Companies Sing and Dance At New Interest in the Arts

IF anyone doubts that culture in the United States can mean big business, just ask Dennis Hedlund. He has turned a modest $6,500 investment in the publishing of performing art videos into a global company grossing millions of dollars.

Mr. Hedlund is president of Kultur, a West Longbranch, New Jersey-based publisher of videos that range from ballets to concerts, documentaries to operas. His operation is one of a growing number of companies that offer products and services related to the arts as more Americans become interested.

``We live in an age of information and education,'' says Thomas Black, associate publisher and advertising director of the Smithsonian magazine, published by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Smithsonian, with a circulation of 2.1 million, is considered one of the more successful ``cultural'' magazines in the US. According to Mr. Black, demographic studies show that about 72 million Americans over the age of 25 have attended college, up from around 23 million in 1970. This large segment of the population represents 56 percent of the total payroll income in the US, plus slightly more than 70 percent of all discretionary income. Arts-related companies largely target their products at this community, he says.

Still, many people who have not attended college are also avid fans of the arts, he is quick to point out.

This growing community of arts aficionados is reflected by the increasing presence of large multipurpose bookstores throughout the country, which offer not only books, video tapes, and other cultural items for sale, but often provide a coffeehouse within the bookstore.

Arts in the US draw considerable - and increasing - dollar outlays. In terms of paid admissions, about 41 percent of all Americans went to at least one performing-arts related event in 1992, says Tom Bradshaw, a research official with the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington. That is up from 39 percent of all Americans in 1982, Mr. Bradshaw says. About $5.1 billion was spent on tickets for the performing arts in 1992, compared with ticket sales of $5.5 billion for movies and $5.5 billion for sporting events. Such a close parity between these categories underscores the growing economic importance of the arts sector, Bradshaw says.

A number of firms now specialize in arts products, such as the Musical Heritage Society in Ocean, N.J., which sells high-quality recordings of classical music and jazz performances, and the Home Film Festival (HFF), based in Scranton, Pa., which rents out video tapes of ``art-house'' oriented motion pictures.

``Our catalog [of film listings] has continued to expand,'' says Dan Jury, president of HFF. The company is getting ready to distribute its 10-year anniversary catalog.

``The films which we offer always seem to be left behind at the movie theater, on television, or at the neighborhood video store,'' Mr. Jury says. ``So people turn to us to find - and rent - these quality movies.'' In addition to films from abroad, as well as major US titles, HFF offers a large selection of silent films.

After watching concerts on TV while growing up in Texas, and later managing a classical music radio station, Mr. Helund started Kultur in 1979 with a bankroll of around $6,500. Since then, he has turned his love of the arts into a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Last year, Kultur videos brought in sales of around $4.5 million. The company has a mailing list of more than 100,000 people and a catalog containing more than 300 films. Kultur sells its films directly to individuals, as well as through museum stores, art galleries, schools, and book and music stores.

Examples of Kultur's video titles: Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, filmed on location in Vicenza, Italy, costs $39.95; The Nutcracker, filmed live at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, is priced at $16.95; and Lady Day, a documentary on jazz-great Billie Holiday, is set at a price of $29.95. About 25 to 30 percent of Kultur's sales are through the mail.

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