I’m always glad to see that the Guardian‘s “Noises Off” blog from Chris Wilkinson has picked up on a post or two here, as it does today. What caught my attention more especially, though, was Chris’s coverage of the recent collaboration between Stella Artois and members of the Punchdrunk company in an interesting funding relationship:
We begin this week by raising a glass to Guy Yedwab of the Culture Future blog. Yedwab is discussing (or perhaps toasting) the role that alcohol plays in creating theatre. He was intrigued by the news that Punchdrunk have recently cut a deal to promote Stella Artois. He points out that this is really “just a symbol of the relationship the arts have today with alcohol. I’ve joked about it before, but the young theater companies I know are basically in the debt of the alcohol industry. We get people to come to our fundraisers through the lure of alcohol, among other things.” Far from being nervous about this kind of corporate sponsorship, he explains that he is currently trying to arrange something between his own theatre company and an alcohol distributor …
Although it should never be seen as a substitute for public funding, this kind of creative approach to fundraising is going to become ever more important. As arts organisations struggle to make ends meet, not only are they going to have to think laterally about where they get their income from, they are going to need to cut their costs as well.
He is quite right. In the comments section to that post, though, I am leery of this new approach to funding, especially as following the cuts of government subsidy more and more emphasis is being placed on corporate sponsorship:
I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to blithely accept Punchdrunk’s formal or informal relationship with Stella Artois as an example of new funding sources. Stella Artois is a corporation, and a too-easy acceptance of an artistic endeavor’s partnership with a corporation is a dangerous thing, though of course many theatres in both the UK and the US already maintain these partnerships (Travelex’s relationship with the NT and Roundabout’s relationship with American Airlines are just two examples).
One needs to be careful whom one beds down with. The ethics of corporations specifically seem to be at loggerheads with the ethics of those who create theatre, and though it’s nice to have the money one must look at the source. Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent and former New York Times reporter, recently wrote on corporate ethics in his book Culture of Illusion; he said:
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. … And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.
We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. It is this perverted ethic that gave us investment houses like Goldman Sachs … that willfully trashed the global economy and stole money from tens of millions of small shareholders who had bought stock in these corporations for retirement or college. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses and compensation. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. It is fused into one bizarre, perverted belief system and it has banished the possibility of the country returning to a reality-based world or avoiding internal collapse. A society that cannot distinguish reality from illusion dies.
One can argue with Hedges about his definition of corporate ethics (though, given Hedges’ credentials, I think it’s necessary to take this definition and characterization seriously). The question is: what does a theatre artist lose — as well as gain — by aligning themselves in some way with these corporations? It’s too easy a conclusion to say that the more sensitive corporation (if there is such a thing, if an abstraction like “corporation” can be described in such a way) won’t get their fingers in the messy process of creating art. The temptation is there, and who is to stop them? Or is theatre itself [or, at least some theatremarkers] to be absorbed into the post-corporate world that it claims to question and oppose?
Chris’s post has all relevant links.