For years, Ruth Felt has worked hard to bring internationally acclaimed classical music and modern dance talent to the Bay Area. As presenter for San Francisco Performances, Felt has helped to turn San Francisco into a destination for some of the world’s most gifted performers. Spark checks in on Felt as she puts together one of her most ambitious shows yet — a gala all-star event for her organization’s 25th anniversary.
Since Felt founded SF Performances in 1980, she has brought more than a thousand artists from around the world to San Francisco stages. Over the years she has introduced Bay Area audiences to world-renowned performers, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, pianist András Schiff and violinist Gidon Kremer, as well as the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Ballet Preljocaj from France and Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet. Presenting talent such as this is grueling work, involving every imaginable aspect of production, from coordinating dates to booking venues to managing finances to handling all last-minute, unexpected ordeals.
The overwhelming success that SF Performances has enjoyed over the last quarter-century was far from a sure thing. When Felt started out, friends and critics alike suggested that a rough road lay ahead. SF Performances was faced with multiple challenges, including a dwindling audience for classical music and the lack of a permanent venue. Nonetheless, Felt believed that she had something new to offer by combining the world’s best chamber music ensembles and modern dance with the most promising emerging talents.
Over the years, Felt has hedged her bets by initiating a number of audience development programs designed to bring in new audiences and keep them coming back. The most impressive of these has been her work in placing artists in San Francisco public schools. Each year, SF Performances books as many as 50 performers in schools and sponsors extended residences to musicians so that they can work with students for an entire school year. It is a way of giving back to the community that is also an investment in SF Performances’ future. In a time of waning arts education in the public schools, Felt’s efforts ensure a new generation of audiences and performers.