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Bulgarian theatre's danse macabre.

Much drama has been unleashed by the Ministry of Culture's plan, as approved by the Cabinet, to "rationalise" theatres and other cultural institutions across Bulgaria.

The move is being made in the context of the economic crisis and the Bulgarian Government's imperatives to save money.

According to documents tabled at the Cabinet meeting, the planned new model for financing public performing arts institutions is intended to see state funding provided on a uniform cost basis, while meaning that creative projects will be "implemented on a competitive basis".

The goal, the documents say, is for performing arts institutions to become "creative, dynamic, mobile and adequate social actors".

In reality, according to the proposal, this means closures and mergers. Examples are the merger of the Sulza and Smyah ("Tears and Laughter", an appropriate enough phrase in this context) Theatre in Sofia, to be merged with the Ivan Vazov National Theatre. Similarly, in the capital city the Ballet Arabesque will be merged with the State Musical Theatre into the Sofia Music and Ballet Centre. Similar mergers will take place in other major cities, such as Varna, Plovdiv, Bourgas and Rousse, while in some cases, there will be mergers of cultural institutions from different towns, for example a theatre in Smolyan will be merged with one in Plovdiv.

There are proposals for changing funding, although it is not immediately clear how the changed formula would achieve the efficiency intended. Further, where national cultural institutions are changed into local cultural institutes, the money will still come from the state budget but be paid to municipalities as a state delegated activity.

Beyond that, according to the document, directors of performing artists institutions will be delegated the power to generate additional revenue, above that granted to them through the state formula.

It is not surprising that these moves have the performing arts community up in arms. However they are costumed, the changes are likely to mean job losses and fewer cultural opportunities for communities. This is not to defend the cumbersome, perhaps inappropriate and certainly cost-inefficient structure of institutions inherited from the communist era. But it is a legitimate question whether the Ministry of Culture's plan is the correct one.

Certainly, funding of theatre, opera, ballets and the performing arts in general is politically vulnerable amid a crisis. Arguments about the higher purpose of the performing arts are hardly likely to win audiences worried about standards in, for example, schools and hospitals.

Perhaps even the performing artists themselves may acknowledge that the situation could not continue as it was (though few would be pleading for less money). It is not difficult to find absurdities in the current system of funding, or for that matter, in the salary system.

Yet, on the face of it, the planned changes seem more likely to do damage than create long-term financial sustainability.

It might well be asked why other options were not considered, for example a system of meaningful tax breaks for private sector companies that lend their patronage to the arts. Of course, this remains tantamount to a form of state support, but has the benefit of facilitating agreements for companies to support the performing arts, something not only good in itself, but also would allow them to look good. This option is at least better than the current plan, which appears likely to sink the performing arts with that age-old weakness, a bad script.
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Title Annotation:From the editor
Publication:The Sofia Echo (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Geographic Code:4EXBU
Date:Jul 23, 2010
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