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Ballet and funding

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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 18 February 2001 - 08:19 PM

This is an offshoot of a point Alexandra raised in the censorship thread and in other public funding threads.

The question here isn't about whether to fund or not, but an illumination into the process. Alexandra mentioned earlier that there was a strong resentment against ballet in the 60's because of the massive Ford Foundation grants. Mel mentioned a while back that Robert Joffrey felt that his job on the NEA panels was to continuously yell, "What about ballet?"

Ballet can have a bum rap among the very people we'd hope would be sympathetic about supporting it. Ballet is elitist, misogynistic, unnatural, lacking relevance, cruel, rigid. . .we've heard it all.

I know personally I've dealt with more than one award or grant that I was a decent candidate for in every way but one - I did ballet rather than modern and their selection committee was slanted towards modern dance. It wasn't a prejudice just a bias that they work with what they prefer and know best, and that's modern dance.

State funding councils tend to be more biased towards modern right now because funding councils need people who can write and are verbal on their panels and as site auditors. People like that tend to have had college training, college training can have an anti-ballet bias, often because people go there who've had issues with ballet training or a ballet career.

What do other people see or think about the issue of private and public funding for ballet? Are we getting more or less than our fair share? What can be done to improve the situation?

Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
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#2 BalletNut


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Posted 18 February 2001 - 08:41 PM

I know that in SF many small and experimental dance troupes are livid about SFB because they think SFB is receiving too much money, especially given what some of them think about the politically incorrect aspects of ballet. Whether SFB has too much funding is up to debate; while the figures may be higher, ballet productions tend to cost more.

[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited February 19, 2001).]

#3 leibling


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Posted 19 February 2001 - 12:09 AM

My opinion on funding is that ANY funding is welcome ! Seriously, though, is there any issue that is stickier than that of funding ballet ? Sometimes I feel that ballet companies are seen as being wealthy- or at least comfortable. They are able to provide nice sounding amenities- health and dental insurance for instance- things that I'm not sure too many modern dance companies could afford. However, from a "buisness" point of view, modern dance companies and ballet companies function differently, and fulfill different needs. To make a long story short, I feel that ballet companies don't receive their share, alot of the time. Maybe this is because I am a ballet dancer and feel the affects of being in a company with a large financial burden. Not only is the portion of public funding a small percetage relative to the total budget, but their are those in the local government and press that begrudge us the little bit of funding we do receive. Here in Miami, the building of the new performing arts center has been delayed repeatedly... but there are plenty of new sports facilities around. Both have been "supported" by public tax dollars. Anyway- I digress. I guess funding officials at local and state levels want to be "fair"- making sure that all entities have equal chances. Therefore the more obvious cultural institutions (ie. ballet companies) may be passed over for funding because they are producing- or seem to be producing. For instance- here in Miami, we produce four programs a year, plus Nutcracker. We perform in several large theaters and work in a large,brand new building a block from the beach. We go on national and international tours. The picture of wonderful economic health, right ? Well, under the surface, we have to perform in those theaters as we do have large audiences, but we also have to pay rent at those theaters, and pay for crews, royalties, etc. The building has to be maintained, protected, and many things are not quite finished, yet. People do the work of two and sometimes three positions for a normal salary. Touring, as those involved will know, does not make money- though usually we break even.I guess, though, that this "picture" of health fools a lot of people.

I don't know if I have made a clear point- I think I've forgotten what that point is. Most of our funding comes from private sources- even if the government wanted to give us more funding, I don't think that the arts get that much money to begin with.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 19 February 2001 - 11:43 AM

I was talking about a smaller arena than BalletNut or Liebling (grants to smaller groups or individual artists) but I think you two may have answered my question inadvertantly. Ballet probably gets less money at an emerging level because there's a feeling it is better funded at an institutional level than other forms and should take care of itself.

Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
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#5 Guest_DT_*

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Posted 20 February 2001 - 08:56 AM

I think it largely has to do with the funders themselves. Most of the major foundations & corporations have gotten very specific with their guidelines, as to what they will and won't fund. The main thing to them is an established track record so that they feel that their money will not be wasted for instance if a company folds, and to simply insure that it will make the largest impact possible and reflect well on them.

It creates a real catch 22, you can't get funding if you are not established, and you can't get established if you can't get funding!!
In addition, the very large ballet companies have a lot of money and most have many fulltime fundraisers & grant writers who are paid very well and do nothing else, and they bring to the table a lot of experience and connections, which helps ensure their success as well.
In the smaller companies everyone wears many hats and there is never enough hours in the day, as you well know.

So it is true that a disproportionate amount of funding goes to the mid to large sized ballet companies who have more of a budget to spend to bring in money.

There is a good website to research funding online [url="http://"http://www.fndcenter.org"]www.fndcenter.org[/url] they also maintain libraries in several major cities. Also the Cronicle of Philanthropy is an excellent source, [url="http://"http://philanthropy.com"]http://philanthropy.com[/url] The main thing is to write as many proposals as possible and keep trying there is a lot of money that goes unclaimed every year. Good Luck!

#6 Natalia


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Posted 20 February 2001 - 10:11 AM

I believe that the smaller, off-beat arts entities -- be they in the arenas of dance, plastic arts, theater, whatever -- should prove themselves by garnering private funding before they are recipients of public funding. Remember my earlier thread on "Survival of the Fittest." For example, why should anyone's hard-earned tax dollars go to fund sculpture made from cow dung? If the cow-dung sculptress can't continue her activities with private funding, then why the heck should "Mr. and Mrs. Public Citizen" fund the dung? I realize that this is just one example...but I'm making my point.

- Jeannie

[This message has been edited by Jeannie (edited February 20, 2001).]

#7 Ed Waffle

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Posted 20 February 2001 - 10:39 AM

Last year there was a referendum on the ballot here in Southeast Michigan regarding arts funding. It lost, but if it had passed it would have levied an additional tax on real estate in two counties. There were the typical "it would be an additional one hundred dollars per year for the owner of a two hundred thousand dollar house" calculation.

My problem with the proposal was that it would fund only the largest organizations--in other words those best able to fund themselves. Included were the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Opera Theatre, the Detroit Institute of Arts, plus several others of that ilk (if I may use such a loaded term in this forum).

I think that this could have hurt organizations not on the list by reifying those getting tax money as the ones that really count. Conversely it could lessen all private contributions--those on the list might be seen as not needing contributions and those who are not on the list as not deserving them.

We contribute to a few dance, theater and opera organizations--a few enough to be listed in the program books, most just token amounts. I realize it is very easy for me to take a principled stand regarding arts funding, since I am not on the front lines of those who are trying to produce decent performances on a very tight budget while trying to raise even that pitance.

I have NO opinion, however, on ballet vs. B-1 bombers.

"Happy are the fiery natures which burn themselves out,
and glory in the sword which wears away the scabbard:

Writing of Pauline Viardot

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 February 2001 - 10:52 AM

DT -

Thanks for the information - I've taken a Foundation Center workshop, and found it very helpful. For smaller dance companies or choreographers in NYC especially, I'd also recommend investigating and organization called The Field, where grantwriting is approached specifically from the point of view of arts funding for smaller groups. At Foundation Center workshops, you're in there with people writing grants for social services or hospitals, it's a different market and different approach in your proposal.

It's easier to fund a municipal company than an independent one (lucky you!) Corporate giving is clearly tied to exposure and demographic goals; laudable though it is, it's basically a form of advertising. Something with a broad-based mass appeal will get funded first; artistic merit is not the crucial criterion.

Right now, government and private giving for smaller groups concentrates on modern dance, and the reasons for this are understandable. The first is, how many small ballet companies are out there anyway? I don't mean small municipal companies, but small independent ones. It's really not all that common. The second is a corollary of Jeannie's comment above - the most prestigious private funding tends to focus on the experimental because the government really isn't funding it. It was those awards and fellowships for choreography I was thinking of when I started this discussion.

I have a decent funding record for a small NYC company, probably better than many so I ought not to complain, but trust me, a small, independent ballet company and a choreographer concentrating on ballet falls through the cracks in private funding profiles!

Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com
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#9 Estelle


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Posted 21 February 2001 - 07:38 AM

In France funding for ballet is a problem too. The situation is quite different from the US, as most funding is public (private funding for the arts is not very high in general, and especially low for performance art; wealthy people and companies are more likely to invest in paintings, sculptures...)

The French dance magazines regularly publish a list of funded companies. I'm afraid I don't remember the figures nor the exact process (there are several categories of funding), but can find it if anyone is interested in more details.

Roughly speaking, there is the Paris Opera, which gets huge subsidies from the state (about 80 million US dollars in 2000)- but I don't know which part of it goes to the ballet (probably far less than one half). There are a handful of rather big companies (most of them associated to operas), like the Ballet de Marseille, Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse, Ballet du Grand-Theatre de Bordeaux, Ballet de Nancy et de Lorraine, Ballet du Rhin, Ballet du Nord, Ballet de Nice... Actually, now, most of these companies dance more contemporary works than classical works (the companies of Toulouse and Bordeaux, and perhaps Nice, are the only ones which I'd consider as ballet companies). This is a recent evolution- less than ten years ago, as far as I know, all those companies had a real ballet repertory. They also get subsidies from the regions or the cities.

Then there are hundreds of smaller contemporary companies which get subsidies.
I don't think that there are real small ballet companies (except the Jeune Ballet de France, which is a special company for young dancers, and probably is much state-subsidized too). There are several kinds of subsidies for companies: some companies are "Centres Choregraphiques Nationaux" and get large subsidies (which seems to be a source of controversies among contemporary choreographers, because of them say that there are no reason for such centers
to be directed by always the same person for more than 10 years), and there are independant companies getting less money.

Funding is one of the reason why some ballet companies switched to modern. For example, in Nancy, the city, which gave a large part of the subsidies, wanted to reduce it. The state was not willing to compensate, and so the budget decreased, and after Lacotte's departure (it seems that also there might have been relationship problems between Lacotte and some people), the number of dancers was reduced, and it switched to a modern repertory. Something rather similar had happened to the Ballet du Rhin a few seasons ago. As many people pointed out, ballet is more expensive than modern (larger casts, more sets and costumes, etc.) And also it seems to me that most people at the ministery of Culture now are more interested in modern dance than in ballet. Of course, they point out that the total figure still is bigger for ballet (especially with the huge POB subsidies). But I think that now, if one lives far from Paris, Toulouse and Bordeaux,
one might have opportunities to see several contemporary companies, but about zero ballet (unless one is ready to take trains or planes often...)

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