Keeping the arts alive, even in a recession
Randy Cohen, vice president of local arts advancement for Americans for the Arts.
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: So if that's how the recession is hitting boards in Britain, what is the story like here, where arts funding comes from ticket buyers and -- even more than that -- private donors?
My guest is Randy Cohen, with the national nonprofit group Americans for the Arts. Welcome.
Randy Cohen: Thank you. Good to be here.
Radke: What do you think of the assertion you just heard, that the British system of government support produces risky, innovative art? Is American art less innovative?
Cohen: No, no. The art is very innovative here in the United States. And even in a down economy, we see arts organizations still doing premieres, still doing new work. I don't think we'll ever see a significant decrease in innovation in the arts. Now, that said, when contributed support to the arts decreases, you will see arts organizations sometimes going to more popular kinds of presentations. You know, you look at the typical ballet company in this country, a big piece of its revenue stream is "The Nutcracker" around the holidays.
Radke: And is that a trend, "The Nutcracker"-ization of the arts in America, in this recession?
Cohen: It's hard to say. I think you see some arts organizations keeping up a much closer eye on the public demand. I think arts organizations need to focus on "how do we increase demand to meet the existing capacity of arts organization?" And there are also arts organizations are keeping an eye on private sector giving and the trends there. We've seen actually over the last decade, a decrease in the share of business giving going to the arts. And in this recession, in fact -- obviously, the economy has hurt things -- but the finance sector has always been the strongest within the business sector of giving to the arts. And of course, they've been hit the hardest.
Radke: The finance sector, you mean Wall Street is the biggest patron of the arts?
Cohen: Yes, among corporations, finance sector's always been very strong in supporting the arts. So, it's a bit of a double hit. But overall, what we're seeing is the business sector moving their support out of the charitable giving budgets and more towards marketing-based and sponsorship-oriented budgets. And what that does, that enables businesses to support the arts, as well as advance their business, to build markets, to get greater visibility for their investment in the arts. And so it's less of a pure philanthropic contribution, it's more purposeful.
Also, though, what we're seeing is an overall shift towards social services, human needs, that type of thing. So I think that's another issue that a lot of arts organizations are facing, as they look at where the contributed dollars are going.
Radke: Well, this is part of your job, Randy, to make the case -- and I want to know how you do it -- make the case to companies that right now, in this recession, slump, that the arts, that a new opera is more important than supporting a food bank or job training.
Cohen: Well, and it's all important, and a healthy society has food and shelter, needs being met. It also has a vibrant arts community, because the arts are fundamental component of our humanity. It's not an either/or situation. That said, arts organizations are needing to help funders understand the value they bring to the community. And so, while that great opera performance, or that great museum exhibition helps improve our quality of life, it provides other benefits as well. There's 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations. That supports 5.7 million jobs in this country. If you're a company or a government worried about jobs, that makes the arts a smart investment.
Radke: Randy Cohen with Americans for the Arts. Thanks a lot.
Cohen: Thanks for having me.