When Eliot Pfanstiehl was first hired in 1981 to convert the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda into an arts center, he heard the same thing over and over again: “Why bother?”
After all, the Kennedy Center was the place to perform for artists and productions visiting the Washington, D.C. area, and with a population of roughly 500,000, and Montgomery County was considered nothing more than a bedroom community for people working in the District. As far as the arts were concerned, Pfanstiehl said, the area was “prehistoric.”
37 years later, however, the County’s population has surpassed 1 million, and the Strathmore, with its concert hall and education center, hosts 160 concerts each year, of which most, he said, draw audiences large enough to fill 80 to 85 percent of Strathmore’s 1,976 seats. Both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Philharmonic call the Mansion their local home, and the eclectic concerts staged at Strathmore are as varied, culturally speaking, as the residents of Montgomery County are, he said.