The 7/30/2015 edition of The Stage published an article by Alistair Smith (h/t Musical America) that reports on high levels of anxiety throughout the UK’s arts organizations in the wake of national elections that generated candidates supporting substantial cuts to existing arts funding.
George Osborne [the UK’s counterpart to US Secretary of the Treasury] announced last week that non-protected government departments should start preparing themselves for two scenarios – cuts of 25% and 40%. Clearly, either of these levels of cuts will cause major upheaval if passed on to Arts Council England [ACE] and then to the companies it funds. And, it’s worth pointing out that after a series of cuts to both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and ACE’s administration, one would expect a greater proportion of any reduction to be passed on than in previous spending rounds.
So, what would a 40% cut mean for the arts? Closures would be inevitable. There would have to be a new approach to arts funding from the arts council. A rehashing of the status quo would not be an option.
It should come as no surprise that government funding is just as tenuous as private donor and investment revenue streams but that doesn’t seem to stop those in the US nonprofit arts sector from salivating at the bell of increased public arts funding.
And for those with long enough memories, there are examples of groups that caught in the snare of government funding that fell through in the eleventh hour. One of the biggest dollar examples in the last decade is from the mid 2000’s when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), then under the executive leadership of Allison Vulgamore, saw its ambitious capital campaign project for a new Santiago Calatrava designed concert hall fall apart thanks to a funding plan that hinged on 1/3 of total funding to come from combined government sources (spoiler: the support fell through).
We examined that scenario when it unfolded as well as the subsequent impact. In many ways, that high risk plan which depended on securing government funding served as the catalyst for a downward spiral that ended up with the ASO enduring two bitter labor disputes and a series of budget reductions.
In the end, this example alongside recent concerns in the UK simply reinforces the understanding that no single revenue stream is foolproof and organizations have the best chance to survive and thrive by remaining flexible and diversified. Think of it as the arts org equivalent of eat less and exercise; sure some folks will swear by the Paleo diet but in the end, it doesn’t replace the fundamentals.