SLC to take a year off Twilight, consider new model in 2019

Lennie Mahler | Tribune file photo Diplo performs in the Twilight Concert Series at Pioneer Park in August 2016.

Twilight is destined to go dark in 2018.

Salt Lake City officials have proposed a suspension of the popular Pioneer Park concert series and a 2019 revival with either more funding, fewer shows or smaller shows at different locations.

The recommendations were made Tuesday to the City Council, which would need to amend its budget to fund the 2018 series and has voiced frustrations about cost overruns.

Even if council members wanted to hold a 2018 series — and there was no indication that they do — city Economic Development Director Lara Fritts said it’s likely too late to book artists who would yield a reasonable return on investment.

“You almost need to be booking now,” she said. “We know that we can have a better set of artists if we just wait a year.”

The series, which is owned by the nonprofit Arts Council but funded largely by the city and county, continued to see declining revenues in its 30th year. Big-name artists are commanding higher fees as their album sales wane, and, unlike other venues, the $10-at-the-gate Twilight concerts aren’t able to offer them a cut of ticket sales.

In the last year and a half alone, the series has needed infusions of $250,000 in unallocated city funds, and the cost per attendee has increased from $4.50 in 2013 to nearly $12.

Two of this summer’s seven shows hit the city’s average revenue target of $107,000: The Roots and Solange. Even then, attendance was less than a third of the 36,000-plus that Kid Cudi drew in August 2013.

Ben Kolendar, deputy director of the Economic Development Department, said lesser-known acts like saxophonist Kamasi Washington have received rave reviews, “but we only had 4,000 people show up.”

So Kolendar’s office has presented the council with four options:

1. Stick with the current model • That’s seven shows at Pioneer Park that would draw between 60,000 and 100,000 attendees, at a cost to the city of about $180,000 more than the other options.

2. Hold fewer shows • With just four shows each summer at Pioneer Park, the Arts Council could more than double the amount it could offer artists, from $89,000 to $200,000. By drawing bigger crowds, they might reduce the cost per attendee to under $2.

3. Return to Gallivan Plaza • This was Twilight’s home from 1994 to 2010, before it moved during a renovation. Total attendance for seven shows would be lower — below 42,000 — but artist fees would be reduced to $50,000 and the cost per attendee would be about $3.30.

4. ‘Twilight Around the City’ • At $5 per attendee, the series could court a wider range of artists and audiences by holding two large shows at Pioneer Park, two at Salt Lake Community College‘s Grand Theatre (1575 S. State St.) and one at a westside park.

There’s a fifth option, too: The City Council could decide to discontinue the concert series altogether, though the Arts Council would be at risk of losing about $300,000 in county Zoo, Arts and Parks Tax funding.

Council members have wondered about the mission of Twilight and suggested it disproportionately targets millennial residents. By ending Twilight, they would save city taxpayers an estimated $150,000, factoring in anticipated revenues.

But that’s unlikely to happen, Chairman Stan Penfold said Tuesday.

“I don’t think we’re really interested in getting rid of it,” he said.

Penfold said he was intrigued by Nos. 3 and 4 because smaller acts might expose people to new music and increase the diversity of the city’s arts offerings.

Councilman Derek Kitchen had posted an online survey that showed broad support for moving the concert series to Gallivan Plaza, and he said Tuesday that he plans to propose additional models for the future of Twilight in the months to come.

“We’ll have a much richer conversation.”

One option that wasn’t proposed, Kolendar said, was reducing the price of tickets.