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:
In my experience, "The arts need federal funding" can be a hand-waving cliché when a conversation on the problems of the arts hits a dead end. But not when the case is made as cogently and urgently as @parabasis does here, and in a venue that matters. https://t.co/sBcGyXgoRR
— Rob Weinert-Kendt (@RobKendt) July 19, 2023
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.