I just went and saw my last show as a season ticket holder at Hale Center theater. I really enjoyed it as I have so many shows there, so why not get season tickets as I have ever since I moved back to Utah? Because HCT is a perfect example of what happens when the government hammer gets overused.
Back in May it was reported that HCT received state grant money in excess of $100,000. Nothing wrong with that except that the five top executives at HCT each earn more than $100,000 annually while the actors are paid no more than $60 per performance (that’s $180 per week unless they are double cast). There was a minor uproar over this when it was first reported. (Here is a copy of the original article from May.)
Before that time I had considered donating money to HCT beyond my annual season ticket price. Afterwords I had second thoughts about that idea. Laura did as well and she wrote to HCT explaining our concerns with taking government money while maintaining such a disturbing pay rate for top executives. Mark Dietlein, the President and CEO of HCT took the time to personally call us and respond to our concerns. In essence he argued that they had done nothing illegal and that the top executive pay was fully disclosed in applying for the grant money. (Kent Collins – a member of the HCT Board of Trustees – offered a similar defense in the Deseret News.)
Some people will argue that the government has a place in supporting the arts, others will argue that funding the arts is not the place for government. Regardless of which side of that argument you fall on I think it would be hard to argue that the government should need to fund an organization that can afford to pay their top executives $100,000 per year – not counting any money they earn through other business deals with the organization (read the original articles if you want to know what I mean there). If the organization needs government grants then they should be paying their top executives a more pedestrian salary (I would say nothing over $60,000 which would save them more money than they received from the grant). This is what happens when the government does things – everything is done by static rules and so long as you follow the rules you may reap the reward without regard to actual need. The rules are never so precise that all in need receive while all without need are turned away.
To the best of my knowledge, Dietlein spoke truly that they had done nothing illegal. But legal is not the final arbiter of right. Collins stated that:
Public funding for HCT is used exclusively to improve HCT’s product by increasing pay for cast and crew, and obtaining technical equipment, sets, scenes and costumes.
He does not seem to recognize that public money has no more buying power than whatever money they are using to pay their top executives six-figure salaries.
I now face the task of finding shows to see at places other than HCT.