The wisdom of Rocco Landesman

Speaking at a conference about new play development at Arena Stage in Washington on Thursday, Mr. Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, addressed the problem of struggling theaters. “You can either increase demand or decrease supply,” he said. “Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.”

Here are some of the responses from the sector:

“What does he mean there’s too much supply?!?” wrote Trisha Mead, the public relations and publications manager at Portland Center Stage in Oregon. “What does he mean we can’t increase demand?!? Who determines which theater companies are wheat and which are chaff?!?” In another post, Durango Miller, a playwright and director, said: “Why not just increase funding? Maybe the N.E.A. is outdated and should be replaced by another system for funding the arts in the United States. Or maybe the people who are running the N.E.A. should be replaced.”


Who determines which theater companies are wheat and which are chaff?!?


Marketing can increase demand if that which is being marketed is desirable but just unknown. Tell us about the show, time, the place. My area has a weekend section in the newspaper. And there is local PBS. i did not hear the man say anything about getting the message out to the "consumer"

Alternatively, they can increase demand by changing the nature of supply by encouraging the development of INNOVATIVE new plays that speak to new audiences- which is exactly what arena stage and others are trying to do.

We can Win the Future with properly increase investment in our theater/play systems. Do you really want to cede the future to Chinese acts and playwrights?

"There is a third option, he argued, between decreasing supply and increasing demand- we can create new markets. He argued for investment in opening up more rural communities to professional arts experiences."

I'm sure there's vast untapped demand in fine arts in rural American communities that will with massive government programs support a thriving counterculture community.

The real issue is the conflict of incentives and status. In the arts, pleasing the consumer is highly rewarded, but (generally) low status. High status comes from pleasing the intellectuals. The market cannot provide enough high status art to satisfy those who want it, because when the market rewards something it devalues its status. Saying "leave it to consumers" is missing the point.

The correct answer is: "Get over yourselves, the world does not owe you a living." Despite their bleating, high status art is not a public good the government should be in the business of supporting.

I think "Who determines which...are wheat and which are chaff?!?" may sum up all of economic theory. Who determines which resources get used where? Which system is best for allocating resources into "wheat" or "chaff."

Of course, economic theory is also based on the assumption that there is a finite amount of resources that need to be allocated somehow. There are certainly economically literate liberals who realize finite resource, but there are also MANY liberals who want everything and anything and who dare not ask how we will pay for such things. Mead, for one, doesn't seem to realize that we're running a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit next year.

(Many conservative are also in this boat, especially tea partiers. For them, though, its tax cuts instead of government spending.)

For this specific issue, I go back to Milton Friedman. He said many times that there is a market in non-profit corporation, just as much as a market in for-profit corporations. We're NEA to not receive any public funding, they would have to rely on private funding and private funding would be far more discerning about "wheat" and "chaff." The Trisha Meads of the world would hate it, because it would actually force them to produce things that people will pay for, but we will be better off for not having taxpayer dollars funding crap.

So, how does one go about determining whether the problem in the arts market is too much supply or too little demand? Is that an academic question or can it be answered....

Or maybe Trisha Mead should have taken Economics in college instead of Theater.

Then, perhaps, she'd understand.

Then, perhaps, she'd be a net contributor to GDP instead of a parasite of social welfare.

You can produce all the art you want - in your spare time at your own expense. You can present it for free.

Ars gratia artis.

I assume there is a notion of paternalism in things like NEA. "People are consuming less art than what is good for them. So let us fix that"

Is all paternalism abhorrent to an economist or can some flavors be tolerated? How does one decide?

Some commenters would do well to click through to the links to see what Mrs. Mead actually said - she is quoted in a highly misleading fashion - before churning out the usual phrases they learned in Libertarianism 101.

Ideas to make fine-art less of a public good might help? But how? Markets in fine-arts seem very thin.

You can't make a single argument in favor of the NEA that isn't inherently elitist and doesn't assume that the commoner is a backwards moron. It's a program that redistributes wealth from non-consumers of "high art" (ie the poor and lower middle class) to consumers of "high art". (ie the upper middle class and rich)

If Americans want to go to a Ke$ha concert instead of watching Wagner's Ring cycle, not a damn person should stand in their way or take their money in an attempt to correct the perceived negative effects of their "horrifying" preferences.

If the lovers of theater want to see it continue in its current form, then they should put up or shut up instead of forcing everyone else to subsidize their hobby.

Millian: you seem to assume that the government (or anyone, really) can actually predict which art will be appreciated by future generations.

"Why not just increase funding?"

This simple quote speaks volumes, mainly about the speaker.

It's just that the idea that the only art that deserves to be compensated is the art the mainstream will accept, which usually barely qualifies as art at all, is horrifying. Mainstream America is totally clueless about art.

Here is the problem- in my opinion, much of what elites accept as art barely qualifies as art at all. Now, you may write that my opinion is just my opinion, but then that is the pot calling the kettle black.

The audience for theatre is constrained by legacy technology assumptions. In this case, the assumption is that players and audience must be co-located both in space and time. Relax those constraints and you should be able to "increase demand" significantly.

New York's Metropolitan Opera has done this recently by providing live video feeds to dozens of movie theaters around the country. (The cheaper price ($25) for these in-cinema performances also expands the market beyond those able to pay the more normal $130/ticket for in-house live tickets.) Also, given the continuously blurring lines between broadcast and Internet television we should see opportunities for players to present their performances (just the best ones) to geography and time independent audiences via Internet feeds, NetFlix, and other on-demand delivery channels.

There might not be an audience large enough to justify presenting some avantgarde production in Grand Forks, ND on any particular night but the 10 people in that city who would appreciate it, when combined with two or three people from each of a thousand other small towns would actually add up to a larger audience than the piece might receive in a major city over dozens of individual performances in some expensive theater.

Performing arts organizations should consider that the new technologies provide them with opportunities to generate income from audiences that were once not within their reach. If more organizations sought to exploit these new opportunities, we might see a significant increase in the revenues to such groups as well as an increase in their ability to serve the community's needs.

Andrew Edwards, you're going to have to substantiate your claim that it's a public good.

"You can't make a single argument in favor of the NEA that isn't inherently elitist and doesn't assume that the commoner is a backwards moron."

Since the commoner *is* a backwards moron, the arguments to which you are referring seem to start well.

"you're going to have to substantiate your claim that it's a public good."

Consider London, where the current (and very conservative) mayor is lobbying against government cutbacks in the arts, on the grounds they would cost more than saved upfront (by making London a less attractive place to live).

As soon as I read this...

>>“You can either increase demand or decrease supply,”

... I was going to come in here and make a sarcastic comment that bailouts are always a fantastic option.

But then I saw that that is exactly what the playwright proposes.

Sometimes, sarcasm just cannot compete with real life.

A personal experience from the jazz scene in NYC: the NEC pours bills upon dolla-dolla-billz into Jazz at Lincoln Center and affiliated Officially Sanctioned Jazz. The buildings are super nice, with killer views from enormous windows, etc. etc. but I can't really say it does much for the jazz scene. Acts tend to be the "safest", i.e. most boring, things they can find, with an extreme overabundance of "A Tribute to XYZ Bigwig Even Your Grandma's Heard Of", with little on the more innovative end. Meanwhile, it sucks consumer dollars away from the other, far more edgy- and profitable- venues. Of course, NYC is a special case, but still.

Oh, BTW, Bob Wyman- live tickets to the Met Opera are in the $25 range for nosebleeders, and $20 for standing room at the back of the orchestra section (the best deal in the house!). People don't go to see opera because most people think opera SUCKS, not because they can't afford it- Yankees tickets prices make the opera seem like nothing.

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