Don R. Hall, our Angry Guy in Chicago, examines the non-profit model of grant-by-success.
The reality is that you don't get big donors without some commercially successful shows under your belt, and grant organizations give to groups that are going to get their name out into the public eye which means they grant to organizations with a large audience base just like any advertiser. Does Steppenwolf Theatre Company really need $50,000 from Sara Lee or did Sara Lee just pay for some great ad space? Does Lookingglass Theater really need the $30,000 from the MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture when they pay $1.00 per year rent on their downtown venue that was gifted to them by the City of Chicago?.....
It is a terrible cycle, and one that inevitably makes it harder and harder for people to survive out there. I took a look at our Mass Cultural Council theatre giving and found that they do give to many theatre groups.
However, this embarrassingly easy research bears out most of Don's theories.
The three top recipients:
Huntington Theatre Company $52,000
North Shore Music Center $52,000
American Repertory Theatre $42,330
Things drop off precipitously after this. The Western Mass summer companies get a nice change, (Williamstown-$31,790.00 Shakespeare and Company $25, 120.) but then we start going down almost completely into the 4 digit territory.
I understand spending has been cut drasctically, but consider the ratios:
The combined grants to New Repertory, Lyric, Merrimack Rep, Company One, Speakeasy Stage, Sugan, Theatre Offensive, and Stoneham Theatre company.... $35,350.00!
All those 8 companies combined, get far less Mass State cultural money for theatre than the Huntington, ART and NSMT get individually.
Just to make things little more concrete, the $2000.00 grant Company One gets would not even pay the rent for one of their runs as Resident Company of the Boston Center for the Arts.
My first instinct is to say, "Well, state funding has been drastically cut!" However, if the funding were drastically improved, would we see a difference in these ratios?
My next instinct is to say that those top three Companies are "institutions of culture" (brands, if you will.) However, Theatre Offensive and Sugan are not?
Although I won't begrudge any institution any money it can get. I have to wonder if Don does have point:
So, why the slow death of the NFP Arts Organization? Because the model only works for groups that don't need the model. When the advantages of NFP only favor the already commercially successful groups, the groups involved are no
longer "supporting some issue or matter of private interest or public concern for non-commercial purposes."