This is a series of posts from facebook, made after learning that Penunbra — the wonderful African American theater company in St. Paul — has cancelled its next season.
I figure this is a result of our long recession/depression and the pressure on the American middle class. Culture in this country is not just dependent on foundations and the rich, it also depends on ordinary people who buy tickets and memberships and make year-end donations. If times are hard, people will not buy tickets or make donations. In addition, high tax rates encourage the rich to make big contributions, since this reduces their tax bill. When you cut tax rates and shift the nation’s money to the rich, you destroy culture.
I then got challenged by other people in the thread and added the following:
What I’m arguing is that arts funding from the rich tends (in the US) to be strongly encouraged by tax deductions. I remember my father telling me in the 1950s that the US government’s support for the arts was stronger than that of other countries, which supported the arts directly; but it was done through the deduction for charitable giving. I suspect he had a pretty good idea of donations to the arts at the time. He was the director of the Walker Art Center.
I’ve been the financial manager for a number of small nonprofits, including at least one arts nonprofit. The income is a mixture of grants, large donations from wealthy people, small donations and memberships. Losing any one of these is tough.
You can support some kinds of art through rich patrons. Look at Louis XIV. Though Versailles was government spending, and it was done for propaganda purposes. A better example might be Prince Esterhazy in the 18th century. He maintained his own private orchestra, with Franz Josef Haydn as the conductor and composer. When Haydn was finally able to get away, after 30 years, he went to London where he was hugely popular and earned money through ticket sales.
Maybe we will go back to this. The Koch Brothers will have their own personal orchestras and ballet companies, and the rest of us will have to make do with popular music and dance. This would not be an entire loss. Much great art is made by poor people for poor people.
But I love opera, and I would prefer to keep all the many local opera companies we have the US.