Would You Trade Board Oversight For Investor Scrutiny?

The Clyde Fitch Report takes a close look at a bill being proposed in the U.S. Senate to give Broadway investors the same tax break as those who invest in movies.

The goal of the legislation according to a press release put out by the bill’s sponsor, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is to provide more incentive for banks and investment funds to invest in Broadway shows and therefore spur job growth.

“..Due to the tremendous risk involved, it is very unlikely that any managed fund or banking institution in the United States will lend resources for live theatrical productions, so the majority of capitalization comes from small or independent investors.”

After some analysis The Clyde Fitch Reports’ asks if there really is a dearth of investors and they wonder if banks should really be investing clients’ money in an endeavor widely acknowledged as likely to lose money.

Do you believe banking and investment institutions should gamble their clients’ money to produce Broadway shows?

Do you believe 233 names, sets of names and/or entities listed over the title of a random list of 10 Broadway shows represents a problem generating a “pool of interested investors in Broadway”?

Do you believe investors in commercial Broadway deserve a tax break?

Are there any other individuals in the American theater for whom tax-code tweaks might be desirable?

When I first read the article, I thought it was a proposal to get investors paid earlier in the process. While it isn’t, I wondered with the weight of large investment institutions present, would the arrangement get altered so that investors recouped sooner and “Hollywood accounting” adopted resulting in the creatives getting little.

I also wondered with more money behind them, would Broadway productions become more adventuresome, or even more oriented toward stage adaptations of proven works and revivals.

On the other hand, since I am always keeping my eyes open for alternative funding models, I also wondered if this might provide more options nationally to arts organizations.

When I first read the following from the Schumer press release, I thought perhaps these investment tax breaks might be applicable to artistic projects created around the country.

“On average, Touring Broadway contributed an economic impact to the local economy that was 3.5 times the gross ticket sales. This income is also vital to sustaining our nation’s theatres, as more than 50% of Performing Arts Center’s ticket sales derive from patrons attending the Touring Broadway series. This revenue permits local venues to offer opera, ballet, unique exhibitions and to fund much needed arts education curricula. Without Touring Broadway, all of these vital programs would suffer.”

Then I realized, no, what the release is saying is that Broadway needs the tax breaks so everyone else can present Broadway tours.

I am a little skeptical about the economics cited here. I don’t know about the venues with week long runs, but while Broadway audiences are among our biggest, they are also the shows that tend to lose the most money for us. We ain’t funding anything else off the proceeds.

Now if they were obliged to lower their rates for non-profits in return for this tax break, that would be beneficial to us. But I don’t see that happening.

All the same, I do wonder if the law being proposed could benefit people in other parts of the country looking to run a performing arts center as a commercial enterprise by allowing them to solicit investors.

Or perhaps it could help turn other cities into development centers by attracting investment for works that weren’t necessarily contemplated to go to Broadway but rather stay put in Portland, Minneapolis, Miami, etc. as a significant attraction for the region.

The productions may not gain the same cachet it would from Broadway, but what it did develop might be enough to create regional or national interest in a tour of say a multi-media dance work that generated a respectable return on the investment.

If the legislation is not written in such a way to include non-Broadway productions, is it worth lobbying to have the scope widened?

As the title of this post suggests, it would change the complexion of the way performing arts entities operated.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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