The Playgoer: Netroots Theatre Fundraising?

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Netroots Theatre Fundraising?

Do you think the arts--and theatre in particular--can learn something this political season from those campaigns that take a more populist small-donor approach to fundraising?

Remember Howard Dean and his online $25 clicks adding up? And now Barak Obama has almost outpaced Hillary Clinton with small donations from a wider list of supporters?

Is there some applicable model here, say, for the nonprofit theatre company? When we think of all the sway big donors have, would artistic leadership be freeer from donor pressure if no private personal donations were allowed over $100? And instead all "development" was geared toward small "events" targeted at younger audiences at $10-20 a pop?

If you're thinking this sounds like a McCain-Feingold for theatres... you're right!

Of course this would would have to be supplemented by aggressive grant-seeking and hopefully increased public sector funding. I wouldn't even mind select and carefully chosen corporate gifts. Say maybe one big exclusive corporate sponsor per show, or per season.

But when we think that all the effort that's expended on the $500-500,000 crowd and keeping them happy--most of whom are not under 500 years old--couldn't this be a good thing? In theory at least.

Then again, I'm already sick of getting a phone call from every theatre a buy a ticket to, begging for even $25. So nevermind, that would only get worse, I suppose...

1 comment:

Youth Onstage! said...

The Castillo Theater began in exactly this way, relying primarily on small contributions from individual donors. Over 25 years it has grown to be a leading political theater in New York City, acquiring their own performance space (first in Soho and then on 42nd St) and one of the few independently-funded theaters in the country. They accept no money at all from the government.

It's an amazing story and it offers a model of building an theater that is more based on community organizing models than on traditional arts organization paradigms. The history is chronicled by Castillo dramaturg Dan Friedman in a chapter entitled "Everyone's an Angel" in a new book, "Angels in the American Theatre: Patrons, Patronage, and Philanthropy," edited by Robert Schanke and published by Southern Illinois University Press.

I work for Castillo's youth theater, Youth Onstage! You can find out more at