I see an arts cliff, too, Mr. Kaiser; but it’s not fiscal in nature.

Cliff-Warning BTHuffPo blogger and Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser recently wrote a post reflecting on the financial corner that many arts organizations have painted themselves into (which he compares to the Fed’s fiscal cliff). His post got me thinking about our tendency to see the problems facing the arts and culture sector as inherently financial in nature. Kaiser ends his post with the following recommendations:

I have spent the better part of my life arguing that revenue increases are not only advisable, but necessary. It is inarguable that over time, those organizations that reduce salaries of artists and cut artistic initiatives are going to have a harder time raising funds and selling tickets — they will simply not be able to compete for the best talent and for funders and audience members. For not every arts organization is going to be making big cuts–for every troubled organization I can point to one that is doing well at the moment.

Like many who are commenting on our national problem, I believe growth must be the long-term answer.

And a combination of judicious cost cutting matched with aggressive marketing and fundraising aimed at creating more revenue must be the short-term answer.

I agree with Mr. Kaiser’s general point that investments in artistic planning and programming, as well as improved stakeholder relations, are critically important to the long term health and vitality of arts organizations. However, I see some flaws in his analysis of both the nature of the arts cliff and how to avoid tumbling over it.

Michael Kaiser suggests that the arts cliff is a result of “plummeting contributions” and the failure of earned income to keep pace with growth–and that the solution is to be found in driving revenues. However, I’m skeptical of his suggestion that more aggressive fundraising and marketing is the answer. For one, this seems to have been our strategy the past few decades (could we be any more aggressive with our marketing and fundraising efforts?) and it doesn’t seem to have done the trick. But more importantly, I’m not persuaded that the arts cliff is actually a fiscal cliff.

I, too, see a cliff (or, actually, multiple cliffs)– but I would suggest that they stem not from a failure to cut costs judiciously and maximize revenues but from some other failures. Here are four for your consideration:

  • The arts education cliff. By-and-large, arts organizations have failed to plunge with vigor and seriousness into the K-12 arts-ed breach and systematically provide comprehensive, high quality, hands-on arts education experiences. We seem to have forgotten that the “taste” that is a critical component of deriving satisfaction and meaning from the arts is not formed at birth or (for the most part these days) at home, or school. Most organizations (still) don’t see arts education as being their responsibility. Years from now I predict we will look back and see a missed opportunity to strengthen our organizations from both a mission and financial standpoint and will be amazed that for-profit providers have successfully moved into this space ahead of us.
  • The diversity cliff. Many arts organizations have failed to change the demographics of their boards and staff to reflect the diversity (physical, aesthetic, etc.) of the artists and audiences that they are seeking to serve. Other social sectors, and even corporations, made such adjustments y-e-a-r-s ago. We watched on November 7th as Republican pundits and politicians shook their heads and stammered on about shifts in the demographics of the US and struggled to make sense of their losses. I predict the arts will be doing the same in 10-15 years. The social structures that have long under-girded our sector are crumbling.
  • The professionalism cliff. The disparagement of the community arts (aka/ grassroots, populist, popular) sector alongside the promotion of “professionalism” has led to the systematic devaluation of this incredibly important part of the “arts ecosystem”. We are a sector of professional snobs, who have turned our noses up at the community arts for the past thirty years. And I’m not persuaded that this sentiment is changing because individual organizations have begun to collaborate here and there with community-based artists and companies (often in response to carrots dangled by foundations). I predict that before the decade is out we will recognize the folly and vanity of distancing ourselves from our community-based cousins, who will be perceived as being able to do everything many “professional” organizations do but with more heart, less expense, and greater social impact.
  • The leadership cliff. When I think of the organizations that are knocking it out of the park these days (and there are plenty of them) it all comes down to leadership. We need leaders who have vision and courage to throw away the staffing, structure, and programming templates and the willingness to fail in the short term in the interest of being better in the long term. We need leaders who identify more with the artists on their stages and the poorly paid administrators in their offices than with the donors they are courting 250 days a year. We need leaders who are not using their organizations to advance their careers but who are laboring in service of something greater than themselves. Talented, forward thinking leaders exist, but we are not doing a great job of promoting them, making use of their talents, and moving them into positions of power and influence in the sector. Some of them are slaving away as #2s. Some of them are running smaller organizations. I wager that all of them are ready and able to run much larger enterprises. Our sector seems to be quite poor at succession planning and I predict that our dysfunction in this area is going to catch up with us–before current leaders are finally ready to ease into retirement (10-20 years from now), but after they have already begun to erode the value of their organizations.

So, yes, the arts are facing a cliff. And we’ve been walking towards it for 30 years. But with all due respect to Mr. Kaiser, this cliff is not averted by simply doing, raising, and selling more.

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  1. says

    I’m inclined to share this post with everyone I know! Why are we complaining of graying and shrinking audiences? What we are really doing is blaming our communities for not supporting what we do, instead of looking at what we do and figuring out, in every way, how to make it relevant to all those who are doing something else with their time and their dollars. The answers are complex: programming, education, engagement, marketing, diversification, and more — but they are out there. And asking the same audiences to pay higher ticket prices and donate even more than they have in the past only buys time, at best. Bravo for these cliff notes, Dianne!

  2. says

    Those are all good cliffs which in some ways add up to one big cliff – the triviality cliff. If organizations don’t pay attention to the issues you raise, they run the risk of becoming less and less valuable to anyone.

    The only thing I want to take issue with is your assertion that as a field we have done a good job of marketing aggressively. We may be collectively spending more and more on marketing, but we keep using the same model of marketing and trying to copy the approaches of those offering mass market art. Since they will always outspend us, I think we make a mistake by trying to copy their methods.

    I’ve become convinced over the last few years that classic marketing – broad, general interest distribution of a single carefully contrived message to a large population – is running out of gas as attention paid to local mass media like newspapers plummets. At the same time, post modern marketing – detailed market research, prospective audience segmentation, development of tailored messages per market, careful delivery of those messages through the right media to reach the right segment – will never scale down to the level that even mid-sized playmaking organizations can afford to execute it. If you haven’t got tens of thousands of dollars to spend just on the research, you can’t get on that bus.

    That’s why I believe there is a bright light in reinventing theatre marketing to find some third way that will reach people who are likely to attend and participate with messages they are likely to respond to using creative, novel tactics. Some of those tactics will involve exploiting social networks both natural and electronic – focusing on people we already know and the people they know as some of the easiest targets. Some will involve finding ways to deliver free samples of artistically compelling work. Some will involve delivering messages in contexts like performance in public places that will compel attention. All of them will have to be invented by people a lot more creative than I am. Fortunately, that is a large segment of the playmaking population.

    So, totally on board with addressing your cliffs. Those issues are more important than improving marketing; but we’re not going to deliver a rapidly growing audience to your well-arts-educated, diverse, non-snobby, well-led future theatre by taking out ads in the arts section of the newspaper and sending out email blasts.


    Doctrinaire Kaiserite falling rapidly into Ragsdalean heresy.

    • says

      I disagree with your contention that small and midsize arts organizations can’t get on the “post modern” marketing bus without having 10s of thousands of dollars to spend. Although I run a consulting company that will charge you to do this work, I have yet to meet a company that couldn’t have done it without my help. We have in our ticketing databases enough information to float all kinds of interesting research and segmentation, and the analytical and communications tools now at our disposal (many of them free) enable us to restructure communications in astonishingly flexible ways.

      The trouble with most arts marketing is two-fold: conservatism and risk-aversion. Having built years of marketing campaigns on glossy direct mail and frequent advertising, we often look at falling ROI on those investments and push to ADD other marketing supplements to them rather than replacing them. The reason for this is often finance-related: as we put extreme pressure on marketing departments to increase earned revenue, we take away their ability to take risks on new approaches. We’d (without ever saying this out loud) rather accept mediocre, but predictable, returns on the same ways of doing business than take the money out of failing print advertising and make it power a new way of getting our message out with unpredictable results.

      Notice that we are almost the only industry that hasn’t fundamentally changed our marketing mix in the past 5 years (we keep company with used car dealerships and dentists in our old-school approaches to marketing). Over and over, I see clients’ marketing budgets built on season brochures, glossy postcards, and display advertising, with nominal nods to email, static websites, and interns managing Twitter and Facebook accounts. No data analysis, no experimentation, no creative segmentation, no fundamentally restructuring the budget. For a bunch of people working in the creative field, we do intensely uncreative work in atmospheres of fear and barely suppressed panic. Not all of us, but enough to hurt.

  3. says

    Very well said. I couldn’t agree more, Diane!

    I would add that, to the extent that our field does indeed have some legitimate fiscal challenges, they are *structural* in nature. As such, they cannot be avoided by simply raising more money, cutting administrative overhead, etc. At best, success at such tactics can merely delay a slow and inexorable decline.

    Kaiser has said more than once that no one is offering “new models” that might work for large institutions, which I assume means he reads neither your blog nor mine… Allow me to offer the following, for the 785th time: as long as we’re (a) shackled with Baumol’s cost disease, and (b) bound by the laws of physics which permit a limited number of butts in a given physical space, then the path to salvation for large institutions must involve radically new distribution channels. Maybe that doesn’t count as a new model, but consider it a suggestion to the field.

  4. says

    5/5, strongly agree.

    The way I explain this to myself is that the diseases in the field well pre-date the current generation of financial woes – those woes are just the symptom. And while it’s important to bring down the patient’s fever, curing the disease is probably what we should be doing.

  5. says

    You are right on, Dianne. Smart and thoughtful response and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m so sorry you’re not around to participate in our capitalization work or our racial equity discussions. Both relevant to this discussion in a big way.

  6. says


    Thanks for the comments one and all.

    Pete, I am so glad you raised the point you did. I’m giving a lecture next Monday on Marketing in the Arts to our Masters students in Cultural Economics and Entrepreneurship. I lecture, basically, on the evolution of marketing and end up in this space you mentioned (having to do with networks and pro-sumers, the collapsing of production and consumption, etc.) where there seems to be so much promise for the arts. This is an area where we need both education and re-conceptualization. So smarter marketing, yes! Thank you for pointing it out.

    Adam, yes I thought about responding to the “no models” issue. You have now engaged in this discussion so brilliantly for years and your thinking has certainly influenced mine. I have been thinking lately that, on the most basic level, these very large organizations need to stop thinking of themselves as simply bigger versions of what they once were. They have grown in size (more of the same, in a larger space perhaps with a restaurant on the side run by someone else seems to be a common model), but many have not really diversified or made use of the brand equity that they have.

    As an example, when I saw the success of the Met broadcasts but also the challenges of trying to develop high quality product at a rate to meet the demand of that new distribution system I wondered why Peter Gelb wasn’t approaching the other major opera companies or other major institutions in the world to record and distribute them as well (a “best of opera … or best of culture … ” season that he could market to cinemas). That didn’t happen (for whatever reasons) and within a few years other companies started to experiment on their own. But are we better off with all of these opera and theater companies competing in this space? Or would we be better off with a joint venture that could more readily scale to meet demand if it grows?

    This is a pretty mundane example, I admit. It’s early here and I haven’t had my coffee. 😉

    But also the development of new products for new markets–what you have done with software, for instance (although now that I say this I can’t remember if you started in software or if that came later). There hasn’t been as much of this as I might have expected as these companies have grown.

    Again, thanks everyone for weighing in!

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words Diane. Your Met example may be mundane, but it’s one of the only examples I know of where a leading institution is attempting something semi-radical on the distribution side of things. (I suspect what they’re doing is like Yahoo! in 1994, and 10-15 years from now there will be a plethora of more ambitious experiments along these lines.)

      You make a great point, though, that once you blow up the distribution model, you need to reconsider how you’re sourcing content. I believe for big institutions to succeed in the coming decades, they will need to become very good at two things: (1) getting the work out far more broadly than they have historically, and (2) collaborating authentically with individual artists and small organizations to ensure a steady supply of new work.

      (Oh, and the software came second. =))

      • says

        The idea of the Met taking on other content and becoming, essentially, a distributor of live broadcasts to movie theaters as well as an opera company, is interesting. It also shows one of the real challenges to adopting radically new distribution: How to do it without becoming a distributor.

        The arguments against an arts organization building a side business as a distributor are fairly simple, and have to do with mission creep, the staffing needs & technical abilities to take something like that on, etc.

        The arguments for involve things like control of marketshare, actual revenue, becoming a leader in your chosen field in a new way.

        Luckily “live broadcasts to movie theaters” is a fairly niche area. A lot of the rest of us can use things like VHX, bandcamp, 20×200, etc., and not have to develop other businesses to do this. Of course, the real dream is not to have to pay distribution companies for the software, either. CASH Music is in hosted beta now, and is, hopefully, the first of many new tools for distribution without paying a chunk of profits to a distribution company.

        The Met’s broadcasts and the things you can do with CASH Music are obviously very far apart, but thinking about the landscape for distribution options, I think it’s a decent spectrum to have handy.

  7. says

    All four topics you raise are well-known and have been worked on for decades. In the USA, progress with education, diversity, communal engagement, and leadership has been hindered by the chronic lack of funding caused by our unique and isolated funding system based on donations from the wealthy. It doesn’t work. Outside of a few large financial centers, it leaves our cultural lives perennially impoverished — something that is painfully obvious through international comparisons. As just one example, we only have 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. The National Opera in Washington, for example, with which Mr. Kaiser is involved, has so few performances per year it is our national joke. So Mr. Kaiser is correct, the problems are at root financial.

    He is incorrect when he says more “aggressive” fund raising and marketing will solve these problems. Such efforts can only produce short term solutions that will return again to the perennial American malaise because the root problem, our ineffective funding system, will remain unaddressed. Dress it up how you will, but pigs don’t fly.

    Americans will continue to face the problems you describe until they develop a comprehensive public funding system like every other country in the developed world has long had. In the meantime, arts administrators who try to talk around this problem will continue to live in delusion.

  8. says

    Diane, your argument puts the arts right where those in control, the political far right, want it.

    If you compare the original text of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, which established the NEA, to the modified text of it’s current rendition you can see how the emphasis has been politically changed. The original wording talks about “national progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts” and the appropriateness of the Federal Government’s assistance in “high civilization”. The current version emphasizes the “people” and “private and local initiative”. This change did not happen accidentally.

    Mr Kaiser suggest that art organizations and institutions are now alone in having to decide how they will survive and he suggests raising more private money. Why do we no longer have any discussion by Kaiser or others in your realm about increasing the public support mandated in the Humanities Act of 1965?

    The answer is obvious. Mr. Kaisers new boss doesn’t want him or others to.

    Several years ago Dick and Betsy Devos, with a 22 million dollar donation, formed the Devos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center and gave Mr. Kaiser the job of running it. Dick and Betsy Devos along with their evangelical foundation The Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation are leading right wing conservative activists. Besty Devos has lead the religious school voucher push across the country and they both have supported anti-gay legislation nationally. Dick Devos along with the Koch Brothers were the main money behind the recent anti- labor legislation that just passed in the state of Michigan. The Devos believe fervently in the privatization of most things governmental and that includes arts and cultural support.

    The fine points concerning education, diversity, and professionalism you bring up can be seen as problems directly tied to an arts culture being starved of resources. You can solve issues of education, provide diversity, and ensure professionalism given the funds to do so.
    The result of this very real fiscal cliff is that the art institutional world has begun to pick itself apart leaving a void that extreme conservatives like the Devos’s and the Koch Brothers can step into and control just as they have done with labor in Michigan.

    • says

      It’s true. So many of the ideas being propounded by arts administrators align closely with the right wing’s concepts of massive privatization. The technical economic term is neo-liberalism. The market is to become the ultimate and sole arbiter of all human endeavor.

      Here too we see a systemic problem. Almost every arts administrator works for a board comprised of wealthy people – a demographic that generally leans considerably to the right. Due to neo-liberalism’s low taxes for the wealthy, Boards have a personal incentive for supporting its policies of privatization. This leads to a significant and harmful political bias in the leadership of our arts organizations.

      Note carefully how these problems are glossed over here and in most other discussions among arts administrators. If they were to become advocates for public funding, it could put their careers in danger. This silence leads to an atmosphere of psuedo-intellectualism and delusion that further harms the arts.

      • says

        Actually, I think the trend in Diane’s writing and Adam’s is not toward neoliberalism as advanced by right-wing ideologues, but is more in alignment with what a colleague of mind has termed “info-liberalism.” While I’m not convinced the term precisely reflects their intent, its meaning is that liberalizing access to information (or in the case of the arts, access to the distribution of information) increases democratic participation in governments, markets, and societies. It’s a concept that takes neoliberalism, which many in the arts and everyone on the lefts reads as “bad,” and turns it on its head: liberalizing access/regulations/participation for the good of people rather than corporations.

        • says

          Thank you for your interesting post, Linda. Ironically, when I clicked the link for your blog the first title that appeared was “Entrepreneurship, the Arts, and Creative Placemaking.” You mention that an NEA official will deliver the keynote address at a conference in Arizona with that same title. You also mention Arizona State’s “Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship” which “paves the way to the future of the arts by investing in student innovation and creativity, supporting arts entrepreneurship education and undertaking entrepreneurial activities and research.” They can’t seem to get enough of that word entrepreneurial.

          I’m all for artists trying to carve their own niche in society (and it’s certainly something I’ve had to do,) but we can’t overlook that the term entrepreneurship is most closely associated with private, for-profit business ventures. Entrepreneurship has essentially become a coded term for privitization and neo-liberalism in the arts. This would all be fine, except that much of the artistic creation in history, if not almost all, has by necessity existed outside the market. There are elements of artistic creation and the marketplace that will always be diametrically opposed, hence the problems with neo-liberal indoctrination in the arts administration community.

          Info-liberalization is important, but here too I would rather not see it put so strongly in business terms, such as the Met selling video broadcasts – and even to the point of trying to out jump other houses and corner the market. (Whew, Diane really went for it there!) In fact, we see here a good illustration of how business concerns can debase art. Opera is the most visceral of all art forms. Its deepest essence comes from being in the direct presence of all that vibrating flesh, in witnessing the set changes and stage machinery, in hearing the diverse acoustics between the singers and orchestra and chorus, in being able to follow your own rhythms in where you look at the stage and pit. (And hopefully in a decent seat that is affordable.) To can all of this down into a video package and turn it into a mass media product will eventually destroy the art form.

          This is why we must be very discerning about concepts such a privatization, entrepreneurship, business models, and neo-liberalism. And yet it is astounding how mindlessly arts administrators throw around these potentially harmful terms. It’s like the Koch Brothers and Co. brain washed arts administrators without their even knowing what happened. Or worse, maybe they do know what happened…

          • says

            “This would all be fine, except that much of the artistic creation in history, if not almost all, has by necessity existed outside the market.”

            I’m sorry, but what?!?

            I agree that the kind of live opera (and, I would add, live symphonic performance) you’re describing is wonderful, and I know from professional experience that when produced by decently compensated professionals today, it costs far too much to ever be covered by affordable ticket prices. And you want the taxpayers to pick up the tab, even though the vast majority of taxpayers have never had any opportunity whatsoever to enjoy opera. Fine.

            But you must know that there are more art forms out there than opera? And you must know that art existed before government? Before public sponsorship of anything, yes? Before money existed, there was still such thing as a “market,” it just wasn’t called that. At the very least, artists had to capture the interests and attention of their fellows so that their contribution would be seen as something valuable, so they wouldn’t be kicked out of the tribe or sent out to hunt instead of tell stories. When arts are too-subsidized (which in America only happens in academia, if at all), then the need to capture the attention of one’s public in order to support one’s livelihood disappears. Art is then created that is interesting and enjoyable to only a small niche, and most of the public is just further alienated from it, giving them less of a reason to support it with their tax dollars.

            When I hear the word “entrepreneurship” with regards to arts, and when I actually listen to what those using that word are actually saying and teaching, what I hear is an emphasis on encouraging artists to actually connect with their publics again. The fact that the word comes from the business world is not the problem. The fact that artists need to be trained to connect with the public as if that is some new idea, some new concept, is the problem.

          • says

            When we look for authoritative sources and thinking about the history of music or other art forms, we seldom go up to the administrative offices. They have by necessity focused their intellectual energies on administrative sciences and have not usually been able to pursue extensive careers as artists, or even arts scholars. There are exceptions, of course, especially in the visual arts where top administrators often have advanced degrees in art history. In the performing arts, however, the backgrounds are usually less artistic though notable exceptions exist. It is thus noteworthy that administrators are increasingly shaping the artistic vision of performing arts organizations.

            A danger we are facing is how the artistic visions of administrators tend to lack dimension. Their reasoning so often seems to be based on straw man arguments.

            The first straw argument thinks of public arts funding as something that would need to just pop into existence. In reality public funding systems are built over long periods time in conjunction with other areas like expanding arts education, slowly establishing a more sound arts infrastructure, and gradually building audiences. It’s not as if we are asking the public to suddenly foot the bill for the arts without adequate preparation, planning, and gradual development.

            A second straw argument is the observation that art existed before government, that art existed before money, etc., and so we don’t need public arts funding – or not very much of it. We all know that some arts can exist with little financial support, but we still have to acknowledge the concrete fact that every other developed country in the world has a comprehensive public funding system for the arts and that their cultural lives are more lively, active, diverse, and democratic than ours. That is an objective and documentable observation. Americans have trouble acknowledging this because the reality crushes some of our most closely held ideological beliefs about what government is supposed to be.

            The third straw argument is that government funding creates arts that only interest niches. A new study has just appeared that shows that ticket sells for live classical music in Germany has increased 30% since 2009, and that classical now out sells pop music. See:
            We see that publically funded arts institutions in Europe can be quite “entrepreneurial,” and how much better they “connect with their publics,” and much more diverse publics, than in America.

            The fourth straw argument is that somehow American artists have ended up so inept and insular that they have lost interest in connecting with publics. In reality, American artists were onto developing new strategies for reaching society long before the “entrepreneurial” fad hit arts administration. For just one example, take a look at my website. I’ve spent my entire career developing a small, portable form of music theater and have taken it to over 150 cities in America and Europe. This spring we will add 11 more. I started this work in 1980 long before arts administrators got onto their neo-liberal band wagon about entrepreneurship. And I could name dozens of other artists who have developed new ways of integrating themselves into society like The Bang On A Can All-Starts, the Kronos Quartet, or the Canadian Brass.

            These straw arguments often make the views of arts administrators seem rather parochial and superficial. If there were a more scholarly approach to the forms of administration they study, one of the first things they would do is learn about the various funding systems in the international community and how much better most of them work than the American system.

            We need to reconsider the neo-liberal think-speak in arts administration, and begin ideologically untainted and scholarly research about funding systems in the international community. It would be a revelation for most Americans, and sadly, for most American arts administrators. This is especially important if this trend continues where arts administrators attempt to take greater roles in shaping the artistic visions of arts organizations. Such ambitions should not be built on overly simplified and parochial perspectives, especially when those administrators have very little experience as artists.

          • says

            I just came across another straw man argument on Adam Huttler’s blog. He describes public arts funding this way:

            “The NEA makes $150 million per year in grants, compared to $13 billion in private philanthropy to US arts organizations. Tripling the NEA’s budget would amount to little more than a Band-aid. Meanwhile, how much of your budget do you really want coming from a single government agency that can be eliminated by the stroke of a pen from a freshman Congressman from Oklahoma? Relying on government support for the bulk of your budget is not a path to sustainability; it’s a recipe for terrifying fragility.”

            There’s no mention that both France and Germany spend about $13 billion on the arts for one quarter the population of the USA. There is no mention that Europe’s funding system is far more stable than the U.S. system as evidenced by hard numbers, orchestral bankruptcies and countless other measures. There’s no mention that Europe’s public funding system in not centralized. About $50 is municipal, 45% at the state level, and only 5% Federal. There’s no mention that a genuine public funding system is diversified and cannot be eliminated by “a freshman Congressman from Oklahoma.” There is no mention that the NEA budget is only 1/25,000th of the Federal budget and is only a token place marker that does not even serve as a model of what a genuine public funding system would be. There’s no mention that public arts funding systems are part of a society’s cultural infrastructure and would have to be built over a long period of time.

            So we are to believe that a public funding system is a “recipe for terrifying fragility” and that we are just to forget the whole idea in spite of the perennial problems our system causes and which have no comparison any where else in the developed world. And of course, straw man arguments are just what all those conservative, wealthy board members for arts organizations want to hear.

        • says

          The history of terms like ‘participation’, ‘social inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ can be traced back to In the late 1990’s when British Labor Party Leader, Tony Blair, began moving his party away from it’s support of liberal socialism to a new incarnation of the party, a New Labor Party. Critics called it a sell out of liberal socialism to capitalism.

          One of the key advisors to Tony Blair was author Charles Leadbeater who wrote that the future economy was moving away from production to one that would be knowledge based. Leadbeater believed that the economy and society would be stronger if people were given more freedom but also more responsibility for all aspects of their lives. A new language was introduced in the plan that talked of “participation” in society and called for more “social inclusion and diversity.” One of Leadbeater’s key concepts was that a renewed ‘Individualism’ was to replace collectivism. But the real intent would be the removal of government obligation.
          Your ‘info-liberalism’ is a clear example of Leadbeater-speak. It makes it sound like you are improving access and participation for the good of “the people” whoever that is, but I fear it’s just more rationalizing of a conservative privatization of culture.

  9. Leonard Jacobs says


    It’s as if someone said to Michael Kaiser, offhandedly, “Gee, since you write for HuffPo, and since everyone is talking up the ‘fiscal cliff,’ you should write of how the arts will be affected,” and then he sat down and shoved a square peg into a rhombus.

    But, if I may, I respectfully ask you to keep some distinctions in mind as part of your response and analysis.

    Kaiser referenced “plummeting contributions” and you referenced the “failure of earned income to keep pace with growth” as you took issue with the so-called solution: “more aggressive fundraising and marketing.” You posit that this so-called solution “seems to have been our strategy the past few decades,” that we can’t “be any more aggressive with our marketing and fundraising efforts.” I feel you’re both over-intertwining and over-simplifying these concepts. Most fundamentally, you can be as aggressive as a rabid pit-bull with marketing, but if your approach is dysfunctional, it’s moot. It’s not marketing intensity that matters; it’s appropriateness.

    Meanwhile, the problem of “plummeting contributions” varies, as it always has, by source—those challenges inherent in engaging corporate philanthropy are different from the challenges engaging foundations. We all know this, there’s nothing new here, and I’m not even putting much nuance into this point myself, but I want to make the greater point that it’s multifaceted disease with multifarious symptoms and causes.

    As for earned income, I respectfully submit that it has NOT been “our strategy” for the past few decades—if the arts sector as a whole operated muscularly, thoughtfully and creatively enough about non-contributed income, would it be in the sour pickle it’s in? We have a generation of leaders who think of earned income second, if at all; they bristle like snobs at the notions of profit; when you talk to them of a “spirit of entrepreneurialism,” they look at you like you have four heads, none human. You have written more than once of a generation of leaders that has to go, that really has to go, and yes, yes, they do have to go—at least those leaders who feel from the tops of their heads to the bottoms of their shoes that they are owed contributed income and more and more of it; who scoff at the idea that they ought to run their businesses like businesses; who act like such a horrifying idea can only come from those soul-sucking banksters who toil in that mendacious mosh-pit we call “the market.” One commenter up above wrote about the original text of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 and why we don’t demand far more public funding, ascribing a kind of right-wing evil to Kaiser’s every word. Now look, I’m a liberal. I want a strong, activist government. And guess what? I want to make money, too. What is wrong with wanting to make money? Most arts leaders actually cannot answer that question without looking like they’re dissembling. Where is it written, where is it axiomatic that making money and making art for the millennia are mortal enemies staring at each other across some cultural demilitarized zone?

    In your post, you write about our snobbery toward “community arts.” I respectfully submit that it is as snobbish, foolish and arrogant to cling to the idea that if government would only fully fund the arts, all our problems and issues would magically go away. I wish I lived in a nation where we funded culture in a way that challenges it, cherishes it, invests in it and sells it to the world. We don’t. We won’t.

    The truth is, we’ve been on the cliff for years. It’s the erosion of the cliff that has forced us all to gasp into the abyss since 2008. That is the why Kaiser’s HuffPo piece is unsatisfying: It’s a bunt caught by a pitcher that thinks it’s a grand slam.

    Some final thoughts.

    1) Your point about the arts education cliff is absolutely right.

    2) The diversity cliff is about idealism—an idealism I share—not crisis. Changing board demographics doesn’t make boards better, more generous, engaged, interesting, creative or innovative, but simply more diverse, and diversity is no silver bullet. Diversity is an ideal to which we aspire, an ideal for which we reach. And, once reached, it is ideal that calls for the same strategize to extract its value as in any other situation.

    3) The “professional cliff” is a great point but, again, I don’t know what “community arts” means. I’ve spent most of my professional career working in the New York theatre; if the immense, impossibly diverse, ridiculously impoverished and monumentally resourceful Off-Off-Broadway community is not grassroots and not populist, what is? Would you not agree, too, that the phrase “community arts” implies a statement about its value as something distinct from “professional”? Why can’t we do away with value statements?

    4) The leadership cliff—ah, yes. Also called BBT—Baby Boomer Tyranny. You’re right, of course. But let’s acknowledge there are many leaders who are long entrenched and still doing great work and some leaders who are less entrenched but not always delivering the heavenly manna we need them to. It’s not about age, much as it soothes us to think it is. It’s about vision, as you correctly say. But more than that, it’s about truth. And courage.

    • says

      I enjoyed the zippy polemic in your post, but I fear that in some of your comments you are drawing straw men. Arts organizations, including those publically funded in Europe, have always been concerned with earned income, and always will be, because it is a significant part of their budgets. And they continually seek a balance between income and innovation.

      I think the issue we are addressing is how much of an arts organization’s budget should come from earned income. This, of course, varies widely by genre and the organization’s mission. (Theater companies, for example, can be profitable business, but it is impossible for opera houses.) Diane has spoken a lot about entrepreneurship, but she does not take a one-sided approach and is aware of a wide range of problems, as this quote from her above blog illustrates: “We need leaders who identify more with the artists on their stages and the poorly paid administrators in their offices than with the donors they are courting 250 days a year.” An important message for all.

      And people like Linda Essig are filling an important gap by helping young artists think about ways they can find a place in society – always a huge problem regardless of what kind of systems fund the arts. We just need to make sure that the meaning of entreprenship is not limited to a purely market oriented interpretation.

      • says

        I think of entrepreneurship in the arts and arts entrepreneurship as existing on a continuum from habits of mind that empower individual artists to bring work to their audiences on one end to new for-profit venture creation at the other. When applied to the arts, entrepreneurship encompasses the whole of the continuum. To limit it to one specific locus or another does not serve artists or the arts. For more on this, see artivate.org, an online journal on which both Diane and Leonard serve on the diverse editorial board.
        (Diane: thank you for allowing me a little bit of space to wave the arts entrepreneurship flag here).

        • says

          Missing in your continuum seems to be the making of the work. Entrepreneurship does involve the ‘bringing of work’ to the audience, but rarely in it’s purest form, it’s best state, does art involve business.

        • says

          Linda presents an interesting phrase in her comment about how courses in entrepreneurship should shape an artist’s “habits of mind.” Administrators generally have very little experience as artists, so to what extent should administrators shape artistic thought?

          Administrators can certainly help artists with concepts on how to develop and present their visions, but to what extent should they take a hand in shaping the vision itself?

          Should arts administrators determine how the artist conceives his or her relationship to society? Historically, conceptions about the artist’s relationship to society and the market have ranged from hardcore entrepreneurs to wacky visionaries that spend their lives in isolation. We are all lucky that Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Edgar Varese, Harry Partch and countless others didn’t decide to be “entrepreneurs” and remained true to their visions even if it meant isolation, and in some cases poverty. (In Ives case, he kept his stellar entrepreneurship entirely separate from his art.) I hope people like Linda and Diane will continue to write and develop their thought on these topics. The growing trend toward administrators shaping the artistic vision of arts organizations presents some serious issues. This is especially true when seemingly one-sided neo-liberal philosophies insistently orient those missions toward the market without a wider and more balanced spectrum of considerations.

          • says

            As a point of information, many people teaching arts entrepreneurship are, or have been, practicing creative artists. The field, young as it is, grew out of several strands, the most prominent one being in schools of music where gifted musicians are teaching younger and hopefully equally gifted musicians entrepreneurial habits of mind. Visual artists –active artists/painters/sculptors — advise and participate in the arts business training provided by, for example, NY Foundation for the Arts, said training resulting from artists asking for it back in the 1970s. For myself, I have had a two decade career as a designer in the nonprofit professional theatre (often working collaboratively on first productions of new plays) before turning my attention to empowering the creativity of others through arts administration and arts entrepreneurship. Please don’t assume that arts administrators are not artists. Many are. While I don’t have any statistics to back me up, my guess is that Michael Kaiser who came to the arts directly from the world of business, is in the minority.
            Best wishes to you, LE
            (please feel free to email me directly to continue this conversation, rather than taking up space on Diane’s excellent blog)

          • says

            Here again I think we need evidence based discussion. Which arts institutions have leading administrators who have significant backgrounds as artists? Where and who are they? The information would be very informative?

            And again, what concrete evidence do we have that concepts of entrepreneurship allow artists to live from their work? Who and where are they, and what did the do?

            I think you are right that in most university music department’s entrepreneurship classes are taught by performers. I suspect that orientation makes their philosophies less neo-liberal than might be typical among administrators, but here too, we need evidence. Is there a divide? Classical musicians suffer few illusions about the difficulties of being able to live from their art as entrepreneurs.

        • says

          What conclusive evidence do we have that entrepreneurship in classical music is effective? As a measure, which ensembles have initiated entrepreneurial programs that allow them to live from their work? Are such groups isolated cases, or do they define norms that would be widely applicable to others? Hard questions, but they might be something for on-going future discussions.

  10. says


    To your point about straw men, etc. – Many of the topics that have been raised: neoliberalism, info-liberalism, creative economy, entrpreneurship (to name a few that I think about quite a bit) are contested concepts (and not only in the arts). It makes sense to me that within our field we would interpret them differently: I am inclined to see them as a manifestation of the competing logics that exist within our sector.

    Thanks for the comments and let’s continue to keep them constructive if the conversation continues.

    Thanks, all.

  11. jivey says

    Here is an issue I have yet to see raised and is surely the elephant in the room: many large arts organizations are saddled with two or three (or even four) separate union contracts for performers and stage hands that build in salary increases year after year for their members guaranteeing rising costs rise regardless of financial challenges. While I wouldn’t begrudge any artist (or stage hand) a living wage, an increase of 6 % or more every 3 year negotiating cycle is surely detrimental to the long term fiscal health of any company (for profit or not) in these challenging times.

  12. says

    The pitting of arts administrators against artists is the real “straw man” of this whole thread, and as it continues and drifts toward what is apparently an indictment of arts administration educators, I offer this: first, it’s up to arts administrators (whether you want to call them neoliberals or entrepreneurs or infidels or whatever) to deal with a constantly changing environment. Like it or not, the future is going to include some changes, one of which is that as home TV capability moves toward finer pictures and sounds and greater sizes, we’re going to find that formerly taboo forms such as dance, theatre, music and opera will become quite enjoyable on the tube. That will spread joy to those who can’t buy a ticket to the live event. And artists and administrators will need to work together to maximize value (for the organization as well as for the artists) from that as well as to enhance the audience experience.

    This example is not a fantasy — imagine if people like us had run the NFL at the advent of broadcast television. “We can’t show football that way,” we would have said. “It’s a visceral experience — the stadium food, the weather, the sounds of the shoulder pads colliding. Without that total experience, it’s not football.” Well, history shows that it was television that in fact caused attendance at live sporting events to skyrocket.

    I don’t know why we all imagine that those who disagree with us are “straw men.” I don’t know what it’s like to be a symphony musician, but I would imagine that as difficult as unions can sometimes be, without them the salaries of musicians would be approximately zero. And I can’t speak for all arts administration professors, but I do know many of them, and they are trying mightily to encourage tomorrow’s administrators to reach out into neglected communities, to diversify boards, staffs and artistic programming, and to be ready for both artistic and organizational change in the future. And we talk a lot about public funding and public policy in our classes — not so much about the NEA, but about the reach and extent of state, local and national policymakers and how they essentially set the rules that make our presentations of art function.

    It’s a challenging and complex world and we need to enhance our revenue by any means possible, so that we can better support artists and bring the benefits of the arts to more people. If that makes us a bunch of neoliberal right wing businesspeople, so it goes. But we’re really not that, we’re just people who are looking for creative solutions and new models wherever we can find them, whether that’s government, academia, business, or other nonprofit sectors.

    I don’t want anyone going over any cliffs, in the end.

    • says

      Amnong musicians, there is a growing feeling that the management of orchestras is in crisis. Bruce Ridge, Chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM,) recently published an article entitled “The Autumn of Our Discontent: Orchestral Musicians and the Crisis in Arts Management.” You can read it here:


      His concerns go farther than the usual management/labor conflicts. We see that the thoughts I have raised are hardly mine alone and maybe not made of straw (though I admit my posts aren’t very good.) In Adam Huttler’s most recent blog he even proposed the idea that we might consider disbanding unions. Naturally such thoughts raise concerns among artists. They raise concerns about anti-labor perspectives and neo-liberal ideologies, among other things. We see why dialog between artists and administrators are more essential than ever. We are supposed to be on the same team.

      My priniciple concern is that adminsitrative science in arts management has become a bit too “unscientific” because it seems to be moving away from evidence based conclusions toward perspectives that are more ideological in nature.

      My second concern involves the shift in power toward administration and away from artists, even to the point that administrators are now taking an increasing role in formulating the artistic vision of organizations. Maybe that is necessary, but what are the evidence based justifications? (The Detroit Symphony would make an excellent study in this regard.)

  13. says

    I am reluctant to post anything, mostly because as I juggle my very demanding more-than-full-time day job and my other very demanding non-paying more-than-full-time job as publisher of Culturebot I have not been able to find the time to adequately read all the discussion going on here.

    My $.02 is that no-one should take anything Michael Kaiser says seriously. He’s hopelessly out of touch with reality and trying to prop up an outdated, unsustainable, top-down model of Arts In America that is more related to the Mitt Romney type conception of the world than anyone who actually cares about making good art or making a difference. We have a lot of work to do to fix what is wrong and Kaiser and his ilk should just get out of the way.

    Here are a few really basic ideas based on scalability, sustainability, adaptability and finding new models:

    1. Find new ways to distribute capital directly to artists. The 501c3 structure is a horrible, horrible obstacle standing in the way of creativity and innovation.
    2. Following on #1 – foster entrepreneurial and independent “creative producers” that are not attached to institutions to help artists build work in sustainable ways
    3. De-link funding, curatorial process & cultural production from bricks-and-mortar institutions. Running a brick-and-mortar operation with huge administrative overhead leads to enormous waste, redundancy and inefficiency.
    4. Move to an artist-funding model that is not only project based.
    5. Redesign cultural production models that allow for more flexibility, less “assembly line” developmental process
    6. Invest in (this is self-serving, obviously) – developing a meaningful infrastructure for sustained critical conversations that includes audiences and engages communities.

    We’ve been writing about this a lot and are launching The Citizen Critic Project to try and address some of these issues.

    • says

      To remove art from bricks-and-mortar institutions would mean the end of symphony orchestras and opera, except for cheesy productions with pick up musicians in rental facilities. In *fact*, that’s mostly what we already have in the U.S., along with the *fact* that we only have 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Germany has 83 year-round opera houses, but the U.S. only has about 6 real houses for four times the population. I’m sorry, but your anti-brick-and-mortar idea was implemented in the U.S. long ago, but I suppose you could go ahead and knock off those last six houses. In a country of 320 million people they don’t accomplish a lot anyway.

      And perhaps not coincidentally, we see yet another view that would end unions (they work in those brick buildings) and that stresses “entrepreneurship.” And once again without any concrete evidence of what this system of entrepreneurship would actually create or how.

      In addition, we are to create “sustained critical conversations that includes audiences and engages communities” as if the arts hadn’t been doing that since time immemorial. Once again we see ideological polemic with a neo-liberal tinge instead of administrative science derived from evidence based conclusions.

      • says

        In the arts, it is important to remember that large and small genres live in symbiotic relationships to each other. They take their inspiration and development in reaction to what each other are doing. As a result, we find that the countries that spend the most on large arts institutions (bricks) also spend the most on small ones. A case in point are Europe’s large opera houses, almost all of which have small black box theaters for more experimental productions. It is like an ecosystem of creative interrelationships. If you kill off the large predators, you damage the natural balances in the life cycles of smaller animals. The same in spoken theater. The cities that have the most large theaters also have the most small, independent theaters. Without a Broadway there is no Off-Broadway.

      • says

        I’m actually pretty Republican in a sense. Current over-regulation in the non-profit sector, particularly in regard to disbursing capital to small business people (i.e. artists) stunts growth and innovation in the sector. In order to develop new products and bring them to market, seed capital is required and an ability to devise and implement new systems of product development. At the same time it is necessary to identify and develop new markets – and products that appeal to new markets. Unfortunately large corporations (ballet, opera) receive enormous subsidy and breaks (because they have the infrastructure to support the staff needed to access political and financial capital) to stay in business while small businessmen and start-ups find it hard to enter the market and stay in the market. Opera and ballet are products with a decreasing market share and to invest a disproportionate share of capital to supporting existing product lines that are inefficiently and unsustainably produced should be reconsidered.

        Given the rather substantial support opera and ballet receive from private donors I’m not sure why they are allocated such a disproportionate amount of funding from foundations and government. They are not really non-profits (any more than The Roundabout in NYC is) – they are expensive commercial ventures with unaffordable ticket prices and huge production costs that, rightly, should be subsidized by the people who patronize them. Or else be moved into a separate non-profit funding class that allows for other monies to be directed to smaller organizations that are more nimble and innovative.

        Most large opera and ballet companies produce work from the canon, not form living artists, they are dedicated to perpetuating repertory and while they serve an important function – I enjoy a huge opera at The Met from time to time – the notion that every city in America should have one is outdated. And the notion that they should consume so many resources in proportion to the audience served is misguided and 19th Century. There’s a difference between supporting classic forms and pouring capital down the sinkhole of huge, bloated institutions. To my mind it is more important to allocate capital to smaller, sustainable organizations that are supporting living artists, making contemporary work. If Germany and France and most of Western Europe there is support for bricks and mortar – but not all large houses, many small ones. France has an amazing network of small national choreographic and theater centers devoted to the development and distribution of contemporary work. Given the current crisis some Western European countries are concerned and looking to the American “model” of funding which, frankly, does not augur well for them.

        And yes, the arts have always had lively critical engagement but the audience – as evidenced by Mr. Kaiser’s previous writings – is generally treated as mindless consumers meant to submit silently to the taste and will of their cultural betters. Actual discourse demands greater transparency and a willingness to interrogate cultural assumptions about the nature and quality of the work, why it is being presented and how it is meant to be perceived. Large institutions are, mostly, resistant to criticism and indifferent to the audience and the audience, in turn, is ignoring them in droves.

        • says

          This is an excellent example of an arts administrator formulating artistic vision. Of course, artists are referred to as “businessmen” and art as “products.” The canon is elitist and is to be replaced with contemporary art, but without addressing the problem that it is often even more elitist and rarified. There is no mention of the role education and accessibility might play in developing interest in art old or new. Education and accessibility do not matter since the market should be the sole arbiter of human endeavor.

          He tells us large institutions are indifferent to their audiences and treat people as “mindless consumers meant to submit silently to the taste and will of their cultural betters.” He does not provide evidence to support the sweeping and seemingly illogical assumption that these organizations could ignore the interests and abilities of their publics.

          More and more, these characteristics define the new arts administrator. They present insistent, vaguely post-modern, neo-liberal artistic visions with neither evidence based conclusions nor substantial artistic backgrounds.

          • says

            Realizing that I shouldn’t take the bait on this one, I just have to point out that because you disagree with what Andy Horwitz says doesn’t mean that you then can legitimately ascribe his views to
            “arts administrators” and to suggest that such views “define the new arts administrator.” I’ve had the great opportunity to meet many arts administrators and to mentor dozens of young (.e.g new) arts administrators over the past several years, and they tend to have been or still are practicing artists whose interests in administration involve trying to support and grow the arts rather than to practice some kind of weird libertarian and/or neoliberal economic ideologies.

            A lot of very good and very creative work is going on out there among arts administrators as well as among artists; the problem we all face is an unsustainable funding model that has hit music and publishing first but that will not fail to take down theatres, museums and galleries unless we can find better ways to support the arts. Whether that is in the form of pure government funding or some kind of new mechanism that derives from government marketplace rulemaking is unknown and worthy of a great and robust conversation. It’s a debate about money, but the reason for having it is the art itself and I think most arts administrators are keenly aware of that.

            As to unions, well, as unions have disappeared from other sectors, what has that meant? Even less-caring managements, plummeting salaries, loss of benefits. Working with unions can be maddening, but isn’t the attack on them really just a side effect of the funding shortage? Eliminating musician’s unions and actors equity will certainly cut salaries and give these evil arts administrators temporary budgetary relief, which will worsen the art but will still not solve the larger structural deficit problems these organizations face.

          • says

            Dear William,

            It is unfortunate that we can’t actually have this conversation in person as I imagine we have many more ideas and values in common than it seems from this comment thread. The internet, despite all its wonderful qualities, still has a tendency to encourage simplification and objectification of other people and facilitates a quick descent into vitriol and personal attacks. As I’m sure you agree, when we confronted in person with an actual, complex human being with a specific history and set of experiences are prompted to speak and act with more empathy and less bravado than in the disembodied space of the web.

            Writing on the internet frequently lacks nuance and I accept responsibility for not being as clear or articulate as I would like to be in expressing my positions. But from your response to me it is clear that you know as little about me as I do about you, which prevents any meaningful, nuanced, complicated conversation. I would be happy to remedy this situation if you are in NYC.

            To the previous comments – I find it irresponsible to create equivalence between the US and the EU. Yes, they have large institutions with smaller, more contemporary institutions attached. But they also have significant government subsidies of arts across all disciplines and all sizes. They also subsidize higher education and place more value, generally, on education that we do, so they have a larger, more engaged and responsive audience. Many countries even subsidize ticket prices to “high art” like the opera and ballet so they are accessible to a wider swath of the population. The central role the arts in the cultural history of Europe doesn’t really have an equivalent here. The current landscapes are so vastly different that it just doesn’t seem constructive to compare/contrast without meaningful quantitative and qualitative analysis. If this exists, I’m happy to read it and be more fully informed.

            In terms of where we may agree – I use the terms “product” and “market” not because I believe that art should be treated that way, but because it IS. The non-profit “gift” economy is so deeply tied to the corporate economy that it is only willful blindness not to acknowledge this. Philanthropic resources come, mostly, from managed funds dependent on the financial services industry. Thus they share many of the same principles and mechanisms. As to the art itself – if you have ever commissioned, supported, presented or tried to tour any arts project, you are aware that there are market forces at work and this has ever been so. Witness the APAP madness about to descend on NYC in January!

            But if we want to create a situation where living artists can create new work that speaks to their world – as Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, Balanchine, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Beckett, etc. did for theirs – than we have to acknowledge that artistic production does not adhere to industrial production models and seek to create new circumstances that support the creative process in response to actual conditions now.

            My concern is that until large institutions dedicated to the preservation and presentation of great works of previous eras (contemporary work of the past, if you will) in America are willing to have a meaningful, substantative conversation about adaptability to current conditions for art makers and their relationship to those conditions, we are all in a perilous situation.

          • says

            Thank you for this thoughtful response. I do see a neo-liberal influence in most of the thought that passes through these pages, but I can’t prove it. Is it just my sensitivities or is there a trend? I can’t say for certain so my generalization was unfair.

            I really like what you have to say about unions. It truly is a dysfunctional funding system that has created the intense problems between management and labor in the orchestral world. And this also has wider effects. For just one example, Detroit is the 22nd richest urban environment in the world but only ranks 209th for opera performances per year. And recently management slashed the salaries of the Detroit Symphony musicians by about a third. (I can’t remember the exact number but it was very large.) Our funding system lies behind these problems and yet moving to a public system will take decades, even if that is our only viable alternative. So what do we do in the meantime? I think that is where the kind of creative thought on this list is helpful.

          • says

            Here are some thoughts I wrote for another discussion about the contrarian “negotiating language” of management and musicians in US orchestras, and how it is largely a symptom of our private funding system. They are based on my having lived in Europe for the last 33 years and worked within its public funding systems:

            1. Private systems chronically under-funds the arts to the extreme that both sides end up like hungry pit bulls fighting over a small bit of food.

            2. Private systems concentrate funding in major financial centers where the wealthy live. We thus have a few cultural institutions lavishly funded while the rest of the country remains culturally impoverished and bitterly fighting over funding. We notice that smaller but still quite large cities like Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Honolulu, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Diego and many others have problems because they are not among the largest financial centers. And the cities that are genuinely mid-range or small, have salaries so small they are ridiculous. Public funding distributes support more democratically and thus engenders a stronger sense of cooperation between management and musicians.

            3. Under public funding systems, unions often work out uniform contracts for a wide-range of communities. This helps prevent orchestras from competing with each other for the comparative status afforded by higher salaries. It also helps prevent orchestras from trying to poach each other’s players.

            4. Private funding systems are susceptible to wide fluctuations caused by economic downturns. Big orchestras thus bitterly fight for their funding to maintain their status (like Detroit and Philadelphia) and small orchestras for their very existence. Government funding is far more stable so European and Commonwealth orchestras are not facing such severe problems due to the economy.

            5. This stability allows for better long-term planning so budgets and contracts are more stable and negotiations hardly even necessary.

            6. Public funding creates more communal spirit in the arts. The sense of service to the community is enhanced because arts organizations are funded by the community. Both management and musicians work together in a system that is inherently oriented toward the common good of society.

            I should add that Philadelphia has the 9th largest metro area GDP in the world, but ranks 178th for opera performances per year.

          • says

            Thank you for this overly kind and generous response, Andy. I agree that emails are a poor substitute for in-person dialog. And ironically, we are probably more in agreement than you even guess. I am a composer who so dislikes orchestras I refuse to write for them. And I have spent my entire career trying to create a form of “chamber music theater” to serve as an alternative to opera – even if I might be just short of Pierre Boulez’s famous statement that opera houses should be blown up. For a long essay about my theories of chamber music theater, along with video illustrations, see:


            (The music theater section of my site has many more essays, slide shows, and videos.)

            And it is very true that we need nuanced and differentiated studies that compare European and American arts funding systems. Sadly, I am not aware of any. (A great opportunity form someone working on an advanced degree in arts management…) Actually, I have written one of the more substantial articles on the subject. It is more nunaced than what I have written here, though still woefully inadequate. You can read it here:


            (I have much more hard data since I wrote that article, but unfortunately I haven’t written an updated version.) I actually think that Americans would take to the higher arts far more quickly and deeply than we generally give them credit for, if only we applied ourselves to the issues of education and accessibility, but here again, we lack adequate evidence based studies.

            (I see that the posts and responses are out of order. I hope readers can sort things out.)

  14. says

    Great post Diane!

    While I haven’t read all of the comments, there were a few interesting little gems that made me wish to speak. :) I am a former community theater director now working as a professional Social Media Marketer across several industries. To my great delight, digital marketing is not only far more cost effective than traditional print models, it contains the ability to be hyper-targeted and intensely personal.

    Someone called this “post modern” marketing, while I disagree with a twinkle in my eye (word-of-mouth marketing is the oldest form there is) I do think it’s worth a fresh look through a new lens.

    Every business model is evolving in response to disruptive technologies, lightning-speed communication and a desire for constant connection. While marketing is the vehicle to help drive that evolution, it does not work in a vacuum. Pretty much everyone is a marketer now, willingly or no. In fact, everyone is also a performer!

    If you’re on the internet and have some form of digital footprint (meaning I can Google you and obtain some information about who you are), you are both a marketer and a performer 24/7. While I’ve enjoyed the recent digital marketing efforts of fantastic organizations (the Met, Arena Stage, the Oregon Shakespeare Company) I feel like they could be so much more. Topic for another time!

    Diane, I would love to see your lecture on the Evolution of Arts Marketing! Do you have slides or notes available?

  15. says

    Thank you for the article, Diane; and for all of the comments.

    Perhaps these are sub-headings to the 4 cliffs you mention (and are certainly interwoven with Adam Huttler´s proposed Structural Cliff #5), but I would also add the Perceptive Cliff–not only by the audiences and communities for whom we create and share our work, but also the key-stakeholders–the artists, the administrators, the owners of the venues. How do these different individuals measure success? For some, it can be strictly economical–we need to get a certain number of butts on seats. For others, it is a mixture of ticket sales, but also social impact–sure, the audience was small for that performance last year, but one of the audience members was inspired to study art, or to volunteer at the arts institution, or to contribute financially or artistically. In the business of the (performing arts), I think we need to develop more scientific ways of evaluating diverse measurements of success.


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