cahill

Economy and the Arts

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I found this article very interesting not only for Ballet but for all the Arts. I hope this issue will stay in the main stream media! Now is the time for all to contact their members of Congress!

A House committee today takes up the effect of the slumping economy on the arts, with one group predicting that more than 10 percent of the nation's nonprofit arts organizations are at risk of closing this year. Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit art advocacy organization, says the recession has meant severe cuts in public support for the arts as the stock market decline cuts into charitable giving. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, unemployment for artists rose at a higher rate than the overall workforce in 2008.

Economy's toll: 10 percent of arts groups could close this year

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Michael Springer,Director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, testified to Congress yesterday: Springer Testimony

"I want to offer a short story about just one of our many outstanding arts organizations – Miami City Ballet.

Each season, this 23-year old company employs hundreds of people – not just the more than fifty full-time

dancers who have established Miami City Ballet as one of the nation’s great dance companies, but also

company administrators, accountants, carpenters, stagehands, seamstresses, teachers and physical therapists.

Two months ago, Miami City Ballet made its triumphal appearance at City Center in New York City. The

New York Times raved about the performances saying, “this is as good an advertisement for its home city as

any ballet company in America.” Less than two weeks later, back in Miami, the Ballet announced that due to

the worsening economy, it was laying off 8 dancers and reducing its budget next season by more than 25%.

There are more layoffs likely to come.

I could have told this story from a “human interest” perspective of dancers who have trained a lifetime and

have mortgages and car payments to make. Or I could have talked about the legendary Edward Villella, the

company’s artistic director, who has put his heart and soul into building this company. This would have been

a shameless attempt to pull on your heartstrings; but that is not the point of my testimony today. Instead, this

story points out that our cultural sector is a major player in promoting Miami’s new image for business and

tourism. It also demonstrates that the non-profit arts industry, as an employer, is an integral part of our local

economy. And it underscores the fact that arts organizations are subject to the very same forces affecting

America’s and the world’s economic viability. The results – job loss and downsizing - are jeopardizing our ability to employ people and sustain this cultural segment of the economy. "

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I in no way think this is a good development: people are losing their livelihoods. I do think, however, that it these financial realities may force some companies to rethink how they work, and to examine their reasons for being. Perhaps there will be some consideration to consolidating efforts with other companies or arts organizations. I mean, how many separate ballet companies, each with their own boards, administrators, support staff, equipment, etc., does every town need? And maybe some companies just need to pack it up and call it a day; if there's something worth keeping, it will appear in another form. Let's hope a sense of shared struggle replaces petty territoriality as organizations grapple with unfolding events. :(

Again, I don't in any way mean to be flip about calling this a kind of cultural Darwinism: this is catastrophic for the artists involved, and of course our government needs to get in on the act.

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Ray: re your point about Social Darwinism. We do seem to be at a time of contraction. Let's hope the survivors emerge smarter and fitter. Kaiser's ideas seem a good place to start.

By the way, the latest Opera News (Sept. 2009) has an interesting article by Barry Singer, analysing the collapse of four opera companies this year: Baltimore Opera, Opera Connecticut, Orlando Opera (Florida), and Opera Pacific (southern California). (*)

(*) Barry Singer, "Opera in the Age of Anxiety," Opera News, Steptember 2009.

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The funding model for ballet companies is problematic to say the least. As a society we have decided to let the wealthy fund the arts and pass some of the "extra" wealth along to arts institutions with the inducement of receiving a tax deduction.

Along with this, many companies have adopted a ticket pricing which closely aligns with their perceived well heeled clientele leaving only the nose bleed seating for working people and students.

And then as noted in another thread the companies devout resources to wooing these rich donors, name their theaters after them and care not where the money came from, ie how the benefactor has made his wealth, which more often than not is the result of exploitive labor practices, monopoly practices and in industries which may be destroying the environment. I am not making any specific claims about any individual donor, but I would be very surprised if the companies even look into the origins of the gifts / endowments and so forth. My guess is that ethics and arts seem to not work together.

When companies are hurting they need to look at the salaries they pay. Mr. Maartins pulls in close to $800,000 a year. When corps members are cut lose because there's no money to pay them, one has to wonder how Mr. Martins sleeps at night depositing over $60,000 each month as his paycheck.

Of course not many people see this aspect of ballet or the arts. But this is what it has come to in the USA.

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Not exactly new news, but Dominic P Papatola in Twin Cities reported yesterday on the Michael Kaiser initiative to advise how to save the arts.

http://www.twincities.com/entertainment/ci...?nclick_check=1

Also Denver Post today report on Colorado Ballet. http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci...1487?source=rss

PS

I read your economy was recovering. If this is the case, I wonder how long it will

take for the givers to start giving.

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Our economy is not recovering. It's only happy talk. The traders are at it again and driving the market higher, but the stock market has nothing to do with the real economy.

The arts funding model is all wrong.

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And don't forget that philanthropic foundations and major individual donors lost what they thought were fortunes invested by Bernard Madoff.

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What's happened to GDP in the second quarter of this year is that ours didn't fall by so much. (Thus the happy talk.) Europe's stopped falling -- for now, anyway -- but the only real recovery seems to be in the Far East.

The Madoff affair is a sad coincidence, but it's also possible for companies to get in trouble in good times -- Kaiser's book, "The Art of the Turnaround" details several stories where boards and managements proved that common sense is not so common as it once was.

We live in "interesting" times.

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