Innovative new program offers visitors a personalized introduction to Palm Beach County’s treasures.
One of the best things about a good hotel – as anyone who’s ever stayed in one knows – is the helpful concierge, a person who seems to know exactly what you want and has the ability to make it happen. The service is so invaluable that you leave wondering why only hotels have concierges.
Well, Palm Beach County now has one.
The cultural concierge debuted in November, the brainchild of Marilyn Bauer, director of marketing and government affairs at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County. Bauer wanted to provide “a service at a level that is unheard of in our modern age” – at least in realms larger than lodgings. In the process, she thought back to her days as a travel writer.
“When you go to a destination as a travel writer,” she says, “you have unprecedented access to people, places and experiences that the average traveler doesn’t have.” Why not, she wondered, get someone who has a vast knowledge of the region and its cultural activities to assist tourists when they come here?
She found a person who could do just that: Bama Lutes Deal, Ph.D., a musicologist and a member of Americans for the Arts. “I enjoy cultural connections,” Deal says.
As cultural concierge, she works directly with consumers. “Your mother up in the Northeast,” explains Bauer, “can call down here and talk to the cultural concierge and say, ‘I really love theater; I’m interested in seeing some theater when I come down.’ And Bama would say, ‘Oh, you might enjoy Palm Beach Dramaworks, which happens to be one of the five best theaters in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.’ She would then arrange that when your mother went to the theater, the
house manager would come out and greet her by name and escort her to her seat – which would be upgraded, if possible, at no extra charge.”
The cultural concierge also works with her concierge counterparts at The Breakers, Four Seasons, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, PGA National Resort & Spa and Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa. (The list may grow.)
“They have the best of the best in the concierge business,” Bauer says, but adds that their concierges are very busy, especially in the winter.
And, says Deal, they tend to talk about what they know best – which may not be opera or the visual arts. “The educator in me,” she says, “loves talking to concierges and informing them about what’s available.”
Her help can be as simple as telling a concierge what the hot tickets are this season. In fact, every week Deal creates a hot-tickets list of approximately 10 events that goes directly to the hotels. The concierges there can print it out and give it to guests. The list is also available on the cultural concierge’s website at palmbeachculture.com/concierge.
If it’s something more complicated, the concierge can hand the guest over to Deal, who can create a customized experience. Bauer gives, as an example, a hotel guest who expresses an interest in photography. Deal could not only recommend an exhibition but also create a personalized tour of it. “Or,” says Bauer, “she could also hook this person up with a nature photographer who would take that person on a nature safari to get photographs of the inlet or some of the pristine scenes at MacArthur Beach State Park.”
Most people experience art passively – listening to music, looking at pictures – and it is this active, participatory aspect of the program that will appeal to many visitors. Bauer notes that one of the partners is Boca Ballet Theatre, which has a school where visitors can arrange to take private classes.
“Another part of this is meet-and-greet with the talent,” she says. “If a group is here and they want to see a performance, we can arrange for them to go backstage and meet the performers or have a champagne toast before the performance.”
The third main focus for the cultural concierge involves working with arts organizations and partnering with sister agencies.
“Bama has really opened the door for us,” says Joanne Polin, who handles public relations for Festival of the Arts BOCA, which in March is bringing in Joshua Bell, Fareed Zakaria and Herb Alpert, among others. “It helps us with supporters and it helps us sell tickets.”
Deal also coordinates with the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and the Palm Beach County Convention Center, creating cultural programs for spouses, family members or other traveling companions who may not want to attend all the various tournaments, sporting events, conferences and meetings that attract their loved ones.
A cultural concierge seems like the perfect idea for any metropolitan area, yet Palm Beach County’s is the first in the world. Its usefulness appears obvious in a county that is the size of Delaware and whose Cultural Council has, according to Bauer, “200 arts organization members that put on 42,000 arts events a year.”
And now there’s someone to guide visitors to them.
“It’s helpful to have one place to go to get so many things,” says Deal, adding: “I’m a humanistic scholar. I’m interested in the role of the arts in human experience. They add something intangible but also so wonderful.”