Commentary: Where would Broadway be without the British taxpayer?

Michael Billington, The Guardian, 6/13/11

I ask because it always strikes me as faintly ironic that the most flagrantly commercial theatre district on earth depends heavily on imports from the British subsidised sector. Now the point is confirmed by this year's Tony awards in New York. War Horse, which started at the National Theatre, has just won for best play, direction, design, sound and lighting - in other words, every category for which it was nominated.  Meanwhile, Mark Rylance won best actor for his virtuoso performance in Jerusalem, a product of the Royal Court.  It was a bumper night for the British.  What is striking is that both War Horse and Jerusalem were products of the long gestation periods that only subsidised theatre can provide.  [And] they are both products of a wide-ranging subsidised system that is increasingly under threat. Everything is interdependent. If the National and the Royal Court triumph at the Tonys, it is only because of the continuing survival of regional and fringe theatre. But for how much longer will this apply?  If we starve the grassroots, if we make it more difficult for young actors, directors and designers to kickstart their careers and if we assume that theatre depends wholly on high-profile institutions, we will pay a high price.  In the succinct words of [NT director] Nicholas Hytner: "Subsidy works."  And I don't believe you could have better proof of that than the gongs handed out to British artists on Broadway on Sunday night. Behind them lies an intricate, subsidised network, the very existence of which, because of insane government policy, is currently imperilled.


A new website will catalogue impact of UK arts funding cuts

The Guardian, 6/12/11

An online initiative to catalogue the impact of [UK] arts funding cuts is being launched on Wednesday by the Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU), comprising the Musicians' Union, [British Actors] Equity, the Writers' Guild, the NUJ, Bectu, Unite, Prospect and PCS.  Entitled Lost Arts, the website will record and catalogue all the projects, events, initiatives, performances, organisations and companies that will be lost due to cuts in public funding.  It will also keep a running total of the revenue lost to the arts and the Treasury, as well as the jobs under threat over the years to 2015.  The FEU's main concern is that the level of funding for arts and culture that existed prior to the change in government will not be reinstated at the end of the current period of reduced funding.  John Smith, president of the FEU, said: "Every £1 invested in the arts produces £2 for the economy, and yet the arts and culture sector is currently suffering from disastrous local authority cuts, as well as the cuts that the Arts Council has had to make after its 30% cut from the government," he said. "The reality is that these cuts signal the start of the end for many organisations, and we want to make sure that these losses are documented. By keeping an account of the damage done on the Lost Arts website, we hope to win the argument for public funding of the arts once and for all." 


Commentary: Where would U.S. dance be without subsidized European system?

Zachary Whittenburg, Time Out Chicago, 5/18/11

You might call Czech artist Jirí Kylián the Christopher Nolan of dance: Only an infrastructure developed over a century (the state-supported European concert-dance system, or "dance's Hollywood," as I'll call it) allows him to create as big as he thinks (dances such as Bella Figura and 27'52" are akin to The Dark Knight and Inception).  In this analogy, the world-renowned Nederlands Dans Theater, based in the Hague and Kylián's artistic home for more than three decades, would be Warner Bros.  It faces an uncertain future: The cultural council of Holland recently proposed cuts of up to half its annual budget. (The Dutch National Ballet, the country's largest dance company, faces a 26% amputation.)  Just as European cinemas rely heavily on the fruits of Hollywood, American dance companies often turn to works made in Europe when seeking bankable returns on carefully made investments.  Dance without the boundary-pushing creations made in Europe would be like film without Hollywood. Which isn't to say that dance performances need to be expensive. It's about preserving an art form's ability to think big.  Will the next generation of artists even attempt to create immersive, avant-garde dance-theater experiences?


Dutch government to take a 'big bang' approach to arts funding cuts

Dutch News, 6/10/11

The [Dutch] cabinet is ignoring Arts Council advice and will press ahead with the big bang approach to cutting spending on the arts - [a cut of] just under 25% from the arts and culture budget.   The Council was commissioned by culture minister Halbe Zijlstra to look at how spending can be cut by €125m a year from 2013 - on top of the €75m in savings he has already pushed through.  In its recommendations, the Council said the cuts are so severe that they should be phased in gradually, starting with €72m in 2013.  In total, subsidies for the visual arts and orchestras should be cut by one third while the performing arts, museums, libraries and films should get 25% less funding, the Council said.  The government has already put up value added tax on theatre tickets from 6% to 19% in July, the start of the new season. Cinema, circuses and sports events still fall under the 6% tax rate.  The planned cuts in arts spending were widely condemned when they were first announced in October. And Zijlstra was heavily criticised in January when he said the public rather than experts would decide what is 'good art'.  

Update: Nationally-important arts and cultural institutions will be largely unaffected by far-ranging cuts in spending on culture, minister Halbe Zijlstra said Friday.  'The cabinet has opted not to slice spending across every sector but to make clear choices,' Zijlstra said.  The number of orchestras will be reduced from 10 to seven, 3 of the seven national dance troupes will go, 1 of the three opera companies will be cut and 3 rather than five film festivals will get government support.  28 museums will continue to get funding but will be required to raise at least 17.5% of their budgets from private sources.


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Commentary: Despite last-minute reprieve from cuts, Italian opera is hardly safe

Silvia Luraghi, June 2011 issue of Opera News

He may look quite operatic, but Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is hardly an opera buff -- and accordingly, the Italian opera scene is definitely not thriving. This is true of the nation's culture in general: the powerful minister of finance, Giulio Tremonti, flatly stated that one cannot eat culture and proceeded to slash funding for the arts, education and research. The owner of three major commercial TV networks, Berlusconi views culture as tiresome, dusty and ultimately useless, as opposed to the glittering world of prime-time TV.  Since Berlusconi took leadership, the country has witnessed an escalating war on culture, fueled by the media that Berlusconi controls and disguised as an attempt to modernize the nation. Italy's fourteen Fondazioni Lirico-Sinfoniche ([opera] companies with at least a tenured orchestra, chorus and sometimes ballet), some of which have been on the verge of bankruptcy for decades, now face the final battle for survival. Under the 2011 budget, government funding to the performing arts was slashed by 40%. Panic set in. Since opera companies receive more than half of their income from state funding, the devastating impact of these cuts was obvious: opera houses would not have been able to reopen following the summer break. Of all Italy's arts leaders, only Riccardo Muti, in a private meeting hosted by Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno, seemed to have any persuasive effect on Tremonti; just days later, the government announced it would -- for now -- restore funding to last year's level. The solution: to eliminate the cuts by increasing gasoline taxes. This decision is hardly likely to boost the swiftly declining popularity of opera companies, and consumer groups have already launched their protests. The cut may have been canceled, but how safe will [opera] companies be in the future?

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