Sunday, August 02, 2015

Richard Taruskin on how the high arts world in America took the gravy train for granted
Especially in New York, then, the period roughly from the founding of Lincoln Center to Black Monday in 1987 was a golden age for art producers. Major organizations used public subsidies to supplement private donations and vastly improve the working conditions of their employees. Tiny groups, including several in which I then participated as a performing musician, proliferated. And I have not even mentioned the corporate foundations, which also mushroomed both in number and in lavishness of largesse. The Ford Foundation, the biggest one pre-Gates, had been founded in 1936 to "strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement." It took up the cause of the arts, including classical music, in the late 1950s. The Rockefeller Foundation, a much older organization, got on the arts bandwagon in connection with Lincoln Center. In the 1980s, the big name was Citicorp. During this period, as Tindall comments, "most performing arts groups were subsidized by unearned donated income, as well as tax incentives, and therefore did not always have to link revenue to the quantity, quality, or type of product they offered."

As long as this gravy train lasted, the attrition of the audience could be overlooked. The result of living for three decades in a fool's paradise was a vast overpopulation of classical musicians as many more were trained, and briefly employed, than a market economy could bear. The cutbacks that seemed to imply the sudden cruel rejection of classical music were really more in the nature of a market correction, reflecting the present scarcity of patronage and a long-deferred confrontation with the changed realities of demand.

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