This is what happens when arts funding is outsourced

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to bring US-style arts philanthropy to Britain. If New York is anything to go by it would be a disaster, says Clemency Burton-Hill

It's a baking hot afternoon in New York and I'm standing in line at TKTS, commonly known as "the half-price ticket booth" in Times Square, crossing my fingers that the theatre ticket I am after will be a) available and b) offered at a price that is at least vaguely near the half-price mark. TKTS hovers close to the trading-on-false-pretences boundary, as its discounts are usually more like 20 per cent, but a discount is a discount, and I have guiltily taken the afternoon off in order to wait here, patiently, among the tourists and the flashing neon lights, for a few hours.

If I told you that I'd already seen the play in question – Red, by John Logan – three times in London, would you think I was mad? You might if I told you that the combined ticket price of those three trips (£78) still wouldn't quite add up to how much a single ticket for its Broadway incarnation – same play, same cast – costs ($126 and a $4.50 fee, or £82).

But I loved the play and am curious to see it again in New York, the city in which it is set, and in which I currently live. Eventually, I reach the front of the queue and am offered a mid-range seat for $95 – more than my weekly household grocery budget. Biting the bullet and banishing the sickening thought that the top-price seat at London's Donmar Warehouse, where the play originated, cost £26, I hand over the money and head for the Golden Theater on 45th Street.

Welcome to New York, one of the cultural capitals of the world; a culture funded overwhelmingly by philanthropy and private sponsorship and presumably, therefore, the sort of model Jeremy Hunt had in mind when he recently announced his intention to slash the UK culture budget by up to 50 per cent, asking the arts world to lean more on individual and corporate donors. Supposing this were possible, what would this new funding model really mean for Britain's culture? New York is the ideal city from which to explore the question of what happens to the arts when private money runs the show.

In New York there are 36 Broadway theatres, 370 non-profit theatres, 95 orchestras, 330 dance companies, and 1,000-odd galleries and museums, although it's hard to keep exact track. As with so many other things in the city, whatever you're seeking you can probably find it, but you have to be able to pay for it.

Art here is eye-wateringly, and often prohibitively, expensive. In London this summer you can see the finest musicians in the world for £5 at the Proms; plays that will end up on Broadway for £10 at the National Theatre; an opera at Covent Garden for the same; and your pick of world-class museums and galleries for free.

In New York, the average Broadway ticket is $120; a trip to the Metropolitan Opera will realistically set you back between $100 and $250 unless you can afford to take time off work to queue for a "rush" ticket; most museums and galleries, even those extravagantly endowed by beneficent individuals, will charge you an admission fee of $20.

When Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters opens in New York later this year, a pair of premium seats will cost more than the weekly wages of some of the staff at Newcastle's Live Theatre, where the play was first staged in 2007.

It's not just Broadway that has to raise its ticket costs: off-Broadway plays and the equivalents in music, dance and jazz are all depressingly pricey – and therefore have a nasty air of exclusivity about them that runs counter to the spirit of the art being produced.

This is an inevitable consequence of the cross-sector non-public funding model. "We're not eligible for government funding, so 100 per cent of our business is ticket sales," explains Scott Morfee, a producer at the Barrow Street Theatre, one of New York's many small independent non-profit theatres producing stellar work and whose equivalent in the UK would invariably be supported by the Arts Council. That business model is all very well when people are happy to pay for such tickets, but what happens when times are tough? "When the recession hit, it felt insurmountable," Morfee admits.

The downturn was felt across the industry, with numerous "bellweather" productions and arts institutions

forced to close and many mourning the passing of a glorious, diverse age in New York's non-profit cultural community. "This has been a difficult time," says Ken Davenport, a producer known as the "PT Barnum of off-Broadway". "When a flood hits a town, it hits the villagers first, not the house on the hill."

His counterpart Todd Haimes, the artistic director of Roundabout, one of New York's most successful independent theatre companies, chooses another metaphor, but the implication is the same. "It was literally like falling off a cliff," he says. "Nobody saw the depression coming, we couldn't prepare for it. The government has largely been out of the funding business for many years, which leaves corporate and institutional giving. But that has almost dried to extinction. In the 1980s, it was considered almost a necessity for corporations to give philanthropic dollars ... now subscriptions are down and our endowments have plummeted 40 to 50 per cent."

Such circumstances require grimly pragmatic responses. "We've cut staff, we've cut salaries, we've chosen not to cut content; spiritually, that would have been cutting off our nose to spite our face," he explains. "But we make smaller shows, and we have to cut things like health and pension contributions."

New York is no longer a city in the grip of recession; yet alarmingly, especially in a society in which cultural philanthropy is a long-established tradition – unlike the UK – the upswing has not yet made itself felt in renewed arts contributions. "In the short term at least, it does not seem people's mindsets are changing, philanthropically," Haimes says. "Even the businesses that are picking up, like Goldman Sachs, are not yet coming back to philanthropy."

If the non-profits are most vulnerable in these circumstances, even the "houses on the hill" remain exposed. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, one of the best-endowed arts institutions in the world, quips: "We are living in a post-September 15th world." Evidently, after Lehman Brothers collapsed, New York's philanthropic scene took a drastic turn for the worse. "All companies with limited endowments live hand-to-mouth, always," Gelb says, "but right now very few people or corporations are interested in giving money to the arts."

If you were running a company, wouldn't you be grateful if they did? Wouldn't you do whatever they asked? The inevitable artistic compromises that this dependency on the private model entails may go some way to explaining why New York ends up inviting so many shows first staged in UK-subsidised theatres to its shores.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific