Arts Advocacy Update 163-167: Ah, the Cultural Gift That Keeps on Giving

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blasts of March 2011 (subscribe to it here).

Expressions, opinions and/or comments in italics following each story highlighted in Arts Advocacy Update are those of the Clyde Fitch Report and not endorsed or approved by Americans for the Arts.

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Americans for the Arts, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010, 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 them here.

Pennsylvania: Neighborhoods United by Arts Initiative
The Morning Call, 3/10/11
“Sasha, an outgoing 11-year-old, was one of nearly 20 students who celebrated the conclusion of a six-week afterschool Urban/Suburban Connection program designed to foster relationships between students of suburban and city districts. Students including Sasha, who attends Trexler Middle School in Allentown, were paired with students from Southern Lehigh Middle School, and the kids became pen pals in between learning new forms of art. This was the sixth year the Lehigh Valley Arts Council has run the program at the schools, and the themes vary each year.”
My question about this is not policy-oriented by journalism-minded: What does the sector do with all of these anecdotal stories that pop up over and over every year? Couldn’t it all amount to something usable and actionable for the greater good of lobbying for arts education? Why isn’t it?

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Commentator: Don’t Put Sports, Art, and Music on Chopping Block
NPR.org, 3/16/11
“Now that so many American school districts…are facing reductions in school funding, more and more, it is athletics that are being cut back…Of course, it’s not just sports that are prime prospects for elimination, but also art and music. After all, sports, art and music — what I call the SAM activities — are known as extracurriculars, emphasis on the ‘extra’…it’s also true that when children who are artistic or musical are denied that opportunity in school, their young personal loss eventually not only robs them of developing their talent but diminishes us as a culture.”
I still don’t understand why this topic is always “or” and never “and.” It is highly reflective of our stratified and divided society that these articles, reporting on the imbecilic, child-destroying policy choices being made, don’t really tackle the big problem: the radical right wants our schools to be academically imbalanced, they want children cheated out of a genuinely rounded education. Would that NPR had the guts to say that before the whole NPR fracas erupted.

New Hampshire: Arts Education Census Finds Mixed Results
The Telegraph, 3/10/11
“‘Measuring Up: New Hampshire Arts Education Data Project Report’ was the state’s first arts education survey of schools. It was a mixed bag of results, as presenters walked the audience through the data. For example, virtually all public schools offer at least one art course, but some, particularly high schools, go well beyond that. Among the high schools surveyed, 60 percent reported offering three or more art disciplines…One of [the] areas [of concern], said presenter Bob Morrison, was that only half of high schools include arts courses in their weighted grade point averages.”
Why would one omit arts courses from a GPA? Doesn’t that, by implication, degrade (pardon the pun) an arts education? Or is that simply more grade creep?

Jane Remer: If We’re Not on the Table, We’re On the Menu
ArtsJournal.com’s Dewey21C blog, 3/10/11
“Working with and within the Common Core State Standards is, at the moment, a strong and compelling idea. But as I remember what American history tells us, especially since [the] 1983 Nation At Risk bombshell, standards come and go and standardized high stakes testing in English and Math remain the gold coin of the realm. There is no guarantee that the money, energy, or infrastructure (professional development, assessment and evaluation smarts, and the constraints of time and enthusiasm) required for success will emerge or last in our current fragile economy and divided nation.”
Agreed. Now, what, exactly, are people like Remer or Richard Kessler (who asked me to contact him directly and who then declined to respond) doing to tie their efforts to the greater efforts of the arts advocacy community?

South Carolina: House Passes Budget, Arts Commission Survives
The State, 3/16/11
“Advocates for public schools and the arts…are breathing a sigh of relief after House lawmakers passed an almost $5.4 billion spending plan [March 15]. Dealing with the aftereffects of the worst recession in recent history, lawmakers hammered out a plan for the state’s budget year that starts July 1 that would…fund the Arts Commission, but moves it under the state Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. House members twice rejected proposals to cut the number of positions at the commission. The budget, which still must pass the Senate before going to Gov. Haley for her signature or veto, passed 77-42.”
Certainly some good news here. Good thing that Haley doesn’t intend to become the next Scott Walker. Yet.

Vermont: Sales Tax on Performing Arts Tickets Angers Advocates
Brattleboro Reformer, 3/15/11
“A new sales tax on the performing arts will cut into the already slim margins of nonprofit art organizations, according to supporters of the groups across the state. Last year, in the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers introduced a provision in the massive Miscellaneous Tax Bill that created a new six percent sales tax on all performances for nonprofit groups that take in more than $50,000 in ticket sales annually. The provision was introduced with little opposition and very few art directors were even aware of the new tax.”
Sorry, folks: the arts groups are wrong. Did no one notice the irony in the last line of this story? Here it is: “Most people don’t realize how razor thin the profit margins are for nonprofits… If four or five people don’t come a night, and they lose a couple of hundred dollars each performance, it starts to add up.” First, arts folks need to recalibrate their vocabulary: nonprofit is not about profit, though we all know it really is. Second, the upset in Vermont is indicative of the inability and unwillingness of the arts to think like entrepreneurs. Third, the argument that a ticket tax will put prices beyond the reach of people is spurious to a point of completely absurdity. You expect me to believe that a $30 ticket is no problem but a $31.80 ticket is? Really? Totally lame.

Ohio: Governor Proposes 19.5 Percent Cut for State Arts Council
Cincinnati.com Theater Buzz blog, 3/15/11
“Gov. John Kasich released his budget proposal for fiscal years 2012-2013 and it includes a 19.5 percent reduction to the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) general fund appropriation, bringing its budget to $10,611,408. According to an OAC press release, ‘After sustaining a 47 percent decrease in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the additional reduction will further limit support to artists, arts organizations, schools, and other entities engaged in cultural programming throughout the state’…The OAC’s current budget is less than 1/27th of one percent of the entire state budget.”
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If you believe there is little place for public arts funding, then the discussion is over. Kasich does not (regardless of what’s quoted in this story) really believe there is a place for public arts funding. It is time to think out of the box. Public funding is withering on the vine and the sector remains constitutionally unable to develop new business models.

Michigan: Arts Council, City Use Creative Economy as Redevelopment Tool
The (Michigan) State News, 3/15/11
“A partnership between East Lansing officials and the Arts Council of Greater Lansing aim to spread the love of art and business throughout the downtown area…The Downtown East Lansing Cultural Entrepreneurship Program will establish the founding of an arts-based business by allowing entrepreneurs to apply for loans and grants, said Leslie Donaldson, the executive director for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing…’What we’re trying to do is look at a ten-year plan where we create Greater Lansing…as part of the destination for creative innovators and entrepreneurs,’ [Community Development Specialist Amy Schlusler-Owens] said.”
Bravo! This is exactly what I’m talking about — thinking about the creative economy as an engine of economic growth and not doing the same tired whine of “If only we got more public money, all would be just fine.” No, it wouldn’t.

Texas: Students, Advocates Flock to Austin to Defend Arts Education
KXAN-TV, 3/8/11
“This week, fine arts students from across the state swarmed the Texas State Capitol to tell lawmakers their curriculum is not extracurricular. As the House Appropriations Committee looks to shore up the budget’s portion of public education funding [this week], and possibly pass it out of committee as early as next week, those students’ fears rest with potential cuts to their programs. ‘If fine arts courses are singled out for budget cuts, we will be cutting the heart out of the education system in Texas,’ said Robert Floyd, director of the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education.”
Is Texas the most arts-unfriendly state in the union? Or is it just the secession-salivating governor who sets the tone? Discuss. Meanwhile, as usual, the children lose.

Wisconsin: Poet Laureate Loses Title for $2,000 Budget Savings
Bloomberg.com, 3/8/11
“A career in the arts ‘don’t plant no corn,’ Bruce Dethlefsen’s father told him when he was a boy…Soon, his job as Wisconsin’s poet laureate may not even pay gas money. The $2,000 annual budget for the post, which [he] assumed January 1, is a casualty of Gov. Scott Walker’s drive for austerity. For Wisconsin’s poets and artists, ‘it’s just a smack in the face,’ Dethlefsen said…’In good times arts are magical, and in tough times they are essential,’ he said. ‘That’s when you need them the most. Art makes you human. If it’s just about the money, then it’s petty and vindictive.’ Tommy Thompson, a Republican governor, created the office in 2000.”
Just think: all of this stuff has happened in Wisconsin during Scott Walker’s first three months in office. What could possibly be next? Banning all fire companies so the state can burn? How about no government at all? Who knew radical-right Republicans preferred anarchy?

Florida: Arts Organizations Still Pulling Out of Economic Quagmire
Orlando Sentinel, 3/8/11
“Finally there are signs that some of Central Florida’s major arts organizations are headed toward good reviews on their balance sheets. For the first time in three years, the sector is projecting slightly higher revenues for next year, according to figures compiled by United Arts of Central Florida based on grant applications it received last month. Earned income increased about three percent this year thanks to discounted ticket prices and new marketing strategies among the 13 major groups with budgets of at least $600,000 [which are] considered bellwethers for the local industry.”
Sigh. Hopeful. Always, always hopeful.