Arts Funding Is Supporting A Wealthy, White Audience: Report

This is the title of a recent Huffington Post piece that discusses a study by the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.  Given the demographic trends I’ve been blogging about, this is, as Drew McManus says, obvious.  What is also obvious is that the ‘Chicken Little Think-Tank’ (as Drew often refers to classical music reformists) will probably see this as another reason the institution of classical music is failing and must be invigorated with methods of relevance found in the popular cultural world.  The thing is, I suspect if a study were done on the economics of the pop culture world in the US, we’d have a piece titled something to the effect of “Pop Music Industry Is Supporting A Not-So-Wealthy, White Audience: Report.”

Some of the select quotes could just as easily be said about popular culture:

“We’ve got the vast majority of resources going to a very small number of institutions,”

“That’s not healthy for the arts in America.”

“pronounced imbalance restricts the expressive life of millions of people,”

Drew counterpoints the piece with a discussion about the Grant Park Music Festival, which is an outstanding–and more importantly, FREE–summer series of concerts that is incredibly well attended.  Since some of the barriers to classical music is as much the high ticket prices as well as some of the stuffy formality many associate with it, it is encouraging to find something like this working and drawing in large audiences.

Sadly, though this season is probably on the more adventurous side as far as classical music series goes, the majority of the programming isn’t all that different than what might be found in a standard orchestra season.  Meaning that it is still the masterworks of a primarily European High Art culture.  What I would give to see a concert of Ottoman Classical Music or a program of great Traditional Chinese Orchestra ‘symphonic’ works.

And that’s the problem as I see it–it’s not the “misdirected garden variety class warfare” Drew is bemoaning this piece will surely help fuel, but precisely what it won’t fuel with regards to the support of Euro-American Arts over and above non-Western Art traditions.  It was a question I asked regarding whose arts we are funding and what that means when we realize that Western High Art culture isn’t the only high art culture out there and with a growing minority population, they are already starting to mimic and create the infrastructure used to prop up the mainstream high arts institutions (e.g. Orchestras, Operas, Ballets) to prop up their own institutions (e.g. Chinese Operas, Arabic firqa, Turkish fasli).

ANd that’s why I do so many of the things that I do.  I’m not particularly interested in propping up institutions that already have so much systemic support.  What I want to do is to help make it easier for folks like me to experience the live high culture of our particular cultural backgrounds.  What I would give to be able to see live Thai Classical Piphat ensembles regularly…

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