Arts Advocacy Update 140: Michael Moore’s Michigan Moment

Which elephant deserves to be poached? Not this one.

The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of July 28, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010, Americans for the Arts is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. From offices in Washington, DC, and New York City, it serves more than 150,000 organizational and individual members and stakeholders. Visit us online at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.

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Maryland: Baltimore College Program Merges Art, Community Activism
The Baltimore Sun, 7/26/10
“A renovated Catholic school in East Baltimore will soon be the home of more than two dozen graduate-level art students who will collaborate with area residents in what educators see as a pioneering effort to address urban problems with art-based solutions. When complete in September, the $1.3 million MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) PLACE will contain an art gallery, computer lab, studios, seminar space, community meeting rooms, and upper-level apartments for 26 graduate students. The facility is the culmination of a decade-long effort by the Maryland Institute College of Art to develop community arts programs that immerse students in ‘real world’ settings from which they can draw inspiration for their work and where they can have an impact on the city…MICA PLACE, which stands for Programs Linking Art, Culture, and Education, also will add a new dimension to East Baltimore Development Inc., an 88-acre, mixed-use community north of Johns Hopkins that’s known for its research-oriented ‘biopark’ for companies that want to be near the medical campus.”
My only question: Will there be any restrictions on content? Story isn’t clear whether the church still owns the building or the land. Beyond that, a really wonderful story and I wish the program the very best.

Kentucky: Arts Fund Raises $8 Million for 2010 Campaign
The Courier-Journal, 7/23/10
“The Fund for the Arts raised just a shade over $8 million in its 2010 campaign — $900,000 less than last year — but a result fund officials still regard as an exceptional success. For 2010, the campaign took in $8,009,246. The 2009 effort raised $8.9 million, though that included about $500,000 in bequests unlikely to be repeated. That leaves a $400,000 drop from last year to this year, which organizers say in a soft economy is reasonable…Fund President and CEO Allan Cowen emphasized that the 2010 campaign had to make up for 8,000 previous donors who chose not to give this year. That’s the typical churn for any campaign. But in 2010, the poor economy kept the campaign from attracting an equal number of new donors. ‘The difference this year was people are not in the workforce any longer,’ Cowen said. Still, the 2010 campaign convinced 5,832 new donors who gave a total of about $950,000.”
For those interesting in learning more about the Fund for the Arts, click here. When you really think about it, those are some extraordinary numbers — and encouraging, as the article does note, given the times we’re in. Ideally there would be a follow-up story on how the money is apportioned and what the return is in terms of economic impact.

‘Queen of Soul’ Sings, Accompanied by Former U.S. Secretary of State on Piano
ABCNews.com, 7/28/10
“Condoleezza Rice was President George W. Bush’s secretary of state. Aretha Franklin is one of music’s greatest talents, with 20 Grammy awards to her name. So what could the diva and the diplomat have in common? ‘We do have some things in common, but I am a democrat forever, let me be very clear about that, alright?’ Franklin said laughing. ‘Well, we’re all Americans and President Obama is my president as well,’ Rice said. But there’s much more to it than that. For one, both are minister’s daughters. And both are devoted to music. That love of music brought the two to the same stage [on July 27]. An unlikely duo, Franklin’s powerhouse voice and Rice’s prowess on the piano came together alongside the acclaimed Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann Music Center to raise money for inner city music education…’Music is critical for young minds because not only does it make you a well-rounded person, but it really does develop different cognitive pathways, different ways of thinking and learning,’ Rice told Good Morning America. Franklin said their partnership transcended politics. ‘This is about making a social contribution. And it is purely from the artistic point of view that we come together,’ she said.”
Great story. And I think it’s important to add what was contained at the bottom: the event raised more than a half-million dollars, which says something about the kind of power — not just star power but the power of collaboration, the power of dialogue, the power of conciliation, the power of mutual understanding, the power of friendship — an event like this exemplifies. Plus, Rice is excellent (and we already know the Queen of Soul.)

Texas: New Fine Arts Requirements in Place for Coming School Year
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/26/10

“When classes begin next month, students statewide will be required to take at least one fine arts course in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. The rules also expand high school requirements so that all students in grades nine through twelve must earn at least one fine arts credit in courses such as band, theater, choir, dance, or mariachi. Many North Texas school administrators expect minimal changes in the coming school year, noting that most middle school-age students already take fine arts classes. But educators and parents are pleased nonetheless, saying more young people will be able to explore interests and identify artistic talents, eventually boosting enrollment in high school arts programs…Statewide, middle school arts enrollment has declined in recent years because required courses crowd student schedules. And some students miss out on electives to prepare for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, said Robert Floyd, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Music Educators Association.”
There’s a nice sort of postscript in the story where the writer talks about how a fine arts education can pay off:

Having students interested in fine arts in middle school is paying off for some Tarrant County school districts.

In November, L.D. Bell High’s Blue Raider marching band placed second in the Bands of America Grand National Championship in Indianapolis, having won in 2007.

Birdville High School’s production of The Boyfriend won Best Musical in the 2009 Betty Lynn Buckley Awards. In May, the school tied for first place in 2010 for Bye Bye Birdie with North Crowley’s Little Women.

The Arlington, Denton, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Northwest school district were recognized nationally in May as among 30 “best communities for music education” by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.

The thing is, why must we always equate everything to contests and besting and testing and competitiveness? Is it never, ever enough simply to teach something, or to learn something, for the pleasure in it? Oh, right. That’s so 20th century.

United Kingdom: Secretary Proposes Closure of National Film Council
The Guardian, 7/26/10

“Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has confirmed plans to abolish the UK Film Council. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) statement confirmed the proposal, rumors of which first emerged on the Deadline London blog. The move is part of a raft of DCMS cost-cutting measures that involve the merger, abolition, or streamlining of 16 public bodies. Hunt answered questions in the Commons about his proposed abolition of the council, which comes alongside plans to do away with the Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council. In answer to a question from MP Ian Paisley Jr about the wisdom of the measure, Hunt said he was keen for ¬£3 million per annum saved via cuts to the council’s administration to be given more directly to filmmakers. He also said the plans were not absolutely final, and invited people to voice opinions on the matter.”
To which I once again say: watch what happens in the U.K. very, very carefully. The cuts there are going to be excruciatingly painful, with few good-news stories to balance out the many, many dispiriting ones. The head of this particular organization, Tim Bevan, argues that people “will rightly look back on today’s announcement and say it was a big mistake, driven by short-term thinking and political expediency. British film, which is one of the UK’s more successful growth industries, deserves better.” But the real question is where the economic line has to be drawn — if you believe, as the Tories obviously do, that an all-encompassing budgetary retrenchment is necessary to pick up the economy right now, and all hands must be on deck, as it were. Only time will tell whether Bevan or the Tories — or someone in between — proves to be right. But a similar day of pain is coming to the U.S., sooner or later. And it will be no less distressing.

Michigan: Filmmaker to Use Tax Credit to Promote Nonprofit Movie Theaters
The Michigan Messenger, 7/26/10
“Film director Michael Moore has announced that he will use the expected $1 million dollar film tax credit from his Traverse City-based production Capitalism: A Love Story to develop a project that will revitalize Michigan towns by promoting nonprofit movie theaters. ‘We want to turn on the marquee lights, bring in some jobs, pump money into the local economy,’ Moore told the Traverse City Record Eagle. ‘This is just my effort to think of ways to do more.’ The project would give grants, to be used as seed money, for three main purposes: to reopen theaters that sit vacant, to sustain those that are open but struggling, and to start downtown movie theaters where there are none. Moore said theaters that receive project grants would have to become nonprofit theaters. Owners and operators would come [to Traverse City] to learn about the State’s volunteer-based model…Moore has been key to the restoration of the Traverse City’s State Theater which reopened in 2007 as a state of the art nonprofit community theater specializing in independent and foreign films and documentaries.”
A cheeky moment comes in this story in which Moore is asked “how he felt about accepting tax breaks from a state on the verge of economic collapse.” Moore’s answer is honest, it seems to me, and smart and provocative, all of which one would expect of the filmmaker. That is, if one wanted to make political hay out of what he’s doing — which the radical right may yet do, as the election season heats up in Michigan, and as the GOP sees the real possibility of retaking the governorship.

Massachusetts: Legislators Help Local Music Venues Threatened by Casinos
The Patriot Ledger, 7/23/10
“If a resort casino opens in Massachusetts, Tony Bennett and Aretha Franklin could pass up Cohasset for Fall River. That’s why legislators have added language to both House and Senate bills to offer cash help to nonprofit or municipally owned performing arts centers threatened by casinos that can pay more to book big name artists. Local venues such as the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset and the Duxbury Performing Arts Center could be eligible for state funding-if they apply and a proposed cultural panel determines their business has been affected by a casino. The money would be used to subsidize fees the venues pay to artists. Casino foes argue that the pot of money won’t be that big, regardless of which bill makes the final cut, and smaller venues won’t be able to compete with casinos. The House plan would provide $2.3 million a year, and the Senate would set aside $9.1 million. That’s if casinos generate the $460 million in tax revenue that lawmakers estimate they will, and it represents the total amount available to nonprofit art venues across the state.”
I’m not wild about the idea — especially since benchmarks appear to be lacking, or at least appear to be wildly subjective, in terms of what constitutes being “threatened” or affected by a potential resort casino. Also, if I were a resident of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I’m not sure I would want my tax dollars to subsidize the “fees the venues pay to artists.” Why should my money pay Aretha Franklin? Here’s a better idea, if it really can be proven that there will be a significant loss of revenue to presenters by the opening of a resort casino: subsidize the local crews and all of the local workers who are necessary to get the show up. That’s money in the pockets of Massachusetts people. Let the venue still figure out how to pay the artists — the people who need financial subsidy least.

Study: Online Contributions for Nonprofits Rapidly Rising
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/22/10
“Even if consumers aren’t quite ready to abandon recessionary spending habits, they are opening their wallets a bit more for charities and more are tapping the internet to make their contributions. Online gifts to nonprofits jumped 23 percent from March-May, compared with the same period of 2009, according to a new index that tracks donations. Total charitable contributions during that time-including gifts made through traditional venues such as phone and mail-increased 6.2 percent. The new report, The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving, looked at activity for nearly 1,800 nonprofits of various sizes that had combined annual online revenues of about $400 million. Blackbaud, a Charleston, SC-based consulting firm for nonprofits, launched the index for online giving because e-gifts are the fastest-growing method of making donations, said Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions for Blackbaud. Giving online still makes up just a slice of total donations. Online revenue accounted for about 5.7 percent of overall fundraising revenue in the past year, the report said.”
Obviously there are people in philanthropy-world who are much more well-versed in giving trends and habits than I am, but it seems to me there is value in tracking this — and more value, to be sure, in determining how to leverage these alterations in habit. Is micro-giving via email something hot and worth exploring? You guys tell me.

Nebraska: Emergency Shelter Fosters Young Artist’s Talent
KETV, 7/26/10
“When you hear Michael Fletcher’s story, you realize this young man’s outward creativity is one outlet he uses to cope with his violent past. ‘The way it started, I had a bad childhood and whenever I got frustrated, I would draw,’ said Fletcher, as the 18-year-old sharpened a white pencil and applied sweeping lines to a black background. He’s lived in the Child Saving Institute’s (CSI) emergency shelter for 15 months, longer than any other child in the organization’s history…CSI is also hosting an art show for Fletcher, with sales going into a fund to help pay for his education. Fletcher wants to go to an area art school. ‘That is really a gift of Michael’s to have that skill and use that to create beautiful artwork and continue to heal the pain he has,’ CSI Chief Operating Officer Judy Kay said…Fletcher credits artists at Omaha’s Bemis Center for mentoring him and teaching him new techniques on a regular basis.”
Poor kid. Aside from the uplifting part of the story in which a young man who has enduring one hell of a difficult life so far learns to channel his creativity, boy does this story make you want to stand up and yell at parents. He seems like a sweet kid who really need a helping hand. I’m not too much of a praying guy, but I’ll say one for him. He deserves a great life — one filled with art, both that he creates and that he explores for the world. Hang on, Michael.

Texas: Rolling Art Gallery Uses Uplifting Works to Help Healing Process
CultureMap.com, 7/23/10
“The eighth floor of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital is a series of hushed hallways and generic walls. [Electronic] pads guard each of the doors on the sleeping floor and only the doctors, nurses, and chaplains on overnight shifts know the secret codes. The floor is also frequented by purple-clad women volunteering each week as part of the Art Cart program, a free service allowing patients to choose framed photographs of landscapes, animals, and other serene scenes for their hospital rooms. Arlene Price has been an Art Cart volunteer since 2002 and firmly believes there’s power in the photographs. ‘There is a connection between healing and art and our purpose is to share that,’ Price says. ‘We find this is the only thing a patient has control over in the hospital and they enjoy it.’ Price and her team of seven other volunteers rotate floors, making a stop on each floor once every two weeks. The rolling gallery is divided into landscapes, animals, flowers, and people.”
There’s no question that art therapy, or variations on that theme, has a deeply healing quality. It’s important that these stories be told more often.

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