This is a snapshot of a post. It’s the product of an hour or two of research, and I’ll probably come back to the topic soon, and in more detail. For now, here’s a sketch of an infuriating situation.

I always knew that theatres in the English speaking world in general, and in Canada in particular, operate under very different conditions than companies in my country of birth, Germany. But until today, I didn’t really understand just how astonishingly huge those differences are. Prompted by an article in the Guardian, in which Lyn Gardner argued that Shakespeare was over-subsidized in the UK, was, indeed, the “most subsidised playwright in the world,” I decided to look into public funding for theatres elsewhere “in the world.”

Gardner’s claim for Shakespeare’s unparalleled government support rests on the £16 million annual subsidy the Royal Shakespeare Company receives (roughly £14 million of which come from the Arts Council); we might add the National Theatre into the mix, since they also stage his plays with some frequency — that’s roughly another £19 million. Overall, in 2011/12,the Arts Council of England supported theatres to the tune of around £100 million — more or less 50% of their operating costs, or £8.29 per ticket sold. Shakespeare takes up a significant chunk of that, but I’m not really interested in that issue per se. The overall figure is what matters to me: £100 million pounds, nationwide. 16 theatres received more than £1 million.

Now compare this with what’s going on in Germany.

In 2009/10 (the most recent data I could find), 140 companies received 2.17 billion Euros in federal, state, and municipal subsidies, while making just under 500 million Euros in ticket sales. In other words, state funding covered over 80% of their operating costs, to the tune of 109 Euros per ticket sold.

Now, to be fair, those figures include all kinds of performance venues and genres, opera houses and orchestras as well as theatres. Looking at the Arts Council statistics from a similarly broad perspective brings the two funding systems into slightly closer alignment: with c. £278 million of support (about 350 million Euros), England spends about 16% as much as Germany on its performance artists. To put all of this into perspective another way, the Donmar Warehouse, one of London’s most innovative and consistently successful not-for-profit theatres, received around half a million pounds this year from the Arts Council. The local theatre in my small hometown in Northern Bavaria received just under a million Euros from the Bavarian government in 2010 — and it was among the two or three least well-funded theatres in the entire state.

This kind of funding naturally makes theatre accessible. Across all performance genres, the average ticket price in Germany hovered around 25 Euros — but that’s including opera tickets. Theatre tickets can always be had for under 20 Euros. Attendance varies widely from region to region, but in the major cities, traditional theatres average houses well over 70%. In 2009/10, over 5 million individuals saw a traditional play, while over 4 million people went to an opera performance.

As importantly, such funding also provides jobs for artists — over 2000 actors were employed by German theatres in 2009/10 (not counting the many thousands of singers, dancers, and chorus members). And a well-funded theatre system is an engine of creativity: that year alone saw over 1400 new professional productions of plays, 72 in Berlin alone. Of course that’s only a fraction of the overall number of productions, with remounts accounting for a significantly larger number. And none of these figures include for-profit stages or fringe theatre companies.

So that’s what theatrical paradise looks like.

And then I thought I’d have a quick look at the three main funding bodies Toronto theatres rely on, the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. Here’s what I found (I know this will be old news to many readers. I, however, was gobsmacked):

Canada Council operating support for professional theatre organizations in Canada in 2010: $22 million.

For over 180 companies. That’s an average of just over 120,000 per organization. Stratford is the only company that breaks the million-dollar barrier, but only just. CanStage gets just over half a million dollars (hey, not much less than the Donmar!).

Then there’s the Ontario Arts Council, which chips in almost $5 million more, and quite a bit more for so-called “anchor organizations,” $12.5 million.

And if you’re in Toronto, there was another $2.5 million available for theatre organizations in 2010 — 95 of them — plus another million or so for “large institutions” (basically CanStage, the Harbourfront Centre, and Soulpepper). The only adult company receiving more than $200,000 from the TAC was CanStage.

To sum up: Arts Council England funding for theatre — £100 million, or about CAN$156 million. German public funding for performance arts: 2.17 billion Euros, or about CAN$2.7 billion. Canada Council funding for performance arts (including dance and music): CAN$54 million, $22 million of which goes to theatre companies. And funding for Toronto theatre: $11 million.

Put another way, England (not the UK) spends about $8 per capita on all the performing arts; Germany well over $30. In Berlin, with a population of 3.5 million, public funds of over $61 per capita are invested in the performing arts. In Toronto, with a population of over 2.6 million, just over $8.5 per capita are available for the same sector. In London, around £44 million in public funds are invested in running theatre companies — about £5.9 per capita (just over CAN$9). In Toronto, it’s less than half that much, just over $4.2.

So the next time I wonder why we can’t have nice things — fully employed actors; well-equipped performance spaces; freedom to experiment; adequate rehearsal periods; a rich, varied, and comprehensive repertory; a public able to afford theatre tickets — I will, sadly, remember the answer. Nice things cost money. Not exorbitant amounts of money (one or two fewer fighter jets would make all the difference). But still, apparently, too much.

One Response to Theatre and Money

  1. Sasha Kovacs says:

    Hi Holger,

    This is a line of research that need be done. However, I am weary of a comparative approach that doesn’t also account for the structures by which each of these state funding organizations operates, reviews and distributes. Sure, we might applaud other states for their abundant funding per capita. And I by no means am suggesting that we be satisfied with the current funding standards. However, how we approach funding in this country is unique. A risky comment: we might do less, but we do less better. A proposal: if we want to do more, we should try to do it the right way.

    In 1989 Duncan M. Webb published a very illuminating study of Arts Funding in Canada that might be beneficial to your project. Most revealing in this study is what I like to call the ‘Canadian Difference’- that is, unlike other models for funding (he names these: the ‘facilitator’ state, the ‘architect’ state, and the ‘engineer’ state), the Canadian Arts Councils position themselves as the ‘patron’ state. The essential difference is the arm’s length organization. But it a difference that has enormous consequences. In this model, the criteria for the works ‘value’ is developed and subsequently evaluated by the artistic community (trustees and fellow artists that are supposedly isolated from government interests). It’s meant to protect the work, and the artists themselves. It’s meant to develop standards from within the community. Whether or not it’s still successful in securing this autonomy is suspect. Nevertheless, it’s essential to understanding our country’s approach. It means, I’d argue, the creation of different kind of work.

    I think this conversation is essential because I hear a lot of artists ask for more with statistics like you propose in hand. I also hear a lot of my students say ‘well, in Canada we can’t do work like they do in Germany because we don’t have the same kind of money’. I agree, of course. Time, as you’ve remarked on your blog, is tied to economies. So sure, let’s rally for more. But I also want us to think about HOW we get ‘more money’. How we organize the distribution of that money. I’m thinking about Canada Heritage here. Of course we all raised our needy hands in thanks when Minister Moore announced “a renewal of funding” on June 26 2009. But what kind of funding? We then get the Canadian Heritage Presentation Fund. Summerwokrs benefitted from that money, sure. In 2010-2011 the reports cited that they were given $45,000 for programming related activity. But the year after we all know what happened. ( Remember: Funding got cut, allegedly (but no doubt) the result of programming that was too challenging for the government to support. The arts community came under attack for producing ‘terrorist plays’. Comments on blogs and ridiculous articles in the Toronto Sun raged. Artists and supporters came together to support the exceptional programming and artistic merit of the festival.

    And now this year, the funding’s back so everything is alright.”Good News” Torontoist claims ( Really though? Isn’t the money still subject to the whims and fancy of a fickle benefactor? So they all kissed and made up? But can we count on this as the operating structure for our culture institutions?

    The moral of these stories, for me, was that we need to protect the patron state model that has been developed, and that has subsequently protected artists. We have these kinds of ‘protections’ in academia. It’s so that we can do the difficult research and talk about the tough ideas without persecutions and threat of unemployment (supposedly). Would we sacrifice those protections for ‘more’? For another research assistant? I don’t think any responsible thinker would because we wouldn’t be doing the research we wanted to do.

    So it’s not just about making more money available. I don’t want to make art about the War of 1812 for a year because Harper says it’s good for the country. I fear the cry for ‘more money’, or money equal to that of our colleagues across the pond without a necessary proposal that protects the arm’s length structure is a serious misdirection.

    So let’s keep comparing numbers. But let’s also look to the more invisible structures that distribute the cash.

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