enthusiastic volunteers, the creation of a lively downtown scene and smart leveraging of local history. Los Alamos already has a strong volunteer culture and a local history second to none. If we focus like a laser on that downtown core thing and apply some creative vision, a vibrant and exciting future is ours.

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