Occupy the Concert Hall? How Arts Donations Ignore Poor, Ethnically Diverse

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street demonstrator Occupy Wall Street demonstrator (Flickr/kenstein)

As Occupy Wall Street protests spread over the perceived inequities between the very wealthy and the "other 99 percent" a new study on American arts funding makes a similar point. Its finds that billions of dollars in arts funding serve a mostly wealthy, white and shrinking audience. Meanwhile, only a small chunk of money goes to emerging arts groups that serve poorer communities that are more ethnically diverse. But is this the full picture? And if so, what – if anything – should be done about it?

In this podcast, host Naomi Lewin is joined by three experts: Aaron Dorfman, the executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group that conducted the new study; Yvette Campbell, president and CEO of the Harlem School of the Arts; and Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.

Weigh in: Where do you give money to the arts? Do large organizations deserve more money because they take more to run? Or do smaller groups need a larger share of the pie? Leave your comments below.

Host: Naomi Lewin
Producer: Brian Wise
Engineer: Jason Isaac


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Comments [10]


Sorry, one thing I forgot to add. Why not ask the "talent shows", American Idol, X-Factor, Dancing w/ Stars, all of those shows that leverage old themes and make tons of $ to support new original talent, not just re-players?

Oct. 21 2011 08:44 PM
Henry from NYC

As to WQXR, my understanding is that it is "listener supported" (although I do hear that they are also supported by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and others, I believe). That being said, this is a difficult area to explore. The fact the places such as Lincoln Center, Met Museum, Carnegie Hall, and various Broadway institutions get much funding is partly due to the people making contributions enjoying the art being presented and also peer pressure. You have to be seen with the "hoity-toity" to be with the in-crowd. This does nothing to help the emerging arts.

I am guilty myself, to an extent. I am a member of the Met Museum, WQXR, I frequent the Met opera when I can, and am a member of MOMA. I do try to support Off and off-off broadway theater as much as I can (full disclosure, I am currently unemployed). The things I contribute to are because they are the things that appeal to me. Having said that, I hope things such as Facebook and other inexpensive ways of "getting the word out" of new art forms, new artists, can get new generations of donors to come out of the closet. I hope it is not too late for me.

Oct. 21 2011 08:41 PM
Breandan from New York

It's true that most of the NEA money goes to classical arts rather than emerging arts. At the same time, most of the tax revenue comes from those who appreciate the classical arts rather than the pop/transitory arts. There is much talk about the 99% feeling disenfranchised while half of that 99% don't pay federal income taxes and receive handouts from the federal government, directly or indirectly. Some people want to talk about fairness and demographics when the money gets handed out but not when it's collected.

Oct. 21 2011 12:11 PM
Bob from Basking Ridge from Basking Ridge, NJ

In these early morning hours (5AM) as I type on my computer I have on WQXR listening to classical music but in this fast paced rock-n-roll world I rarely have or take the time to listen to or participate in supporting the arts and I do feel guilty about it. With that said I would offer that large organizations should be supported first since they usually have a bigger impact on the economy and on the numbers in their audience. But their funding should also require that their marketing efforts reach out and develop younger audiences across all ethnic and cultural backgrounds which in turn can help educate and unify the culture. Everyone in the arts should be in a panic as they see their audiences shrink not so much for their own personal position but for the continuation of the culture. If everyone in the arts (and I guess I'm talking the classical arts here) worked at developing two new classical audience members each year, the classics and the culture could be revived.

Oct. 21 2011 05:29 AM
Michael Meltzer

It's not that it's color-coded, but it starts with government (actually , taxpayer) money from the NEA and the various state councils for the arts, and those moneys are mandated by Congress or legislatures to go preferentially to organizations which create and sustain employment and also generate economic support activity. An opera company, for instance, employs musicians, artists, craftsmen, PR and white collar people, plus generates business for everything from restaurants to dry cleaners to printers.
It works it's way down: large corporations offer grants but, not being in the arts field themselves, want to see previous grants, no matter how small, from the NEA or a state council because that is like a "seal of approval", a certificate of authenticity. They also want to know they are supporting something popular, so they like to offer "matching" funds.
Given that background, it's easy to see how young and emerging organizations have a tough row to hoe just to get on the grantable map, which doesn't necessarily bespeak discrimination. Young organizations also are full of entrepreneurial spirit and often waste a couple of critical beginning years trying to handle the application process themselves with their enthusiasm, when they really need to employ professionals who know the buzz words and caveats and how to cut the red tape.
It's easy to gather up numbers and make any kind of case you like, it sounds like there may be something prejudicial there, but the magnitude of it is a serious question.

Oct. 21 2011 03:20 AM
April from Queens, NY

As a working artist who has won grants and sat on granting committees, I feel that there needs to be more philanthropy focused on supporting individual artists. This could take the form of individual grants that could allow artists to dispense with day jobs (in whole or in part), or it could provide something like health insurance and reduced-rate housing for artists.

Oct. 20 2011 09:11 PM
Franklin from UWS

@Judy I don't think it's fair to draw a connection to WQXR. If you listen to the conversation, they're not advocating for the study itself, just considering its pros and cons. In fact, I think Naomi goes after the study's author for some of the study's false assumptions.

Oct. 20 2011 02:17 PM
Judy from Oceanside, NY

Hey, folks! Wait a minute -- isn't WQXR exactly the kind of arts organization this study is decrying? Since you are not a concert hall but a radio station, I can't possibly know if your audience is mostly white, and mostly wealthy, but I can hazard a guess! I find the whole thrust of this study completely offensive, but maybe Dorfman's point is I shouldn't contribute to your current fund drive.

Oct. 20 2011 01:51 PM
Asuncion M. Ferrer from Sacramento, CA

If that is the case, why not go out and protest the humongous fees paid to sport personalities or to rock singers and, for that matter, to the movie stars who so much defend a socialist way of life (for others), such as Sean Penn, to name just one. The list has no end.

Oct. 20 2011 01:19 PM
David from Flushing

This problem will largely resolve itself in about 20 years when the youngest of the present concert hall audience is dead. There may still be some unemployed classical musicians around to buy tickets, but not many others.

Oct. 19 2011 06:17 PM

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WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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