(CelebrityAccess News Service) — The nation's leading supporter of free public concerts is making some big changes to meet the challenges of a new age. As of January 1, the nonprofit Music Performance Trust Funds, the country's largest sponsor of free live music, will be known simply as "The Music Performance Fund," as it redoubles its efforts to build relationships with major foundations and attract corporate co-sponsors for future programs.
Odds are, you've never heard of this venerable organization, by either name. Noel B. Berman, the Fund's trustee and executive director, cheerfully concedes the MPF may be "the best-kept secret in the world of performing arts sponsorship."
But it's a safe bet that you've been to a few of the many free public concerts the MPF has sponsored — maybe even a few dozen.
This Times Square-based educational trust, established in 1948 by the recording industry and the American Federation of Musicians, pays for thousands of live, admission-free musical performances all over the U.S. and Canada. Last year alone it spent more than $15 million to sponsor 16,000 events in towns and cities from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle, including performances and classes in schools, nursing homes and hospitals as well as concerts of every kind. With more than a million and a half performances to its credit over the past 57 years, the MPF is in fact the largest funder of free music, and the single largest employer of musicians, in the country and probably the world.
Despite its low profile, the MPF has traditionally enjoyed an enviable degree of financial security, receiving a small royalty on every record, tape, or CD sold in the U.S. or Canada. Recently, though, the Fund has been hit hard by rampant music piracy and by the huge popularity of legitimate digital downloading, which is not yet covered by the industry-union agreement that created and finances it. The MPF's latest annual report shows that revenues from recording-industry sources fell from $7.9 million to $5.4 million between 2002 and 2003. Funds available for this year's programs are down by nearly 40 percent. –Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner