Contemporary Theatre ‘Philanthropy’ and the Purchase of Participatory Privilege

  • Adam Alston (Participant)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


If philanthropy is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes', today's theatre producers and practitioners may wonder what has become of that ideal. In an economic climate where corporate sponsorship is called upon to rescue the arts from penury, 'philanthropy' relates less to a culture of altruistic giving than to the expectation of reward – from priority booking schemes and special performances for funders to more abstract benefits such as 'respectability by association'.

Viewing this in the wider context of theatre funding, the question must be asked: where else is the money to come from? Who is at fault here: the philanthropists expecting rewards for their generosity, the arts organisations and theatre makers constructing reward schemes, or a public funding environment that struggles to keep up with the financial needs of major producing theatres, let alone those of countless emerging organisations?

Drawing on the recent history of government arts funding and cultural policy, particularly during the Blair and Brown years, and the rhetoric of both the DCMS and Arts Council England, we will discuss the political implications of purchasing tailored privilege in British theatre. Although the purchase of privilege is nothing new to the theatre industry, perhaps the extent to which this has become institutionalised in funding policy and creative output is worth reflecting on, particularly at a time when privilege and capital are rendered increasingly subject to public scrutiny.

Politics at RHUL
Period31 May 2012
Event typeOther