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The Accessibility and Affordability of the Arts

Jeff Scott

As the news cycle has been dominated with concerns over the debt ceiling and the potential dangers associate with default, we are painfully reminded that our economy is far from stable. It seems increasingly likely that the way forward will include some kind of austerity measures, such as spending cuts, downsizing of government agencies, and entitlement reforms.

Many Americans would probably argue that these measures are reflective of what many households have had to do in recent years in order to make ends meet. Such conditions have of course been a severe hit to many arts organizations. Patrons are trimming their entertainment budgets; corporations and foundations are limiting donations, et cetera, et cetera. We all know this story.

In spite of this, we still see major regional theatres mounting massively expensive productions at high ticket prices. What is even more interesting is the growing number of discounted tickets being sold by the theatres via websites such as Groupon and Goldstar, which suggests a difficulty in filling the house at such high prices.

I’m sure many theatre administrators would argue with me that high ticket prices are necessary to offset the loss of unearned income in recent years from grants and donations. But if the tickets are too expensive to sell at face value, what’s the point? My fear is that, discounts or no, rising ticket prices will simply feed into the already existing narrative by critics of the arts that the arts are elitist, expensive, and therefore inaccessible to the majority of Americans.

I am reminded of Peter Brooks famous opening statement to The Empty Space: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”

I know full well that we in the arts have had to make our share of sacrifices in recent years due to the poor economic climate.

We have adopted our own austerity measures in some form or another. Yet this has all been behind the scenes in many instances: cuts to salaries, smaller staffs, hiring more local actors than out-of-towners.

Perhaps we need to put austerity center stage for a while.

We need our supporters and critics to see that we too struggle as they do, and at the same time, give voice and vision to their struggles. If we believe the arts exist to serve the people, then we must find a way to make the arts affordable, accessible, and of course, relevant to the people.

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