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Ballet & Bucks

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I don't presume to know the cost of running a ballet company, local regional or world class. I can only guess at the expense side - salaries, rent, lighting and heating, sets and wardrobe, insurance, marketing, travel and so forth.

On the revenue side there is ticket sales, of course, charitable foundation grants and "state funding for the arts", fund raising events, and private donations, and perhaps run a school. I don't know what percentage each funding stream plays or even if they operate on budget or run deficits. I don't know the economics of a ballet comapny.

I would like to understand more about the money in ballet. I read recently that Peter Maartins pays himself more than $750,000. That seems awfully high, but what do I know?

I am also concerned about the influence of any of private donors. Is there ever some sort of quid pro quo aside of getting their name in the program or a plaque on the wall, or a theatre named, as sponsoring some dancer or some "program". They do get tix to the galas and hob knob with the company, best seats and so on, and might even get to speak to the rain makers when they call.

What might a company consider when a donor presents? Would they accept money from a Stanford, a Milkin or Maddoff or the Koch family, the extreme right wingers behind the swift boaters among other troubling (to me) activities?

Do the companies hold their nose and play this game... smile and put on a good face? (this reminds me of the patrons of the arts in the middle ages - royalty)

Should the arts be a tax shelter of sorts for large donors?

Should pay scales be more in line with other "work" in other sectors and should they not mimic the disparities in the public sector where management makes 70 times what the "workers" make?

What other funding models are there?

Is ballet something which "belongs" to the public like the great art museums... or is it a private enterprise which is run like a business in the private sector?

Would you boycott a company whose funding and financial practices disturbed you?

Is something broken, or if it ain't broke don't fit it kinda thing.

What are your thoughts about money and ballet?

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I wasn't there, but I read an account of the wives of Goldman Sachs execs behavior at a charity event in the Hamptons. I found the behavior very distasteful, but I would bet the Goldman Sachs and perhaps these two families donate to the ballet in NYC.

This, to me is very creepy. And it disturbs me that I can only see the ballet only because people such as Blankfein and Friedman make large donations and keep these companies floating and my ticket purchases hardly matter at all.

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If you really want to understand the why and how of something, "follow the money", eh? Just a couple of thoughts in passing:

The proportion that usually gets bandied around in discussions like this is that ticket sales bring in about half the budget, so our ticket purchases do matter, and maybe not just financially: Some large donors probably do throw their weight around -- "Put my daughter out there or" -- you know what I mean. So the mass of ticket sales can give the AD some independence from the -- unenlightened, shall we call them? That doesn't stop ballet companies from soliciting sponsorships -- sponsoring a dancer, or her shoes at least, and get your name in the program. If the AD wants to let her go, though, do they give a moment's thought to whether they'll also be letting her sponsor's money go, too? I don't think an AD should be wasting a moment on such considerations.

Company boards, as I understand it, generally have the jobs of raising money and making big decisions, like hiring the AD. We're more ballet than orchestral-performance oriented here on BT, but in this connection I gather that orchestral-association boards in America usually consist of "private" members, and on the Continent, they are governmental. The result seems to be that American conductors may serve at the whim of a few large donors, while on the Continent they're civil servants and "if they're no good, you can't get 'em out".

The story goes that in one place known for improvising functional government, the boards are small and evenly split between public and private members. To an American, this might seem a recipe for disaster: The directors will spend their time taking sides arguing, and nothing will get done. They all know this, though, and they know they're not there for that, they're there to make the organization prosper and continue, and where I understand this to be a common arrangement, the British "muddle through" and it works, as they might say, "splendidly". I think this "balanced" philosophy might be extended to the variety of income sources you mention, SanderO. If each kind has its advantages and disadvantages, then maybe it's best if no one kind dominates?

As to boycotting a performing company because you don't approve of how its major donors make their money or how they act otherwise, I'm reminded of the reasoning by the leader of a congregation which became upset by a gambler's offer to give substantial help for the rebuilding of their place of worship, that it was acceptable to take the devil's money to do the Lord's work. (Not so farfetched an analogy to those of us who consider dancing to have a spiritual dimension.)

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