More Funding, But For Status Quo Or Difficult Change?

There was a lot of chatter on the Twittersphere last week (which I guess is the X Corp-sphere now?) over a NY Times editorial that Isaac Butler wrote advocating for the federal government to do a big bail out of theater in the face of so many theater organizations failing.

While a lot of the comments on the NY Times article basically said theater is boring, too expensive and good riddance, folks who are more inside the arts either praised Butler’s proposal or suggested propping up a flawed business model would just perpetuate a bad situation. There were many such threads. Here is one:


Somewhat loudest among those opposing perpetuating the business model was Scott Walters whose thoughts you can see in that thread. He also wrote a piece on Substack expounding on his thoughts. While I don’t agree with everything Scott says, it will come as no surprise I do fall into the camp of feeling that arts organizations need to do a much better job of listening and cultivating better relationships with a broader segment of their communities. Scott suggests money be put into researching a variety of new business models, but there probably also needs to be a corresponding long term marketing campaign to normalize those approaches so that inertia doesn’t keep the non-profit model as the only acceptable one size fits all default in the minds of donors and possible funding sources.

Similarly, there should probably also be funding for consultants, partnerships, etc., which facilitate cultivating better community ties. Again that would need to be varied in application. In the last community in which I worked, funding would be useful in one way, but in the community in which I currently work, it would be better used strengthening an organization with good connections, but few resources. The stronger they got, the better position they would be in to facilitate the conversations and relationships I need to have with the community.

All that takes a lot of funding so obviously I am with Butler in calling for greater amounts of funding for the arts in general. I didn’t particularly like his comparison the funding levels in England because I have seen so many stories about that becoming increasingly restrictive over the years. I saw a tweet over the weekend from someone suggesting while England was funded the arts at a higher level than the US, it was a bad example because their per capita funding practices were pitiful compared to the rest of Europe. Butler replied that he felt he had to use England as an example because no one would believe him if he cited Germany’s numbers.

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 ( 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. (

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.


2 thoughts on “More Funding, But For Status Quo Or Difficult Change?”

  1. Hi Joe – Sometimes I have to laugh. I’m pretty sure if you or anyone else said “I agree with everything Scott Walters said” I’d fall over in a dead faint. And when I recovered, I’d probably try to figure out what I was doing wrong! Anyway, I generally have tried to avoid commenting on Isaac’s opinions because, as you know, we have a history. But I couldn’t avoid this one, because I just feel it’s irresponsible at this point to keep proposing something that is just never going to happen, and certainly not in time to help this crisis. Anyway, the fact is that, if I were in the position of trying to help someplace like OSF navigate this, I don’t know what I’d do. Probably use the same old rhetoric others do. Because I just don’t think there’s an escape this time. These institutions are artistic Blockbusters, General Motors, and Palm Pilots. They once dominated the market, and then things changed and they didn’t, and I think it’s too late and they’re too big to change now. I have always hated that they absorb a disproportionate amount of arts funding, and they will continue to do so even as the arts donor money diminishes, which is too bad for the theater scene in general. My ideas (book to be released in the next month or two) aren’t applicable to existing organizations, but only to startups. I’m bullish on theater in general, even as I think we are in the midst of a mass extinction event.

    • Scott – If it makes you feel better, I suspect we only agree that saying the arts need more federal funding isn’t enough any more. There needs to be more work done thinking about what approach is appropriate for the social/political/economic, etc environment in which a group is trying to operate. But there is a lot that has to change outside of an organization as well. Not only in regard to the criteria funding sources use to evaluate whether an organization is worthy of support, but also other longstanding rules and regulations.

      There definitely need to be common standards to ensure equitable treatment from place to place, but can the LORT contract stand to have 20 venues employing an unconventional business model that de-emphasizes cash instead of just the Barter? I can definitely envision Equity members who might want to work with such organizations and won’t want to be told they can’t because they don’t fit into an existing conception/category. While Equity has definitely altered contracts for a lot of situations, there was the LA 99 Seat venue conflict a few years back which was probably a much more straightforward operating environment than might be dreamt up.


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