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Should donors make demands?

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From Backstage (link from today's Arts Journal):

Green Strings: Should Arts Donors Make Demands?

In some cultural institutions, alarm signals go off at the very prospect of contributors making demands in return for donated funds. Put another way: monies with strings attached. Others are not entirely convinced it's all that unfair for a donor to say how his resources should be spent. Still others may be philosophically uncomfortable with the idea of reciprocity, but for pragmatic reasons feel they have to accommodate the economic realities -- monies are in short supply and much needed -- and may even have to broaden their missions to appeal to a contributor's inclination to financial largesse.
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That's pretty witty, Major Mel.......

Yes, that gentleman kneeling here next to the cow holding a model of the cathedral in his left hane is the local wool-merchant atoning for his sins....

Chitresh Das, the great Kathak dancer who has lived in Marin COunty for a couple of decades adn taught his art to a couple of generation of American dancers now, has a piece in his repertory that was commissioned by some potentate in India -- a Maharaja, If I remember right, where he uses all his mastery of stamping his feet and shaking his bells to make hte sound of a locomotive entering a railway station -- including hte echooes of the train off the Iron girders. (The prince was crazy about trains.) Das seems very proud of it; it's like one of those showpieces that Renaissance painters did to demonstrate all hte aspects of their mastery..... It IS an astounding performance-piece.

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Guest Shanynrose

The issue of donors and demands is not confined to ballet. I remember a church board meeting once where someone had to go call the family who'd donated monies to build a youth chapel and say "We want to hold such and such an event in the chapel, does that meet with your approval?"

It did NOT, so the event was not held. The joke is, the chapel was named after the donors and they weren't comfortable with that, but they were plenty comfortable offering "guidance" as to how the place should be used.

And I thought at the time, if the chapel was truly a GIFT then there shouldn't have been any strings attached except maybe the general guideline "We want to help the youth, so here's a chapel for them to use." If my mother gives me a dress for my birthday, I don't call her and ask if I want to wear it someplace. Someone donates furniture for the lobby of the Ballet School and we're thankful and take good care of it, but we don't say "Only the girls are allowed to sit on the couches, boys get the floor because the donors wanted to help the GIRLS." That would just be silly.

I understand being thankful for donations. But I also understand that when I am in a position to donate time, money, whatever, it is my responsibility to choose an organization I trust to make the best use of whatever resource I have to share. When I toss my offering in at church, I wouldn't dream of attaching a note that said "You can't use this money to fix the air conditioner, because churches don't need air conditioning." That's silly. If a donor has a specific personal agenda, it's up to the donor to find an organization that meshes with that agenda.

Does that make sense?

We have a zoo in our area that started out as a big land donation. It was a gift to the city from someone who loved monkeys and wanted a place where children could go see the monkeys, and one of the stipulations attached is the necessity of keeping at least 50 monkeys on the grounds. It's a nice little zoo (best monkey section around!,) and without the initial gift of land and the accompanying monkeys many years ago it wouldn't exist today. But I think that kind of stipulation - land to build a zoo, but the zoo needs to have monkeys - is a whole different ball game than, say, "I'll donate $1 million to your ballet company but you must promise never to perform such-and-such because that piece is such a bore" or "I'll donate this chapel to the church, but you can't hold such-and-such an activity there." You can't really afford to say "Thanks, but no thanks," but are you comfortable with the green strings?

My husband and I were discussing this issue only because it HAS cropped up in various things we're involved in. Church, the liberal arts college we attended, arts organizations, etc. I know there aren't any easy answers.

I'm know I'm not being witty in my response, but thanks for making me think.

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That's why a lot of places, when they accept gifts, have a phrase in the donor contract that states that the donor gives up "all rights, titles, claims and interests" in the use of the gift. Endowments for a dedicated purpose, like the endowment of a professorship are OK, but even then the donors are informed that they have nothing to say about who sits in the chair, at least if the university is sensible. Institutions could have a real revenue-enhancer if they sold shares in gifts, and the stockholders' meetings could be real stadium-fillers, especially when they try to seat professors of economics, anthropology, theology or law. Best two falls out of three!

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Mel's very funny post raises an interesting question. It's a very unmodern notion, of course, but there have been periods in art history when restrictions -- it must be a religious subject and the Madonna must look like my wife -- created some of the greatest art ever created.

I'm of two minds on the donor-strings issue. On the one hand, I think, in an ideal world, the donor should give the money to the local company just because its there -- the way many people lgive money to both the Democratic and Republican parties, because they believe in the two-party system. If one is a passionate supporter of a particular artist, then one should give the money and let that artist do what he or she does, even if they might produce a work that the donor doesn't love, or even finds distasteful.

On the other hand, I don't think it's a sin to give money and say, "I'd like this to go to rehearsing the Tudor ballets, and I'd like you to perform three every year, and if you do that, I'll give you $1 million a year," say. Or "here's $1 million and it must go to new creations and they can't be by you." Or "Here's $3 million to anyone who will reconstruct Bournonville's "Valdemar" and I get to have veto power over all the members of the artistic team and casting."

(I like your golden rule, citibob; I hadn't heard that one.)

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No doubt that when Alexandra (or maybe someone else) compiles The Wit and Wisdom of "Ballet Alert", Mel's post on this thread will be prominently featured, among so many other of his posts. This is truly a classic. :wink:

I seem to recall that in the mid-80's the NYCB had a special fund for the preservation of Balanchine's ballets. They no longer solicit donations for such a fund in the programs but instead offer donors the opportunity to support a general repertory fund. :)

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I did see a pamphlet last season or this past one from NYCB outlining different programs. There was one to keep the archives in good order and others for Balanchine and Robbins. Each one was started by a large donation for that reason and it was toucing to read about why each donor started these funds. However, I believe those are for large donations. It doesn't work just for your guild membership, "I'd like this $100 to go to Wendy Whelan's toe shoes."

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There doesn't seem to be anything out of line about a donor stating the purpose of his/her gift - i.e. $2 million to do a new production of Swan Lake. Micromanaging the gift ($2 million for a new production of Swan Lake with La Sublimova in the lead) is acceptable to a point - the company has the option when presented with the condition to decide if the gift is worth it. Continued strings ($2 million for a new production of Swan Lake with La Sublimova in the lead and I get approval of any further casting) is a point where I don't think a company should even consider the money. Before a donor attaches conditions to a grant, s/he should ask if it's being done to better target the gift, or just to maintain control over it.

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