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January 07, 2012

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Art

Just thought I would throw out some other interesting reading regarding this discussion.

The NEA reports are mostly available online and some of them are very applicable. The basic attendance data supports the Broadway League numbers, but the reports drill deeper and so there are some interesting points in there.

http://mirroruptolife.blogspot.com/2012/01/more-statistics-that-are-useful-for.html

Scott Walters

I'm glad you took a cooler tone than many of the commenters, who seem to be more interested in self-righteousnees than actually looking at the issue being raised. It might be important to realize, before calling Tom a racist (thankfully, you didn't), that he is himself a person of color -- his mother is, if I remember correctly, Puerto Rican. So be careful about personal generalizations made without much information.

You raise a good question about expectations: if 12% of America is African-American, should we expect a larger representation amongst an audience? Probably not, but I'll tell you what -- and I suspect you can confirm this from your own experience -- when people were convened at the Arena to talk about these issues, there certainly was a lot of heated (and insulting) discussion about the old, white, rich audience. It was clear that 12% was not anywhere near enough. (Although I will note that I didn't hear much talk about the necessity for more African-American theatres -- most just wanted access to the big, rich institutions).

My question for you and for anyone else who engages in this discussion -- especially for those who exhibit the most amount of self-righteousness -- exactly what are you DOING to change this? What are you WILLING to do? It was only a few weeks ago, in the second of my Occupy Lincoln Center posts (http://theatreideas.blogspot.com/2011/11/occupy-lincoln-center-part-2.html), that I discussed the connection between foundation funding patterns and the richest 2% of non-profit arts orgs who get 55% of the money. In the report that I was addressing there was this paragraph: "Every year, approximately 11 percent of foundation giving -- more than $2.3 billion in 2009 -- is awarded to nonprofit arts and culture. At present, the vast majority of that funding supports cultural organizations whose work is based in the elite segment of the Western European cultural tradition -- commonly called the canon -- and whose audiences are predominantly white and upper class....This pronounced imbalance restricts the expressive life of millions of people, thus constraining our creativity as a nation. But it is problematic for many other reasons, as well. It is a problem because it means that -- in the arts -- philanthropy is using its tax-exempt status primarily to benefit wealthier, more privileged institutions and populations. It is a problem because our artistic and cultural landscape includes an increasingly diverse range of practices, many of which are based in the history and experience of lower-income and non-white people, and philanthropy is not keeping pace with these developments."

So where was the outrage then? Where was the now-75+ comments demanding a change? Where was the self-righteous breast beating? Instead, what I encountered were many, many artists who were oh-so-"uncomfortable" that this was the case, but hey, we can't change anything because those are the only institutions who pay a "living wage" and besides, that's where we all want to work. And besides, it isn't nice to suggest that the rich need to have their allowances cut -- we're all artists, aren't we?

Given this level of seeming satisfaction with the status quo, or at least unwillingness to do anything substantive that would change that status quo, is Tom's question really that far out of bounds?

After six years of writing Theatre Ideas, I have come to the conclusion that, for all the bluster in the theatrosphere, I would be hard put to find a group of people more committed to maintaining the white, rich, urban status quo more than theatre artists. Tom makes that complacency explicit, and everyone howls. But as Chekhov once said (and I'm paraphrasing), don't blame the mirror because your face is ugly.

When those commenters want to take action, I'm interested. As long as it amounts to huffing and puffing while still supporting the way things are -- well, I'm not.

Kelley Girod

Dear Scott,
Did you miss all the comments where people gave examples of what they are actively doing in the theatre world to help bring more diverse voices to the stage and audiences? And I don't think Tom is a racist, however no matter his own personal heritage, people would still take offense to his argument. I don't think it matters so much who is saying it as much as what is being said.

Kelley

Scott Walters

Kelley -- In my opinion, individual work within a racist system doesn't help -- we need to change the infrastructure, which supports racism.

99

Scott, there are many ways to change the infrastructure, including building another and exploring different models.

August Schulenburg

Scott,

The 2%/55% statistic you've been citing is unclear to me. In the GIA report, something like that number appears twice that I can find - on page 1: " Yet, the
majority of arts funding supports large organizations with budgets greater than $5 million. Such organizations, which comprise less than 2 percent of the universe of arts and cultural nonprofits, receive more than half of the sector’s total revenue."

Later, on page 6, the statistic appears differently: " Groups with budgets greater than $5 million represent less than 2 percent of the total population of arts
and culture groups, yet in 2009, these organizations received 55 percent of all contributions, gifts and grants."

On your petition, you frame the 2%/55% as "the richest 2% of arts organizations...receive 95% of nonprofit arts funding from private foundations".

These seem like three separate statistics to me. The first appears to be citing total revenue, which I would think would include earned as well as contributed income. The second references all sources of contributed income, and doesn't break out what the percentage of that contributed income is from private foundations. On your petition, you state the 55% is from private foundations only. Did you find that from somewhere else in the report?

The statistic is from the Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics Core File (2009), but going to that website, I had a hard time figuring out how to access that particular slice of data.

I'd love to know which of the three stats it is, as they feel like very different things. If the 55% is just private foundations, it seems like that would be a great place to focus for advocacy. If it is all sources of contributed income, however, that means also persuading individual donors to give differently (as well as corporate/government/etc.) If it is total revenue, including earned income, then we're talking about also focusing on tickets sales and every other income stream. To me, they feel like three very different paths on the way to greater equity.

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