Scarcity or Abundance?

I had this provocative post all planned out today, one in which I said (insincerely, I should add) that you Grantmakers should just stop giving money to large institutions. The plan was to use a bit of a rhetorical post to goad all you silent grantmakers out there into the comments and also get a bit of an understanding of why so much money goes to the giant battleships of the arts community when small organizations can do a lot more with it.

But then I read this post by my good friend Matt Freeman in which he talks about “Scarcity Models” of funding vs. “Abundance Models” of funding:

In my day job (which is for a religious institution) we talk a lot about scarcity models versus abundance models. When we talk about taking money from one thing (urban, cultural institutions) to give that money to rural communities, we’re acting as if there is one small pot of money, scare resources, and we have to refocus those dollars one way or another.

But, instead, we see that when Americans prioritize something (say…war) money strangely materializes in sums that dwarf the entire budget of the NEA tenfold. There is money out there, and we should expect it and ask for it. I believe that both the urban theater communities and small rural communities should expect funding. The problem isn’t that one group is hogging all the money.

The problem is that the funding is too low, not that funding is misdirected.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of truth in that. At the same time… will we ever get to a point in the arts where we can think abundantly? Or is money always going to be scarce? In theatre, it’s always been scarce.  There are historical reasons for this.  The Federal Government never made good on its promise to water the seeds the Ford Foundation planted and, essentially, the regional theater movement has been plate-spinning on a precipice ever since. Is this going to change?

Or do we need to go through some kind of radical transformation so that the current amount of money is abundant? And what would such a transformation look like?  Diane Ragsdale over at Jumper blog has some thoughts about this, and they ain’t pretty:

In the arts and culture sector we seem to want to reap the benefits of transformation without the process of creative destruction. We say we want transformation but we refuse to let underperforming organizations die, or shy away from de-funding what has always been funded in order to fund that which has never been funded, or desperately try to maintain an overbuilt infrastructure. Such reactionary impulses to preserve the status quo will not result in a kinder and gentler transformation. To the contrary, they may result in stagnation of the arts and culture sector. As Light says, we can let the future take its course. I fear, however, that if we do so we may regret what we have become in years to come….

…Is arbitrary winnowing the future we want? With more being given to those who already have the most? Survival of (only) the oldest, largest, and best connected, and not necessarily the best performing?

If not, if we are sincere about wanting transformation, then the gain of progress is unlikely to be accomplished without the pain of losing or challenging some longstanding industry structures, beliefs, practices, jobs, conventions, and hierarchies.

In theater at least, we seem to be in a place right now where larger/older theaters like The Magic and Intiman can reboot themselves with an emergency infusion of cash from around the country no matter how mismanaged they were. Or, like Pasadena Playhouse, they can turn themselves into a tax shelter for commercial producers and no one bats an eye. My anger at the above clearly reflects a scarcity model of thinking, but things seem pretty scarce right now. In order to get to abundance, we might need some of the creative destruction referenced above.