Orchestras – well prepared for the future?

Falling tax revenues, budget cuts, but also demographic developments continue to affect public spending on culture, worldwide especially in Germany, the UK and many other European states as well as down under. Public subsided theatres and orchestras have to prepare for change: to create a unique profile, connect with local and regional communities, communicate the added economic value of a vibrant cultural scene and develop new, younger audiences. A survey among cultural organisations conducted by the German Zentrum für Kulturforschung (ZfKf, Centre for Cultural Research) in 2009 showed that outreach programmes among orchestras and performing arts venues have become widespread. Most focus on students in secondary education as the common target audience. It also found that educationally disadvantaged senior citizens, young children and immigrant audiences are clearly underrepresented. Yet approaches to validate cultural organisations through claims that they produce external economic or social benefits do have their pitfalls.

Such claims are nearly impossible to corroborate and put culture in competition with other activities. Instead, culture should follow its own logic and emphasize its inherent, non-economic value. In Germany e new study points out that regions who benefited from princely patronage of opera houses as far back as the 18th century show a markedly higher concentration of members of the ‘creative class’ (Richard Florida), who in turn stimulate local economic activity. Therefore one can argue for the public support of cultural activities.
As directors of man professional ensembles point out that tight staff rosters can be used as arguments in political debate, yet too much success can also tempt policy-makers to reduce funding. Political debate is also influenced by public support (or the lack thereof). The Internet can help to bring transparency to such discussions as online forums allow for wide and open participation. At the same time, however, there is a warnings of populist or simplistic rhetorics, often typical for online debates.

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