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Evening Standard article on the evils of Philanthrocapitalism

This is a slightly longer version of an article I wrote for the Evening Standard (http://bit.ly/arHnWj) on Thursday 22nd July 2010, which was written in response to this: http://bit.ly/buoQVt.


The title (which I didn’t write) was


The arts cannot survive on rich backers alone


There’s a new idea in Torytown: it’s called Philanthrocapitalism. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants private giving to replace Arts Council grants, and proposes a 50% cut at the DCMS. Chris Blackhurst, the Evening Standard City Editor, asks ‘Why should the arts be spared the worst?’ Well, for two reasons: the arts are cheap, and they’re profitable.


The arts cost 0.07% of total public spending: 7p in every £100. The Arts Council theatre budget for 2008 was £54 million; in return, the theatre paid back £76 million in VAT in London alone. That’s a 40% dividend. Why doesn’t the Chancellor want to fund that level of return? (£54 million is one 30,000th of the sum used to bail out the banks. £54 million is about the cost of one Apache attack helicopter. The army’s ordered 67 of them).


A huge proprotion of the West End’s hits come from the subsidised sector. I’m guessing, but if I asked a multinational to back a new musical based on a great 19th Century French Socialist novel (Les Miserables), I don’t think they’d return my call. Likewise trench warfare with puppet horses (War Horse) or musical drama about accountancy (Enron). These shows were made by bold artists supported by stable public funding. What capitalist would come up with Enron?


Theatres are not wasteful places. They already use the Big Society model of volunteers, interns and low wages. There’s no fat left to cut. To produce the next War Horse or Les Mis requires someone of the proper vision and experience who cannot be expected to maintain their creative instinct in an atmosphere of relentless bean-counting and candle-cutting, where planning for the future is impossible and ‘staying alive’ the only practical credo. Every fundraiser at a desk in a theatre is a salaried professional taking up space and income that could be used to make plays. A certain amount of this is necessary. But if theatres are forced to spend any more of their time looking for the sort of cash that allows them to plan a season more than a few weeks in advance, the work will suffer.


And the idea that artists deplore private money is bollocks; we’ve been gratefully squeezing every last drop of money from sponsors for years. If I could only afford a new cafe in my theatre because some donor wanted to name it after their cat, I would cut the ribbon on “Snuggles Bistro” with joy. We spend countless corporate evenings telling backers how welcome their support is. (Conversations at these gatherings can be revealing. When I told one banker that my Union, Equity, was fighting for a theatre minimum of £400, she said “a day?” Spitting out my drink, I stammered “No, I’m afraid not. A week.”)


Private funding can be a very welcome ‘and’, but it mustn't be an ‘or’. Donors don’t want to fill a gap, they want to be associated with success. At the first sign of lack of success (or financial uncertainty elsewhere), backers can run a mile.


Most philanthropy is London-based. Where will organisations outside the capital, where cultural life is less ‘glamourous’, find their rich backers? Without them, a huge number of smaller organizations that make up the thriving arts pyramid will starve, and eventually there will be no one to reach the top. Of the 187 Academy Award nominations given to Brits in the last 30 years, 145 went to individuals whose careers began in the subsidised theatre. Today’s fringe theatre produces tomorrow’s Oscar winners.


Philanthrocapitalism will make art more expensive, and more elitist; the working class has no rich mates to put money into stuff made for them. Leaving aside the sinister suggestion that Tories don’t like the arts because they educate and enlighten working people - which must be nonsense, mustn’t it? - the danger is that we surrender to donors not just a portion of the program, but a portion of the programming. When the funding tail starts wagging the artistic dog, a theatre won’t put on certain plays for fear of offending its backers (and don’t even try getting sponsorship for Tis Pity She’s a Whore). Private funding makes for soft art.


I think all this has nothing to do with culture. Jeremy Hunt is a career politician in a small, stepping-stone ministry. The ‘Star Chamber’ policy where each department must justify its spending to George Osborne before being allowed a seat at the cutting table leads to ministers plucking a huge – and increasing - figure for cuts out of the air in order to impress their masters. But it’s still extraordinary that Beckett-loving Clegg can renege on the LibDem’s manifesto commitment not to reduce Arts funding, quite so quickly.


A civilisation is judged by its culture. Name me one Ancient Greek accountant.



Samuel West is an actor and director



- This last line seems to have upset some people. I have nothing against accountants - my own accountant is on the board of the Royal Court. Brilliantly, a number of the comments on the ES website quoted Ancient Greek writings that mention several accountants. Less brilliantly, nobody pointed out that the reason we know their names is because of the culture of WRITING, not of accountancy.


When I tweeted (from @exitthelemming) my intention to write this piece, I asked for comments and suggestions. I was overwhelmed by the response. Those I wasn’t able to quote directly are below, both pro- and anti-. Many thanks to all for contributing.

BlueFoxAtTheSea @exitthelemming "Golden age" for the arts promised: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jan/14/arts-funding-cuts-pro...

clemencybh Speed cameras cost UK £56m. Theatres cost UK £54m. #artsfunding

BintyTweeb @ More arts cuts debate. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/21/arts-cuts-cultural-lifeblood?

3tdoan interesting read, thx. wonder if philanthrocapitalism wld make arts more elitist or populist? cf american model (eg films)

huwspanner amen! think stage-to-screen-stream would help democratisation of theatre muchly. less $$, less metrocentric.

Dilog Gr8 article, gd case 4 Theatre but surely altruism cn play its part, thr R ppl who wnt 2 leave
something behind #artsfunding

huwspanner I believe there could be a big new revenue stream for the ROH/NT/RSC if they could livestream to cinemas in HD economically.

huwspanner If David Tennant as Hamlet had been shown live in HD in cinemas, it could have had a huge audience IMO.

huwspanner Also much else. The quality is superb, but the stupid ticket prices ensure that the cinema is almost empty.

huwspanner I saw Helen Mirren in Phedre at the National for £15 in Belsize Park, and All's Well from the National locally.

Tottiestar @ Re-reading Blackhurst's article the idea of 'US-style tax breaks' for backing is a thought, but not a solution.

richardmaynard @exitthelemming I wonder if it's the same in the US? Capitalism there seems to be far less risk-averse. Would backers be more tolerant ...?

Cellism Tories hate art, beauty and joy clearly.

Excellent article on arts funding cuts:http://bit.ly/d8osxZ bydanielbye

hilaryrfoster bit late, but some US programmers of venues supported by rich individuals can't risk-take/innovate, are restricted.

Tottiestar @http://tinyurl.com/38kaqmn Interesting article on the American pro side. The arts are so important to tamper with unless..

DiddleyRidkin I'm a history of art student and I'm not sure I want to graduate into a career fuelled by elitism. That's not why I did it.

Wu_Tang_Alan Philanthropists want to support success - and they define success as somewhere which is well funded! It's a vicious circle.

dan_hutton Philanthropy will breed a culture which rewards rich individuals who give to the arts over the artists who make it (USA)

AnnaBrk If an Artistic Director is seen to be 'bought' some volunteers (me!) would walk away.

AnnaBrk Phils will make theatre more elitist by ignoring what theatre can and does do for working class.

AnnaBrk Phils won't be interested in cutting edge, experimental studio theatre because no reflected glory.

BlueFoxAtTheSea Found this statement: "Philanthrocapitalism does little to question the system that, arguably, produced many of the social disparities that it is supposed to address."

BlueFoxAtTheSea #philanthrocapitalism I think that the role of art is not only to entertain, but also to criticize/open the eyes (cont)

AnnaBrk Regional theatres doing plays telling local history & stories bring community
together. Cov Belgrade good example.

AnnaBrk Plays focusing on youth gang culture - company often does workshops in schools / prisons exploring the issues. (Brum Rep.)

faceofboe the proms would be Mozart Beethoven bach Wagner + that's it. Goodbye Messiaen. Goodbye Varese. Goodbye modern composers.

faceofboe progress? I don't think so. What about kids whose parents cant afford? Philanthrocapitalism will kill music education. :

murphyna through the arts we learn acceptance, equality, freedom of expression

SimplerDave Good Art will find a way, but it still needs to be nurtured, just the same as any

other form of innovation & discovery

faceofboe when I was a child (b.1967) all my music lessons were free. I have to pay a fortune for my kids to have thesame experience

ARoseBtT if Philanthrocapitalists want to help arts why they just hand over cash to the

arts council to distribute as they see fit?

danielbye The arts earn the exchequer more in VAT than they cost in subsidy. They are directly, unequivocally, profitable.

SimplerDave What's ridiculous is that the idea 'trust market forces, everything'll be fine' has worked anywhere at all...

AnnaBrk If we lose theatres & companies, also lose all the education work they do.

alicevjones just tweeted this it's excellent Christina Patterson brilliant on arts funding in The Indy this morning http://bit.ly/c60t2b

AnnaBrk Anecdotal: people told me opening Bristol's Tobacco Factory theatre regenerated the whole
area: shops, cafes, & now safer.

BintyTweeb Worth a read, esp. the figures in par. 3: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2010/may/13/jeremy-hunt...

stefanstern Glamour pusses and "fashionable" causes may grab all the philanthropy. A truly Big
Society has generous state funding.

Groucholiz If aim of philanthrocapitalism is profit,then surely there's a risk of plays being
populist;not necessarily challenging

Groucholiz And if investors want control in their investment,would this be a threat to artistic integrity/free speech.

kateweb Imagine theatre/visual arts created in the image of Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Elton John - is that what we want?

ARoseBtT am sure you are going to say this but philanthro-capitalism has an agenda to push which would inhibit the freedom of the art

thejimsmith It will obviously lead to more conservative productions, it'll be all ''heritage" theatre, pickled and pre-packed culture.

thestephmerritt Won't work here as it does in US because there just aren't enough billionaires to go around. Also more suspicion of it here.

bagelmouse Unless we whack an office block on top of the National and add a lovely restaurant. And repeat ad infinitum across the land.

lisafparry I think that'll stop people considering working in theatre. Without companies like
Foursight, I'd never have thought of it.
yes"">

bagelmouse If you mean like at the Menier, it works there; but it's hardly practical on a wider level.

lisafparry Would makemore London-centric? People will give to ROH to get their name in prog but not to companies in deprived areas.

caitlinmoran main point: it's terrible for the working classes as they've got no rich mates to plough dolllar into stuff.






Views: 168

Comment by Marcus Romer on July 23, 2010 at 18:42
Great stuff Sam

thanks for sharing this and all the tweets too

M
Comment by Chantal Guevara on July 23, 2010 at 22:44
This may be a terribly naive comment, so I apologise in advance!

I have been scraping by without funding for the last three and a half years; one of my reservations has been that if I seek funding, then it's likely I would have to relinquish some artistic control, and there would be additional expectations which would have to be met.

A lot of the tweets above seem to echo exactly that, but as a consequence of sponsorship.

That aside, brilliant article, especially for highlighting that the arts should be valued and nurtured, not seen as an easy target to cut - many thanks for posting this.
Comment by Jenni Willows on July 24, 2010 at 8:25
Great piece, thank you so much for putting the case so well.

Regrettably, I believe the language of the ConDem administration is all too telling, with talk of supporting, rather than investment in, the arts. I worry that the common sense of your arguments will be largely ignored by a government who appear to have their fingers in their ears when it comes to the arts, singing "la, la, la - I'm not listening".

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