...because we're bold

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

With Great Funding Comes Great Responsibility.

It seems as if the theatre community in Pittsburgh is in a general uproar over the decision of the Pittsburgh Opera to honor Governor Corbett for his contributions to education. That being said, his main "contribution" to education in Pennsylvania was to cut the school budgets by almost a billion dollars. Therein lies the rub, why would the Opera honor a politician for his axe?

I believe this situation deals largely with the delicate position most theatre companies, (and indeed all artists face) when dealing with funding. This instance can trace its origins to a simple conflict of interest. It is the role of the artist to act as a provocateur, but many donors in the private sector (especially corporations) have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. This places the artists in a precarious position, having to choose between artistic integrity and financial solvency.

In this particular instance, I do understand the financial goals of the Opera. Governor Corbett and his wife have been involved with the company for the past decade, and it is natural that the Corbetts would expect some sort of thanks in regards to their previous contributions. It would naturally follow that with those honors going out, the Opera would expect further contributions from the Governor in the future. Nothing is truly notable about this, as this sort of situation occurs in the arts constantly.

The issue becomes a problem, however, as a company picks up the baggage that comes with a donation. This is not a legal situation, but strictly an ethical one. A company has a need to maintain relationships with their donors, as a relationship is an excellent way to establish continued funding. However, in most situations, the need to maintain this company-donor relationship is to make some sort of artistic concession. For a completely hypothetical example, say I had received funding from a far right religious organization. I imagine that would have a few problems if I then decided to stage Agnes of God, Doubt, or The Laramie Project. Most likely, they would threaten to pull their funding for the next time. Therefore, I would be left with a choice, to have financial backing (which does make everything much easier) or to maintain artistic integrity, and personal agency, to be allowed to act as the provocateur that an artist needs to be?

I realize I am oversimplifying the situation, and this may very well be the case. While it is easy to kick sand in the face of the Opera at a time while they are already under fire, I refuse to sit here and state that I would not make the same choice that they did. Artistic Directors are human as well. While I do not think the Opera made a very good decision, I do understand their reasoning. I would like to think that I would have chosen a different path, but who doesn't? I won't make such a statement until both paths are laid out. In the end, yes, the Pittsburgh Opera did damage their reputation slightly as artists. However, by remaining solvent, they ensured that they will continue to produce in the future. The Pittsburgh Opera made a choice, and they must now live with it. This is the danger of receiving funding from the private sector, as the once free artist is now burdened with a debt they must repay.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the Opera is just satisfying their Board of directors who helped get Corbett elected, or the Opera wants to keep that steady stream of cash coming in through state RCAP dollars like the previous 1.5 million received for their new building. Tell me is the Opera a tax exempt organization.