Given the recent round of doom and gloom being pandered throughout the business over large cuts in classical music coverage among traditional media outlets, I thought it would be useful to imagine a brighter future…
If you spend any length of time in this business, you eventually run into the Euro vs. US debate, which essentially breaks down into discussion over which system is better for the arts: a state or privately funded model. Nevertheless, it is one thing to have an intellectual discussion and another to look at some hard figures.
As such, I took a little time and put together some figures which illustrate what the US orchestra business would look like if Federal Government subsidies were more akin to European counterparts by accounting for 35% of a US ensemble’s annual revenue.
To begin with, and since I have all of this data on hand, I tabulated expenditure data from the 2004-2005 season for 76 ICSOM, IGSOBM, and ROPA symphonic orchestras. Next, I correlated this against the breakdown of revenue as presented by the ASOL. Although it is highly unlikely the League’s data associates with the 76 ensembles I used for the expenditure figures (the ASOL data doesn’t indicate which orchestras they used to compile the data) any differences should be relatively negligible for this exercise.
Setting The Scenario
The following chart illustrates how orchestra revenue broke down during the 2004-2005 season for our 76professional symphonic orchestras. Notice that government support accounts for 4% of overall revenue:
Naturally, the government support listed here is the combined Federal, State, and Local figures but since it is so small we’ll just call it “Federal Support” for the sake of simplicity. Next, I imagined how those figures would look if the Federal Government subsidized 35% of orchestra budgets with only one condition: grantees need to adopt an “art for all” policy and reduce existing ticket prices by 50% along with programming one free public concert for every 16 paid concert events.
As such, I reconfigured those revenue categories based on those parameters. In doing so, it made sense that ticket revenue would sharply decline, I imagine it would be at least 50% lower. Additionally, it is fair to assume that contributed income would decrease as some donors are likely to adopt an “if the government is paying for it, why should I?” attitude. Nevertheless, even with that drop in contributed income, donors wouldn’t entirely disappear thanks to good old philanthropic spirit bolstered by tax deductions. The remaining categories would continue mostly unchanged.
Consequently, the following graph illustrates how revenue would look if orchestras received 35%, or $371,852,915, of their annual revenue from direct Federal support:
One important component to keep in mind with this exercise is that overall orchestral expenditures would remain unchanged. I don’t think sizable government subsidies would, or even should, be accompanied by equivalent increases in spending. Instead, the Federal support would subsidize lost revenue from lower ticket prices and lower capital level giving.
All in all, it is a very straight-forward model, one which would allow orchestras to continue operating very much the way the do now albeit without the attendance crisis which would be marginalized by substantially lower ticket prices (thereby relieving other stressors such as decreased value among the cultural consciousness, artistic malaise, etc.).
How Does This Stack Up To Existing Federal Spending?
Although $371 million seems like a great deal of money, in the grand scheme of the US budget, it isn’t. In order to appreciate just how small $371 million is compared to other categories of Federal spending, I dove head first into US Federal Budget via spreadsheets from the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Frankly, I’d be surprised if more than 20% of taxpayers under the age 25 even know what the former Soviet Union is which is nothing to say about any of their independent states (“the Iron What? the What Curtain?”). Furthermore, the orchestra subsidy doesn’t even amount to more than 1/3 of the administrative costs for Farm Income Stabilization operations and who knew the US Patent and Trademark offices had such high personnel costs. Perhaps Big Recording’s efforts to retain their stranglehold on digital media are keeping them flush with work.
Notice that the bar for our $371 million subsidy doesn’t even budge compared to the size and scale of the other categories and amounts for only 1.56 to 11 percent of the other spending. One of the key words you should notice for most of these categories is “discretionary”, meaning the government isn’t required to spend money on any of these items (as they are for Social Security, Parks and Wildlife, etc.).
I particularly like the generic listing for discretionary spending for Legislative branch programs. The budget spreadsheet didn’t even bother to break down that category into subcategories (although they routinely did exactly that for other categories).
Finally, we reach a level in the Federal budget where our $371 million subsidy is barely a fraction of a percentage. The chart below illustrates the $371 million subsidy compared to the largest single Federal expense as well as the entire Federal budget from 2005:
In this final comparison, the $371 million subsidy looks more like a hole in the ground than a comparative category when measured up to discretionary defense spending and the overall Federal budget.
Granted, the overall 2005 budget for the National Endowment for the Arts was $121 million or approximately $250 million less than the orchestra subsidies calculated for this fun exercise. And even though most inside this business would expect to see hell freeze over (or perhaps just the halls of the Internal Revenue Service) before the US Government would subsidize 35% of symphonic orchestra budgets all I have to offer is this: remember, in the end, it is the Federal Government and stranger things have happened.
In the end, all it takes to find Federal funding like this is knowing the right people who are in the right place at the right time. Beyond that, it is all academic.