Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Times Devotes Some Major Space to Cultural Economics

It's pretty unusual that the New York Times, or any publication for that matter, goes into much depth about cultural economics - so if you're into that sort of thing (and I know my readers are!), I highly recommend reading Michael Kimmelman's thoughtful piece on the German performance venue Festpielhaus Baden-Baden.

As you probably are aware, European cultural policy is pretty much the opposite of American cultural policy (as in over there, almost all funds come from the government). In my experience, most American arts-makers swoon over this idea. I'm ambivalent. While far from perfect, I'm a big fan of the diversity in the American arts funding model. Anyway, Kimmelman's article goes into some really interesting detail about the pitfalls of state-funding arts - namely, inertia and complacency.

From the article:
...[T]he system, bloated and not everywhere well managed, inevitably produces much mediocrity. The reality is that about 20 percent of the budget for Berlin’s three struggling opera companies today must come from private contributions. Bayreuth scrambles to raise nearly half its budget from donations and ticket sales. It would have gone bankrupt by now if donors hadn’t made up for deficits due to bad leadership.

The concept behind the Festspielhaus was to rejuvenate this city of 50,000 as a cultural destination. “It was a revolution,” said Rüdiger Beermann, the Festspielhaus’s spokesman, “and also a blasphemy in Germany, even though it always used to be the dukes and the counts and the rich people who paid for the arts. At first nobody, absolutely nobody except our patrons supported the idea, and also the audience and the artists, who enjoyed coming.”

Mr. Mölich-Zebhauser elaborated on that thought one recent morning. “With the private sector comes enthusiasm, competence in finance and responsibility,” he said.

... “The truth is that Americans might do better to increase public funding for the arts a little,” he added. “And here we have to become a little less lazy.”

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