By Adam Andrzejewski
New York City’s Public Theater ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ production of Julius Caesar sparked political drama for its on-stage assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler. Before the performance Donald Trump, Jr. asked via a tweet, "I wonder how much of this 'art' is funded by taxpayers?"
Here’s the answer to Trump Jr’s question: Data at OpenTheBooks.com shows that over $4.1 million in federal, state and city grants funded the New York Shakespeare Festival (NYSF) – the parent company to Public Theater and its production, Shakespeare in the Park – over the past three years. The total amount since 2009? Nearly $30 million.
After Trump, Jr’s tweet, the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) was quick to clarify it had not funded this particular Shakespeare in the Park performance. However, the NEA disclosed its $630,000 in grants to NYSF since 2009. The NEA also disclosed that it continued grantmaking to NYSF’s other Public Theater project - “New York Voices” at Joe’s Pub – giving $25,000 in February.
By any estimation, NYSF is cashflow and asset-rich. In the latest year of IRS discloseddata (ending 8/2015), the non-profit had a financial asset base of $53 million; saved $22.4 million in cash-on-hand and invested securities; received nearly $28 million in contributions - $106 million over the past five years; and earned total revenues of $40 million.
Posted OpenTheBooks.com data reveals that state and city agencies gave the largest amounts of government grants to NYSF. Since 2010, New York City gave NYSF $23.5 million to build and renovate their public theater and funded an additional $5 million as ‘payments to cultural institutions.’ Over the past three years, the New York state agency ‘Council on the Arts’ chipped in $310,000.
Because of the Trump-like-Caesar assassination scandal, the production lost two of its highest profile donors – Delta Air Lines and Bank of America. Here’s just another reason we shouldn’t shed tears for NYSF:
According to IRS990 disclosures, NYSF paid-out nearly $20 million in compensation, with $912,646 going to just three highly-compensated employees. Top pay went to Oskar Eustis, the theater's artistic director and director of this summer's Julius Caesar.Eustis earned $381,993. Patrick Willingham, the theater's executive director, received the second-highest amount: $327,088.
The theater's website says that more than five million people have visited the Delacorte Theater – the outdoor venue for Free Shakespeare in the Park – “making it one of New York City's most beloved summer traditions.” The site explained, on opening night audiences watched a "Magnetic, populist, irreverent" leader who “seems bent on absolute power.” The site continued, “A small band of patriots, devoted to the country’s democratic traditions, must decide how to oppose him. Shakespeare’s political masterpiece has never felt more contemporary.”
Donald Trump Jr. and many other Americans are right to ask whether, and why, their tax-dollars are funding “art” - particularly when many of these recipients are doing just fine without taxpayer funds. At OpenTheBooks.com, we were already asking this question.
Our organization just completed an audit of the National Foundation on Arts and Humanities (NFA-H). We found that taxpayer funding for controversial, 'non-profit,' asset-rich organizations is common. For example, the NFA-H made $19.8 million in grants to 70 non-profits with assets greater than $1 billion in fiscal year 2016.
We’ll be releasing an oversight report based on our findings in the coming weeks.
Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-F-Ski) is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OpenTheBooks.com - a database of 3.5 billion captured government transactions at the Federal, State and Local levels across America.