There's a fantastic discussion happening on the 99 seats blog.
They are discussing a classic question: If an arts organization can pull off a multi-million dollar capital campaign, why can't they have a "campaign" to fund performer salaries?
Let me offer a few things here:
First, I'm only going to talk about this in the context of individual giving. Corporations put their money toward things that will enhance the image of their brand, which is why you see their names on a lot of arts buildings.
Foundations, for various reasons (good and bad) frown on giving too much general operating support.
If the money is coming from anywhere, it's coming from individuals. This is probably a good thing.
Most individuals who have the means to support arts organizations via donations, don't have a clue what artists get paid.
Yes, some may assume the artists make a ton of money. Others may assume they are working for free.
But a lot of them just don't know. Because they are never directly told by the people responsible for doing so, i.e. leadership within the organizations.
So they donate their money to an endowment, or an annual fund and then they trust the leadership of the organization to spend those funds (which are generally unrestricted) in any way they see fit.
It's the same with capital campaigns. When a fundraiser walks in and asks for 100K for the building, that donor is thinking the same thing you are:
If they want me to give 100K for this building, then everything must be fine internally, or else why would they ask?
Hell, I know a few donors who, if they knew the employees of the organization didn't have health insurance would NEVER donate to a capital campaign.
We often make the mistake of assuming that the people funding these sorts of campaigns are as knowledgeable about life inside the arts as we are.
They aren't. Basically these are laymen (and women) with a lot of money.
So the reason these people aren't funding the artists are basically:
1. They think they are funding the artists by donating to annual funds and such
2. They are directly asked to support capital campaign, which often leads them to believe everything is fine.
So why not do what some are suggesting now and have endowed "chairs" at arts organizations, similiar to what universities have.
Generally I like the idea. Here's my one quibble:
An endowed chair is restricted funds, meaning it can only be used to cover one thing. An arts organization is like any other business, generally things work better when you have as few strings on your cash as possible.
I'd much rather see an arts organization aggressively push their annual fund and make it clear that "we use this money to pay artists more" . . . and then actually pay them more.
I guess my point is that we have the framework right now, within the system we have, to pay the artists more. As 99 points out, it's about priorities. And despite what some may believe, those priorities are set by the people WITHIN the organizations, not the wealthy donors.
This is why keeping the pressure on the people within these instiutions high is so important. They are the quickest avenue to change.
Update: I do have to raise one more possible issues with the "endowed chairs" idea.
Since it comes to us from the University world, I should also point out that at most Universities decisions around who gets these chairs are HIGHLY political affairs.
So before an arts organization started trying to endow seats there would have to be a clear, detailed set of standards around how you qualify the seats, how long people can stay in the seats, etc. Those details would have to be public and transparent, or things can get real messy.