Let’s stop taking money from donors whose politics we don’t like

Let’s stop taking money from donors whose politics we don’t like


norman lebrecht

June 06, 2017

That’s the thrust of Philip Kennicott’s hot-headed anti-Koch polemic in the Washington Post.

Can beggars be choosers?

Is there any donation an arts organisation should turn down? And in any circumstances?

Your thoughts, please.


  • Robert Roy says:

    I still have Lps I bought in the 1970’s that were sponsored by tobacco companies. Remember the Classics for Pleasure recordings sponsored by WD & HO Wills? Then there was a set of the Beethoven Symphonies with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Kurt Sanderling that was paid for by Du Maurier cigarettes with the album sleeves being in the livery of the company. (And very striking it was too!)

    None of the above encouraged me to start smoking despite the pushing of the respective companies logos being pushed. Of course, the world is different now and tobacco companies are now villains but it made me realise that sometimes in life we have to compromise to have our desires satisfied.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The arts inBritain would have been a lot worse off without sponsorship from BP,John Player various alcohol companies etc. and what about the oligarchs buying football clubs?

  • Steve P says:

    Makes sense. Since most artists in US hate President Trump and the Republican Party in control of Congress, not taking govt handouts should be an excellent protest.

  • M2N2K says:

    Why stop there? Let’s not sell tickets to anyone with whom we (whoever we are) disagree… What a bunch of nonsense! Any donation should be welcomed, provided that it comes with no proverbial strings attached to it.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      I’m more inclined to make a distinction here. Your suggestion that donations should not be taken if strings are attached would mean, e.g., that hospitals should not accept gifts of money for a new wing or such if a condition attached is that the wing be named after the donor. In such cases, and they are very common in numerous fields, I think the benefit outweighs the question of conditions, although I most vehemently should like it understood that attaching such strings disqualifies the donation as ‘philanthropy’. It is a wish for a bit of glory, not love of humankind.

      But offers from money from certain individuals or, more often, organizations of some sort are donations devised to modify the public image of the outfit and very often a matter of manipulation, if not outright deceit. The Koch brothers most surely come into that category, for they are as much a political machine as a business corporation. If the beneficiary is at ease with their views and activities, they are welcome to accept the donation. That’s just a matter of free will, although free will itself is much a matter of moral choices. But if their activities are repugnant to you, if you don’t want to help them appear more benign by accepting a donation they can flaunt, if you don’t wish to help them hurt others, I must think the right moral stance is to refuse the donation.

      • M2N2K says:

        The first part of your comment is an argument against a “suggestion” that I have never made. My idea that all unconditional donations should be accepted does not at all mean that all those with strings attached must be rejected: these latter ones should be considered and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. As for the second part, I disagree with you: all unconditional donations are good for the arts and if an “evil” person made it, well, then it means that even that person deserves a certain amount of credit for contributing to humanity in a positive way. See a comment by SARA below here for another way of stating the same position.

        • Steven Holloway says:

          1) You wrote, “Any donation should be welcomed, provided that it comes with no proverbial strings attached to it.” If I parsed that incorrectly, I fail to see how. 2) No one deserves credit, in an amount “certain” or uncertain, for contributing to humanity in any way if that was not the intention of their deed.

          • M2N2K says:

            1) You “parsed that incorrectly” indeed. Saying that A is always positive does not mean that B is always negative. It only means that A is never negative.
            2) When a contribution to an art organization is made without any conditions, the “intention” of the giver is irrelevant because his/her action does in fact support a good cause. The act of refusal on the other hand may actually hurt that cause.

  • $$$please says:

    All donations should be accepted. The arts are forever indebted to such “evil” corporations, it would be suicide to let ego trump need.

  • William Osborne says:

    Ah the comments. Avid confirmation of the long history of artistic whoredom.

  • pooroperaman says:

    Yes, let’s. Let’s also all go bust. Similar silliness in the UK over BP.

  • Marc says:

    I don’t begin to regret, because of this, that I let my WaPo subscription lapse.

  • Sara says:

    I take the position that a donor would give me money only if the donor likes what *I* do. I do not have to like what the donor does, with the exception that I won’t take blood money.

    This is the same distinction that we make when we say, for example, that a composer might have been a horrible person, but wrote great music. That Wagner might have been an anti-Semite is separable from our artistic evaluation of Die Meistersinger. If Adolf Hitler liked Lehar, that should not destroy your enjoyment of The Merry Widow.

    Should an arts organization take money from someone whose politics disgust you? Yes, because then they can’t spend that money supporting a political candidate.

  • AMetFan says:

    Where you posters when Winifred Wagner needed justification?

  • Graeme Hall says:

    I think it is outrageous that Haydn took the position at Esterhazy supporting an outdated system. The loss of dozens of unnecessary symphonies would have been a small price to pay for the chance to undermine an undemocratic regime.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    It’s rather like everything else in life… who among us doesn’t weigh what we’d be getting against what we’d have to do for it?

    There must be some pride, at least, at having relieved an annoying rich person of some of his money.

  • Stephen Limbaugh says:

    Ok. So you don’t like the politics of the House, Senate, and Executive Branch as it is currently constituted. Thanks. We’ll abolish our arts funding by disbanding the National Endowment for the Arts. #NowThatsBipartisanship

  • Nick says:

    What a fascinating discussion.
    The most appealing being from Graeme Hall.
    Indeed, who cares about some Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven symphonies not to mention Prokofiev and Shostakovich works – all sponsored by dictatorships of one sort of the other, mostly by people from unpleasant to ugly political views.