The Playgoer: Arts Funding in the UK

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Arts Funding in the UK

The Guardian asked around the London arts scene about the state of public vs private funding these days. Two very different takes from the theatre world. The first, from the Royal National Theatre ("It receives £16m from the Arts Council and £1m from the private sector") and its AD Nicholas Hytner:

The stuff we do cannot exist on box-office alone. It is hugely labour-intensive and simply would not happen without state funding. It would be twice as expensive for audiences, so far less accessible. We spend a very large proportion of our grant on subsidised seats.

Sounds like they have their priorities straight. In addition to the state, their "Travelex-sponsored" £10 ticket season has been so successful in the big Olivier Theatre that they've expanded it to some shows in their midsize Littleton. Under this policy--which covers 4 shows in a rep season of some 14--two-thirds of the seats (yes, 67%) are sold to the public, for £10, no extra hassle, no questions asked. Given the consitently high quality of the National productions (aside from the relative wisdom of the direction/interpretation on a given day) that's quite a value.

For the other side, there's Dominic Dromgoole of the Shakespeare's Globe theatre, a relative newcomer on the scene that has had to make do without the usual state subsidy. Says the Guardian:
The Globe operates on an annual income of just under £10m, two-thirds of which comes from theatre and exhibition admissions, educational programmes and touring income. The rest comes courtesy of the Globe Shop, the Globe Cafe and Restaurant and gifts and donations. It receives no public subsidy.
Not surprisingly, Dromgoole is happy to sing the praises of philanthropy. And he envies us! I'd also love to increase the amount of private patronage we get. I've had some interesting conversations lately with the Public Theater in New York. That is a similar-sized organisation but it gets much more of its income from private patronage than we do. There is no history of private giving to the arts in this country. In the US, it is virtually a public duty. Look at the billions Warren Buffet gave away this year. People with money are meaner in the UK. That is a shame.

"Public duty"? I do hope Oskar Eustis has not been telling the Brits any tall tales!

I can hardly blame American theatre companies, in these dark times, for looking to enlightened billionaires to salvage them. In many instances, I'm sure you're more likely to find less intrusive "no strings attached" money from such genuine supporters than from foundations or politicians with a narrow agenda. But does each Travelex partnership--or its NYC equivalent between the much smaller Signature and Time Warner--just encourage the free-marketers to smile "I told you so," as they line-item us out of the public budget even more?

BTW- The Public is venturing a Signature-like step for at least one of its shows this season. For Julia Cho's Durango, all seats will be $10. But just for Thursdays. And just when you buy day of. Unless you're a subscriber.

I guess when you truly buy into a culture of philanthropy, then you have the givers and the beggars. And beggars, of course, can't be choosers.

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