Last month the Public Theater in New York became a national bulls-eye for Trump supporters over their modernized production of Julius Ceasar. The outrage resulted in protests and even audience members storming the stage during the show.
Rather than stand by the theatre and support artistic expression, two major sponsors decided to pull their financial support, Delta Airlines and Bank of America. Both companies stated how the actions depicted in the show went against their company's philosophies, which seemed newly adopted with the election of President Trump.
When that happened, I pointed out the hypocrisies from both companies by deciding not to sponsor the Public. Well, it would seem that with one company, their "outrage" only lasted for so long.
Yesterday, in a press release from the Public Theater for their upcoming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, there was a small but interesting bit of information included,
"Bank of America continues its longstanding support of Free Shakespeare in the Park as the proud presenting sponsor for an astounding 11 seasons. Bank of America continues to exemplify philanthropic partnership at its best. Their support has made Shakespeare in the Park free for over one million people. "
Yes, apparently now that the Julius Caesar controversy had ended, so has Bank of America's issues with the Public Theater as they are now one of the sponsors for the production.
While many might be celebrating the return of a major sponsor and restored revenue for theatre, I see it as problematic.
The return of Bank of America's sponsorship and the Public's acceptance of it, means that BoA can pull their funding anytime they feel a show might not comply with their standards. They are basically telling the Public that their funding now depends on whether or not the work done at the Public goes against their "company philosophies" or upsets Donald Trump's sensitivities.
This would once again contradict BoA's mission statement on contributions to the arts, which reads.
"Bank of America believes the arts matter: they help economies thrive, help individuals connect with each other and across cultures, and educate and enrich societies."
What BoA has demonstrated in the past month is that the arts matter when the arts are safe.
Sponsorship of a theatre should never depend on what the theatre produces and no sponsor should ever hold that fiscal gun to a theatre's head. I am worried that this might set a precedent for companies to cherry pick when they want to fund theatre. Even worse, I'm worried that theatres might go along with it due to the need for those funds.
I would hope that the Public Theater is smarter than that. The pulling of funding from BoA was more than a financial hit for the theater. It also legitimized the ignorant outrage over the show which only fostered more protest. For all the trouble BoA caused for the Public, it should take a lot more than just money to make things right. I would hope that the Public would settle for nothing less but it appears that they might have, which is disappointing.
I completely understand the need for financial support in the arts and that companies can often contribute more than private citizens can. However, that support shouldn't be contigent on whether or not the art falls in line with company standards.
So I hope the Public Theater kindly refuses to accept those funds. Bank of America chose to walk down a road you shouldn't be able to come back from and certainly not with the Public Theater holding their hand.