Arts Advocacy Update CXVI: Can-Do Michigan

Which elephant deserves to be poached? Not this one.

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Jan. 6, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Kennedy Center President Calls for Lower Ticket Prices to Build Audiences
The Huffington Post, 1/4/10
In his latest column for The Huffington Post, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Michael Kaiser wrote that restructuring the reliance on ticket sales as part of performing arts group budget balancing must end if the goal is to build larger audiences: “The central challenge facing arts managers is to fill the ever-widening gap between rapidly increasing expenses and earned income, primarily from ticket sales. This gap continues to grow each year since the number of seats we have to sell does not increase but expenses do. Unfortunately, the favored technique used to fill budget gaps has been increasing ticket prices. When we increase prices, typically at budget time, we hope that a small increase will not be noticeable and we need the added revenue to break even. However, we have been doing this for so long that tickets prices are now too high for many people to afford regularly.”
What Kaiser has written is true, of course, but with decreasing funding sources (what states and localities are increasing appropriations? what foundations are double-digit increasing giving? what individual philanthropists are giving more than, say, in 2007?), what are they to do? It’s all fine and well in theory, but in practice…?

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Louisiana: Looking Back at a Decade of Promise and Ahead at a Brighter Arts Future
The (Monroe) News-Star, 1/2/10
“As the decade comes to an end with budget woes and arts on the chopping block, Northeast Louisiana Arts Council President and CEO Tommy Usrey remains proud of the advances in local arts over the last 10 years and optimistic about the future. ‘We’ve just hit our stride now,’ Usrey said. ‘I think if we can get through this next year, you’re going to see everything stabilizing and we’re going to take the next step forward.’ That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some concerns. He sees more private funding of the arts in the near future, and looks to the local legislative delegation to continue its support of the arts. ‘We all need to be concerned,’ Usrey said. ‘Over these next 10 years, we may have to depend on local groups and individuals helping us out a little more than in the past. We’ll be doing everything we can in Baton Rouge to make sure that legislators understand the importance of the arts.”
Not to harp unduly, but per the comments above, based on what is the assumption of more private funding? Really?

California: Los Angeles Mayor Defends Arts Support Despite Budget Gap
Los Angeles Times Culture Monster Blog, 1/5/10
“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa remains bullish on the L.A. arts scene even though the city government’s balance sheet has gone to the bears and its funding for the arts appears to be in line for yet another cut. The mayor gave a brief, upbeat talk to a gathering of local arts leaders [January 5], kicking off the second annual Los Angeles Arts Month at the downtown REDCAT theater…Villaraigosa described L.A.’s arts and culture as the ‘soul of the city,’ a hallmark of its demographic diversity, and a leading contributor to its economic muscle. But the mayor acknowledged that when it comes to kicking in money to support the arts, the city of Los Angeles lags behind…’In this tough budget time, L.A. has invested in the arts less…than most big cities in the United States,’ Villaraigosa began, before moving on to sunnier themes such as the 850,000 creative-sector jobs in the city and the billions of dollars the arts generate for its economy…But as far as doing more for the arts, Villaraigosa offered no promises of improved funding from a City Hall facing an estimated $400-million revenue shortfall. ‘I hear from budget crunchers all the time, “We ought to cut Cultural Affairs.” I look at them with a stare and say, “We already invest less than other big cities…we ought to move in the other direction.””
The other metric that is so disturbing — and has been for years — is the per capita spending on the arts in California. It’s colosally embarassing. At least Villaraigosa is struggling and making a show of doing so.

Michigan: Increased Film Tax Credit Doubles Number of State Productions
California Chronicle, 1/4/10
“Twenty-one months after the nation’s leading tax incentives for film and TV producers went into effect, Michigan’s efforts to build its version of Hollywood North are getting mixed reviews. On the bright side, more than 130 applications for movie and TV show projects were approved for the incentives, and 84 projects finished filming already. That’s a big leap from the 44 productions that were made in Michigan from 2000 through 2007. According to the Michigan Film Office, filmmakers spent $125 million in the state in 2008, creating 2,763 production-related jobs. Spending rose to $214 million in 2009, but the number of jobs generated last year isn’t known yet.”
You mean there’s a fiscal impact? Heaven known Michigan needs it. Wonder if other states, presently look at ways to cut tax-credit incentives entirely, will think twice before cutting their noses to spite the budgetary faces.

Report: Despite Estate Tax Changes, Wealthy Not Leaving More to Charity
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/4/10
“Gradual increases in the level of the federal estate tax exemption in recent years apparently did not cause wealthy people to change the shares of their estates that they left to charity, according to a new report from the Internal Revenue Service. But the increases in the exemption level appear to have resulted in a ‘slight downward trend’ in the percentage of wealthy people who made charitable bequests, the IRS said. The tax agency’s report comes as Congress is wrangling over what to do about the future of the estate tax.”
This is anathama to Democrats, but there probably shouldn’t be an estate tax at all. Of course, with the deficit bequeathed to Obama by the fiscal-holocaust-causing Bush, it probably isn’t an option at this point.

Washington: Tacoma Arts Center Launches High-Dollar Raffle Fundraiser
Puget Sound Business Journal, 12/31/09
“The Tacoma-based Broadway Center for the Performing Arts is using a recent change in state gambling laws to raise big money using a strategy normally associated with small-scale fundraisers. Starting [December 31], the nonprofit began selling raffle tickets for $99 apiece. The raffle features several major prizes and cash awards-including a ‘$1 million Tacoma dream home.’ The Broadway Center says it will sell up to 34,000 tickets, half of which must be sold before the dream home at The Commencement Condominiums becomes eligible…David Fischer, executive director of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, said he got the idea for the raffle from a San Francisco-based arts group. The strategy gives his organization a good opportunity to leverage the most income from its total $1.1 million prize pool: 34,000 tickets at $99 apiece equals $3,366,000. Fischer says the raffle will likely cost $1 million to promote and conduct (each ticket includes a coupon book with $350 in savings), but still the leverage is strong.”
Phenomenal idea — could New York or Connecticut dream up an idea like this?

Great Recession Sparks Do-It-Yourself Arts Movement
Newsweek, 12/30/09
“The global recession hasn’t crippled the entertainment industry, as some feared, but it has hastened its embrace of the do-it-yourself movement. From neighborhood theater troupes to bookstore readings, amateur performers are taking their place onstage. It’s less a new development than a return to an old way of life. ‘The whole idea of the professional artist belongs to the 20th century,’ says Shan Maclennan, Southbank’s creative director of learning and participation. ‘Before that, amateurs were everywhere.’ When the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was founded in 1840, she says, half its members had day jobs. ‘In professionalizing art, [spontaneity and fun] have been lost. What we’re doing feels like the way forward.’”
The nomenclature here is interesting — especially for Newsweek, which really show know better. I mean, “amateur” vs. “professional”? I read the story and not sure I fully understand the distinction here. Payment? Budgets? Speaking purely as a fellow with a background in New York theater, that would make Off-Off-Broadway what, exactly?

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