Comment: It’s time to line our arts patrons up on stage before the music starts

How much are we prepared to pay for art music?

It has cost the Philadelphia Orchestra $10 million (U.S.) to restructure itself over a period of 14 months. The musicians have taken a pay cut, and Kimmel Center managers traded reduced rent for the storied symphony for the virtual disappearance of classical programming from its music season.

The orchestra is, officially, out of bankruptcy protection, but, as Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Peter Dobrin wrote yesterday, there’s still a lot of behind-the-scenes arranging of endowment monies and creditors’ claims to deal with.

Imagine spending $10 million to clean house. Businesses do it all the time, but their money was (hopefully) earned, and not presented as a gift with a particular purpose.

The pot-holed path most arts presenters are on in these culturally and economically uncertain times should help remind us of the true cost of high culture, but it probably doesn’t.

The combination of government grants and patronage by private individuals and businesses subsidizes the cost of every concert ticket and nearly every classical music album. Because this happens behind the scenes and is acknowledged in fine print at the back of the programme, most listeners and audience members take this support for granted.

Think about it: A few select individuals, foundations and corporations give away several millions of dollars every year to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the National Ballet of Canada and every one of the dozens of smaller music and dance presenters — not to mention theatres and museums — in order to allow as many people as possible to experience and enjoy higher culture.

And these are not one-time gifts; development managers have to return year after year after year with their visions and plans and dreams to convince patrons to keep on giving.

One day, when I have the time, I want to sit down and add up a season’s worth of private support for classical music and opera in one season. I’ll precede it with a little contest to see who can come closest to guessing what the actual amount is, so we can all behold what I’m assuming is a Grand Canyon of disconnect between perception and reality.

The real point I’m trying to lead to is to ask what happens in a world where more and more people expect to enjoy their music for free?

I’ve written many times before how we don’t have to fear for an audience for classical music. But I think we do need to fear expectations — of free access, unleavened by knowledge of how much someone else it taking out of their pocket in order to ensure this can happen.

Mr X loves the artist so much that he has covered their fee, airfare and accommodations, Mme E has sponsored the seat in the hall, the W Foundation has covered the rental costs, and ABC Bank’s sponsorship provides for the extras. So, please, enjoy the music.

Here is what I think needs to happen: Every concert presenter should, several times a season, line up all the people responsible for making that event financially possible on stage before the music begins, holding up a sign that says, we paid for half of your concert ticket — and you’re welcome.

The alternative is that no one will realise that arts money is finite until the Baby Boomers expire, or the 1 per cent earnings on their investments get the better of their chequebooks.

John Terauds


4 thoughts on “Comment: It’s time to line our arts patrons up on stage before the music starts

  1. You’re right — many people don’t give enough thought to the role private donors play. And I’m all in favour of recognizing them for their contributions. But putting them up on stage? I hope not. The stage is for the artists, and writing a big cheque doesn’t turn someone into an artist.

  2. If I give the TSO a hundred dollars or so each year(and I do) and similarly the National Ballet, the Tarragon Theatre, and so on, this is already a much more substantial contribution in terms of the money I have available than a wealthy patron giving twenty thousand dollars. I don’t expect recognition, but to give it to them because they are richer than I am is simply to reward wealth. Don’t we already kowtow to them enough, give them enough tax breaks, and pretend they are finer people because of their riches?
    I think it’s great that they help bring the arts to our city, but there are few who could arrange a live symphony performance any other way. They’re stuck with this model; at least a few are helping pay for it.

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