La maladie imaginaire
Pieter Kalbfleisch, chairman of the board of the Residentie Orkest, knows that it is hard, nay impossible, to run a symphony orchestra as a profit making enterprise. As was documented in a December 2010 NRC newspaper article all Dutch symphony orchestras make a loss and need substantial subsidies to make ends meet. Depending on the orchestra average subsidy is between 50 to 150 Euros per ticket per performance. The newspaper article was written
preceding a policy discussion in the Dutch House of Representatives on the government’s plans for deep cuts in cultural subsidies. Those cuts must be the other thing keeping the chairman of the board awake at night.
Watching the rock star status of André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, epitome of Dutch cultural export success, one has to conclude that some performing art companies are making a profit some of the time, while most music, dance and theatre companies are making a loss all of the time. It is said that the latter have a perfect excuse. It is said that they suffer from Baumol’s disease; a disease that makes losses as unavoidable as a sunrise in the morning. This disease explains the necessity for permanent governmental subsidies and philantropical help and gives the sector a strong argument as to why performing arts cannot operate in a competitive market. It is not explained why the Johann Strauss Orchestra does not suffer from the disease, while all others do. The disease is, to a large extend, nonexistent. It is to paraphrase the title of Molière’s 1673 showpiece of the French theatre ‘une maladie imaginaire’.
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