In Case You Were Wondering If The Grass Was Greener

The debate between which arts funding systems work best is nearly self-perpetuating. Based on overall dollars spent per-capita, there are two frontrunners: the US and German systems.

While this is a tremendous oversimplification, the major difference between the two is the US system relies funding from private resources while the German model depends on government funding.

That difference is rooted in the birth of nonprofit status in the US. Interestingly enough, we touched on this very subject in a Shop Talk Ep. 02, Art Has Always Been Political, a few months ago. In a nutshell, nonprofit status evolved out of a conscious decision to limit federal government spending after Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1913.

There was a fundamental understanding that the money class would fund things like arts and culture instead of the government. As a reward, they received a deduction for their largess. This provided a control measure for keeping federal government expenses low and therefore cap the need to increase income tax rates.

While those involved at the time simply understood the one percenters of their era would pony up the dough, they failed to put measures in place to assure that spicket remained open during emergencies…like a pandemic.

On the other side of that coin, my blogging colleague, Joe Patti, published an article this week that examines the decision by Germany’s government to create a $2.5 billion cancellation fund capable of allowing event organizers to plan shows in the third and fourth quarter of 2021 with some confidence by promising to cover any COVID related losses.

If that weren’t enough, reports there are also plans under way to provide funding to mitigate against losses due to capacity restrictions.

In the end, I’m always one to bet that systems are only as good as the people involved but this does demonstrate that while governments are far from a safe bet, they are still required to discuss funding changes. In the US model, the money class can simply bow out without worrying about similar public pressures.

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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