New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park” group, The Public Theater, produced a rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” that depicts the stabbing death of a character who resembles President Trump. The group received on average $976,296 from the government annually between 2010 and 2014. On Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on July 11, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers?” He added, “Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
Taxpayers funded approximately 4.6% of The Public Theater’s total revenue from 2010 through 2014, which averaged $21,281,920 annually. During the 2010-2015 period, taxpayers contributed $4,881,480. The theater company’s 2012-2014 990 IRS forms are published on their website, while Charity Navigator provided the 2010 and 2011 forms. Non-government sponsors included the Time-Warner Foundation.
After CNSNews.com published a list of The Public Theater sponsors, that list was pulled from the website. Two sponsors were: the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts. Delta Airlines and the Bank of America subsequently pulled their funding.
The theater group appeared to be unrepentant, according to a statement it released. “The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions.”
“Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.” The production of the play continues until June 18 in Central Park.
Delta Air Lines released a statement on Twitter, declaring "No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of 'Julius Caesar' at this summer's Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines' values." The airline tweeted, "Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste. We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of The Public Theater effective immediately." As for Bank of America, noting its 11-year partnership with The Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park tweeted on Sunday, "The Public Theater chose to present 'Julius Caesar' in a way that was intended to provoke and offend," the company said in a statement on Twitter on Sunday. "Had this intention been made known to us, we would have decided not to sponsor it. We are withdrawing our funding for this production."
The play opened at New York's Delacorte Theater in Central Park on Monday. It is a modern version of the masterpiece by William Shakespeare features the ancient Roman dictator Julius Caesar as man who has blonde hair and dresses in a fashion similar to Trump’s. In addition, the actress portraying Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, speaks with a Slavic accent that is similar to that of First Lady Melania Trump.