Saturday, January 17, 2009

Taking the 'Dow' out of Endowment

Sobering news in the New York Times today that the Met is in financial straits, its endowment hit by the massive drop in the Dow Jones.
Just as it was riding high in the opera world, the Metropolitan Opera has been bludgeoned by the recession and now faces a “disaster scenario” unless the company finds major cost cuts, including concessions from its powerful unions, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said on Thursday.

Here in sunny London, nobody seems to want to talk about what will become of the arts over the next few years. Either they're too scared (or they prefer to spew out bile about Korngold in case the poor unsuspecting public might commit the heinous sin of wanting to see Die tote Stadt...) Seriously, though, the UK scenario is likely to be no less terrifying. But it will hit us later. Seasons are planned two, sometimes three years in advance; government funding is allocated by the Arts Council over three-year periods, and though it doesn't account for everything, it does provide a strong proportion of the money that makes things happen. Sponsorship is drying up left, right and centre, but people are trying nonetheless to be positive and keep on hoping...

Perhaps those who have advocated American-style privatisaion of the arts world ever since the days of Margaret Thatcher will now have to think again. You can't run a nation's cultural life (I mean 'culture' in the old-fashioned sense when it meant culture) on fairy gold that melts away at dawn.

On the other hand, the government is now facing the very likely nationalisation of various banks, a huge bill for unemployment benefit and, heaven help us, the 2012 Olympics. If they decide to divest themselves of some financial minnows along the way, we shouldn't be too surprised. And who, in the Labour goverment, cares anything for the arts? David Miliband's wife is a violinist, but beyond that, um... But replace that with 'who, in the Tory government, cares anything for the arts?' and it'll be time for us all to put on our boxing gloves. Start limbering up at the sandbags now, chaps, so that you are in good fighting shape when the match begins.