In a recent article by Clay Shirky about how newspapers are going to figure out their future in terms of revenue, I thought just how much it could apply to many non-profit arts organizations.
In many ways, especially for service organizations, they face a very similar situation. In their case, their subscribers are their members.
Here is the last paragraph from the article.
“It will take time for the economic weight of those users to affect the organizational form of the paper, but slowly slowly, form follows funding. For the moment at least, the most promising experiment in user support means forgoing mass in favor of passion; this may be the year where we see how papers figure out how to reward the people most committed to their long-term survival.”
The key phrase was “form follows funding.”
This is a complex article, but well worth it. You can read it here.
As public funding dries up I think arts organizations will need to look at what their “form” is and will be forced to sink or swim on a new model. Yes, we can scream and kick, but without public funding support the form of the organizations (the way they’ve operated) that have followed the funding are going to be shaken.
In Canada, here is what the Federal Minister of Heritage James Moore said in a Vancouver Sun article: “Moore underlined the fact organizations matching government support with significant private funding will insulate themselves best from cuts and prosper most during the Conservative era.” Full story here.
My read on this? Arts funding has always been political. The pendulum has shifted and we have in Canada a Conservative Government (and in BC a conservative government even though their name is “Liberal”) that a) doesn’t like funding arts and b) wants everything to be run like a business.
The good news is, “Culture” will not die because it’s not funded by public money. They know that. It just won’t be the culture that we who work in the culture business want to hear or see.
We will continue to make the solid arguments about why funding arts is valuable both socially and economically and we’ll adapt. Some will suffer and die, others will thrive. We are very lucky to be able to even have this discussion and debate.
PS – we shouldn’t overlook the fact that it is the Department of Canadian Heritage. Heritage being the main word. The current Government really likes “Heritage” whereas the arts are about moving forward. Perhaps it’s no wonder they take money from progressive programs to pay for multi-million dollar War of 1812 projects.