June 22, 2011

Real Star of Tony Awards: Public Arts Funding

The Royal Court Theatre, a non-commercial theatre on Sloane Square
in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

"It's about backing people at the start of the journey, when no one's heard of them and the idea doesn't yet hold water..."

--From the Tony-award-winning British director Tom Morris (War Horse)

Samuel West, a British actor, has written a post for the theatre blog of the popular UK media outlet, The Guardian. The title of the post is The real star of the Tony theatre awards? The British taxpayer.

The post underscores the critical role public funding for the arts can play in a society. Here is an excerpt:

This country doesn't manufacture much any more, but theatre-making is one activity where we can and do lift trophies. So why aren't we more proud of this profitable industry? Why is there no coherent UK arts policy? Why has our Prime Minister, to my knowledge, not once mentioned the arts since he came to power? Subsidy is the lifeblood of the British theatre. As Tom Morris told me after his win, "It ain't about the Tonys, it's about backing people at the start of the journey, when no one's heard of them and the idea doesn't yet hold water." No-one knows from where the next War Horse or Jerusalem will come, but it'll come from somewhere. Except that, one day, maybe it won't.

One of the things I love about this post is that it ties public arts funding (the Brits call it subsidy) to increased access to and affordability of arts programming.

The funding the Oklahoma Legislature provides to the Oklahoma Arts Council in countless ways helps ensure that arts and culture are available to all members of a society not just those who can afford to pay for it. They primarily do this by providing grants to arts organizations, schools and libraries for arts programming. In turn, those organizations are required to report their audience numbers and account for their outreach efforts (among other things).

The Oklahoma Arts Council's mission gives Oklahomans for the Arts its purpose and focus: bolstering, fortifying, preserving access to the arts for ALL Oklahomans by supporting through advocacy efforts public funding for the arts.

As West said, "There's no greater threat to the idea that art is for everyone than the cutting of subsidy."