On My Mind

Dudley Cocke

One effect of attacks on the leading agencies supporting cultural pluralism in the not-for-profit sector, which began with the Reagan administration and continued through the Clinton presidency to the present day, has been to elevate the U.S. commercial arts at the expense of the not-for-profit arts.

The distinction between the two sectors is significant, because devoid of its not-for-profit competitions, the impact of U.S. commercial culture in this moment of globalization has become overwhelming. Imagine how the U.S. looks to hundreds of millions of people around the world whose only sources of information about us are television, Hollywood movies, and pop music. Equally troubling, at home this commercial preference has corrupted our own not-for-profit sector's core values.

Witness the recent reports of excessive compensation for some private foundation presidents and trustees. With not-for-profit boards often drawn exclusively from the for-profit corporate sector, directors probably thought nothing of a $750,000 annual compensation package for their foundation CEO. (After all, we recently learned that the New York Stock Exchange's CEO was paid $30.5 million in 2001!) Supposedly wholly subject neither to market nor to re-election pressures, the independent sector's sole purpose is to act nimbly to benefit society. In our recent gilded age, too much of our sector has lost sight of its raison d'etre, its very reason for existing, with the result, I contend, that the independent sector now runs the risk of losing its independence.

Dudley Cocke, excerpted from "The Arts and Humanities in a Democracy," The Walter Capps Memorial Lecture, November 8, 2003. Dudley Cocke is director of Roadside Theater, a trustee of the Archibald Bush Foundation, and a member of the GIA board of directors.