The New York Time published an article by Patrick Healy last week about nonprofit theatres mounting commercial productions on Broadway, partnering with commercial producers, or extending runs or remounting hits in order to increase revenue. Nonprofit theatres have to make revenue. In the absence of the kind of government support (or even ownership) enjoyed by European theatres, that’s how they fund their missions. This post isn’t about that. It’s about a nugget in the middle of the article: Andre Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Theatre (currently presenting a commercial production of War Horse) is quoted as saying, “unlike commercial producers, none of us at Lincoln Center Theater are personally making money off of these shows.” The article goes on to report Bishop’s compensation at $482,000, so clearly he is making money, just not directly from the ownership interest a commercial producer would have.
There was a lively twitter conversation about this and other issues raised by the article, so I wanted to see where Bishop’s compensation falls in relation to that of other arts organization executives. This information is publicly available. (I got mine from the 2009 Form 990 tax filings available from the National Center for Charitable Statistics). Bishop’s compensation is about 2/3 that of his Lincoln Center neighbor Peter Martens at NYCB but higher than that of the artistic heads of the Roundabout and Manhattan Theatre Club (and lower than that of LCT executive producer Bernie Gersten). Here it is laid out, along with some others, one large and one small theatre in several other cities. I acknowledge that the sample size is small and so one can’t draw any statistically significant conclusions:
|Company||state||AD salary||ED/MD salary||Total expenditures||Salary as % of Expenses|
|Son of Semele||CA||$10,800||$10,800||$64,169||33.66%|
So, I return to Bishop’s statement about not making any money off the commercially successful shows. He makes A LOT of money, but his and Gersten’s salary combined represent less than 2% of the total expenses of the organization. The smaller the company, the higher the proportion the AD’s salary is of total expenses. Would paying Andre Bishop less lead directly to increasing the compensation of, for example, a playwright trying to make ends meet? Probably not. But, what if nonprofit companies that make revenue off commercial productions were required to re-grant some portion of that revenue directly to artists to develop new work (altering somewhat Diane Ragsdale’s proposal of a few weeks ago)? Or were required to re-grant it to small arts organizations in the community? As the (eco)system stands now, Bishop’s statement to the contrary, the organizational incentive is to produce more commercially viable productions to support the production of….more commercially viable productions.
The three companies producing on Broadway plus Center Theatre Group share not just size in common. They also earn a higher proportion of their revenue from box office receipts than the other smaller companies. Yet, they still garner direct public grants and benefit significantly from the tax-exempt status of their (especially real estate) assets. One could argue (and perhaps with more research I will) that the amount of grant revenue such organizations receive should be capped by either a dollar amount or percentage of total revenue freeing up funding for the smaller companies not only on this very short list but throughout the country. Or, in order to be eligible for grant revenue, would need to make some programming free, as Mixed Blood has done with its Radical Hospitality program.
Finally, a point I made poorly in 140 characters on twitter: there are market forces at work in setting executive compensation in any sector. I am not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, just that these forces exist. In a world where the head of NYCB makes over $600K and the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art over $800K, that the head of LCT makes close to $500 doesn’t seem so outlandish. Unless, of course, you, like me, are one of the 99% making less than $506,553.