Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On the Subsidy Question

Tony, over at the Halcyon Theatre blog, says that the problem with what's on the stages of American theaters will not be solved by subsidies:

Subsidy or a perceived lack of one is not responsible for systematic programming choices. The problem with making an argument that increased subsidies will help is that the American Theatre is in fact heavily subsidized.


In TCG's Theatre Facts for 2007 the estimated revenue for the "UNIVERSE OF U.S. NOT-FOR-PROFIT PROFESSIONAL THEATRES" (1,910 Theatres) was $961 million (tax-free), with another $919 million in tax deductable contributions.

If you add up all of the revenue from all of the non-profit theatres over the last fifty years and figure out that potential tax-bill, along with all the tax deductions that donors received for giving money to arts organizations, it would be a staggering number. It also is the actual level of governmental subsidy of the American theatre.


Thomas Garvey said...

I'm afraid Tony's argument is seriously undercut by the simple fact that nations with more vibrant theatrical cultures offer MORE subsidy than the U.S. does. The American subsidy number may seem really big to Tony, but it's still not as big as other cultures seem to think it should be - and they get more action for their investment. And even in absolute terms, the numbers he's talkin' don't sound that big to me - that 2007 total of $1.8 billion, for instance, translates to less than $20 per taxpayer. Wow. To think we could have given everyone in America a dinner at the Olive Garden for that!

Tony Adams said...

Thomas, you hate the most heavily subsidized theatre in the country. So tell me how more subsidy will equal better theatre?

Tony Adams said...

Oh and do you know what the actual per capita funding is of those more vibrant theatrical cultures?

Thomas Garvey said...

Tony, you're confusing the problem of how much subsidy we can afford with WHO GETS that subsidy. They're very different issues. Harvard and the ART, it's true, shouldn't receive a public subsidy; they only get one because of their connections, not their quality. But that's not an argument against subsidy per se. As for exactly what the per capita subsidy is in other countries - I'm not sure of the numbers and don't have the time to research them. But it's the general impression that despite their smaller populations, Britain, Western Europe and Canada support more public venues for theatre, music and opera than the U.S. does. And they have correspondingly livelier scenes (if you doubt me, just check out the Shaw Festival or Stratford Festival this summer). It's true that more subsidy money could end up wasted. But that's true of any public expenditure.