New York City Opera’s (NYCO) recent plea for funding has been making headlines lately, at least among the musical community in New York City. Shortly after NYCO began advertising their Kickstarter campaign, Gawker.com published an article entitled “Do Not Give a Dollar to the Opera,” which has caused a massive uproar among musicians and fans of opera alike. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera, who writes for the Huffington Post, published a rebuttal article entitled “Giving Money to the Arts Does Not Make You Evil,” which has been making the rounds on Facebook and has been widely lauded by the operatic community for its impassioned and well-reasoned argument in support of giving to the arts. I agree heartily with the sentiments expressed therein, but I think the article misses an important point which many advocates for the arts never fully articulate when enumerating good reasons to give money to the arts.
Artistic organizations, while they are dependent on patrons and donors for their survival, are NOT charities. Companies like NYCO provide jobs to thousands of people throughout the United States — people who might otherwise be collecting unemployment. Donating to NYCO or another arts organization may not have the same “feel-good” effect as donating to a charity which gives directly to the poor or underprivileged, but by giving to the arts, you are actively creating and sustaining jobs for hardworking, dedicated people. Job creation is one of the cornerstones of a thriving economy, and employed people contribute to the economy in countless ways, from paying taxes to buying goods to donating to charity. Dollars given to an arts organization WILL find their way back into the community.
Classical music and opera in particular have something of an elitist reputation, and when talking to people who have never met an opera singer before, I often find that they perceive opera singers to be wealthy and to lead incredibly glamorous lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jobs in opera rarely pay well, and in the United States they are almost always freelance, so they don’t come with benefits like health insurance or 401Ks. In fact, many opera singers work “day jobs” outside of music to make ends meet. Also, there are hundreds of people who the audience never sees who depend on opera companies to make a living — from stagehands to administrators to costume designers and a thousand other jobs in between. If NYCO is forced to cancel their season, all of these people will be scrambling for work, living off their savings or collecting unemployment.
From medical bills to mortgage payments to putting food on the table for our children each night, opera singers and other artistic professionals are trying to earn a living, just like everyone else. By helping NYCO or any arts organization stay in business, you are helping people stay employed, support their families and contribute to our economy and society. If you aren’t interested in opera or the arts and you prefer to donate elsewhere, that’s great — but please don’t ever think that donating money to the arts is a waste in any way, shape or form.