Arts Under the Dome: 15th season begins Friday

First-class music that’s often unfamiliar to Coast audiences but always carefully selected for its enjoyment and enrichment potential is the signature of Arts Under the Dome family concert series, which opens its 2007-08 season on Friday.

The balancing act is to attract enough people to a new kind of music to pay for that music. The concert series is self-supporting and nonprofit, and all money made goes toward artists’ fees and expenses.

Even though Arts Under the Dome has been around for 15 years, organizer Catherine Barnes of Biloxi is amazed at how many people still don’t know about it.

“Every year,” she said, “we have people buy season tickets and say, ‘Oh, if only I had known about this before.’ “

Performances are held in the First United Methodist Church of Gulfport sanctuary, which is topped by a huge stained glass dome that gives the concert series its name.

Season tickets, which Barnes says normally account for $7,000 to $8,000 in sales, are often bought at the door when people come to the first concert.

“This year, we are spending more on artists than ever before, close to $20,000,” she said. “You can see that if we sell $8,000 in season tickets that we still have a long way to go. We depend heavily on people who buy tickets at the door.”

Friday’s 15th season opener features guitarist William Kanengiser with music ranging from Mozart and Handel to jazz and Eastern European.

He’s recognized as one of America’s most brilliant guitarists and is a founding member of the multiple Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, yet he’s probably a new name to lots of people in South Mississippi.

“There are many, many great artists out there that no one here — or at least most people — have never heard of,” Barnes said. “All the artists we are having this season are big names and pack the house most places they play. But most people here will not be familiar with them, so unless they know Arts Under the Dome, they might think, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of them so I don’t think I’ll go.’

“That’s the reason for Arts Under the Dome in the first place, to bring great music of all kinds to South Mississippi: artists that people here would not otherwise have the opportunity to see.”

In the long run, Barnes said, “The best publicity is word of mouth and people bringing guests.”