A Bad Idea In Michigan

There’s an article in today’s Detroit Free Press by Frank Provenzano and Mark Stryker about a plan in Michigan to introduce a new tax that would raise and distribute funds to arts groups across the state.


According to the article the legislation being introduced by state Sen. Shirley Johnson:



” calls for a 5-percent statewide tax on tickets to college and professional sports and many arts and entertainment events, including rock and symphony concerts, theater productions and museum exhibits.
The tax would generate estimated revenues of at least $50 million, of which $30 million to $35 million would be funneled into arts grants. An additional $5 million would go to for-profit venues for economic development projects. A yet-to-be-determined portion would go to universities for scholarships.”


This is just a bad idea, regardless of how many good intentions are behind the idea.  I remember years back when the city of Denver decided to build a new baseball stadium for their franchise expansion baseball team, The Rockies. 


In order to pay for the stadium the city enacted a tax on all entertainment events to help subsidize the cost of the stadium.  That means the cost of an orchestra went up just to help out the baseball team.


There’s nothing good about that situation no matter which way you turn it.  It’s wrong to force orchestra patrons to pay for sporting venues and sporting fans to pay for arts funding.  It’s nothing more than a representative example of the old saying “two wrongs don’t make a right.”


All entertainment organizations, sports and the arts, need to rely on finding a steady source of income on their own, not from forced donations or mandatory taxation.


Michigan State Senator Johnson was quoted in the paper as saying:



“This bill creates a model for arts funding that would put Michigan in the national forefront “


It sounds more like state Senator Shirley Johnson is interested in putting state Senator Shirley Johnson in the national forefront rather than a model for arts funding to me. 


Although it’s too late in Denver to change the past, I hope Michigan doesn’t walk down the same road.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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