Too Many Arts Organizations?

editorial
Photo courtesy Microsoft Office
Photo courtesy Microsoft Office

There has been quite the kerfuffle in the arts news rounds about Rocco Landesman’s proclamation that “You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.” In other words, there are too many arts organizations out there for the economic support that is coming in.

In principle, I agree with some of the feedback – mainly ‘who decides on those decreases?’ After all, I’m a big supporter of smaller organizations who may just need a year or five to ‘settle in’ and get those audiences that would support them who do valuable work that may not have a chance if they didn’t have some sort of public assistance. I’m also a big fan of organizations who work ‘outside the box’ (as much as I hate that phrase), doing more of the productions that you wouldn’t see (or see very rarely) at your ‘big guns’ such as the Rep. And finally, I’m a really big fan of organizations who exist solely to give people like myself the opportunity to do arts: people who are not professionals, who do not WANT to be professionals and who may still be learning how to be an actor, director, singer, dancer, etc., but who love the performing arts and want to be involved in some aspect.

But on the other hand, I can’t disagree with him either. I remember a few years ago, I had agreed to stage manage a production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead that ended up being cancelled, as the producer went onto the KC Stage website and saw how many organizations we had registered with us, deciding ‘there were too many theatres already’. While I was upset I lost a rare chance for paid stage management work (and to see a live production of R&G), I couldn’t really disagree with the result. It even goes into an argument I present whenever anyone I know wants to start their own theatre (including myself, which is why I haven’t done it).

We have over 200 organizations registered with us, and while some are film companies or arts councils (or similar), I’d say 90% of them are performing arts institutions of some sort. And while one or two are outside the basic KC metro area (including Lawrence), most of them are in what most people consider as Kansas City.

That’s a LOT of organizations. Let’s say that 150 of them are ones the put on performances of some sort, and say on average that each of them put on at least 3 shows: that’s 450 shows PER YEAR. That’s more than one per day. And that’s not taking into account the fact that each of us enjoy more than ‘just’ performing arts for our entertainment, whether it’s reading, watching films (or TV), playing video games, or even (gasp) spending time with friends and/or family. Even if every person in America was an arts lover (which we all know isn’t true), that’s still a lot of choice for each person to make.

So, I think Landesman is right – we won’t likely be seeing an increase in demand for arts opportunities (unless we start thinking of other ways to provide art content), so maybe introducing a little healthy competition might be just what is needed. As I wrote in my blog article, “The Business of the Arts”, “if someone puts on a play but no one sees it, is it really theatre? On a basic level, thinking of the arts ‘like a business’ is actually a good recommendation.” And business has to worry about what the competition is doing.