Arts Advocacy Update XC: American Banned Stand

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Cultural Policy Listserv email blast of June 17, 2009:

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Obama Plays It Safe with the Arts
The Wall Street Journal, 6/11/2009
“Last week President Barack Obama announced Jim Leach as his choice to lead the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mr. Leach, an Iowa Republican who served 30 years in the House before losing his bid for re-election in 2006, notably went against his party last year by endorsing Mr. Obama, not John McCain, in the presidential race. Now that President Obama has picked Mr. Leach for NEH and Rocco Landesman, a successful Broadway producer, to head the National Endowment for the Arts, the Obama cultural team is complete.

Of the two, Mr. Leach is more surprising — if only because his cultural qualifications aren’t as immediately obvious. But he was a solid supporter of the endowments while in Congress, and both the National Humanities Alliance and Americans for the Arts recognized his contributions. He’s also familiar with academia, having recently taught at Harvard and Princeton.

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Still, Leach and Landesman are probably not the choices initially expected from a president who was being lobbied just a couple of months ago to do something as bold as create a cabinet-level department of arts and culture. These are the choices, rather, of a president who doesn’t want this to be a political fight. With these nominations it’s also clear that Mr. Obama is not making a statement that great change is needed at either agency. This is not to disparage these choices — both of which, in addition to being rather surprising, are quite good, at least in the eyes of those who think both endowments are already following a wise course. In fact, given the constituencies that rallied most vociferously behind Mr. Obama in the campaign, his choice of these two men ought to elicit a sigh of relief from conservatives.

Taken together, what might these two nominations mean for the relationship between the government and the arts under the Obama administration? Do they signal any new directions for these agencies?
For me, the most interesting line in this, the opening graphs of a fairly substantial piece, is “at least in the eyes of those who think both endowments are already following a wise course.” Insidious, the criticism, but it’s there.

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An Analysis of Women’s Role in Creative Economy
San Diego Business Journal, 6/8/2009

“When it comes to positions in the new so-called creative economy — a new global economy every nation must be part of — a study by Professor Sally M. Reis of the University of Connecticut discovered a myriad of barriers to otherwise creative women. Reis found that ‘pursuing one’s creative talents was misconstrued as selfish consideration;’ that there was an expectation that women had a unique nurturing role that contradicted a life of creativity; that many otherwise creative or productive women felt a ‘sense of guilt;’ and, women with religious backgrounds and beliefs grappled with the idea that developing their own talents might be construed as ‘a selfish, immodest occupation.'”
What I’d like to look at is how we go about changing those perceptions. What is embedded in the culture of this nation (or the West) that makes these emotions integral?

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Wisconsin: Teacher Rescues Banned Rent: School Edition Production
The Post-Crescent, 6/8/2009
“When officials decided to not support the performance of the popular yet provocative Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning musical Rent on the school stage, a teacher resolved to pay for the production himself. Kimberly High School students will perform Rent: School Edition on June 25-27 at Lawrence University in Appleton as part of a private troupe organized by high school theater teacher Todd Wegner. Wegner’s performances will take place without funding from the Kimberly Area School District. School administrators approved the show for Kimberly’s 2009 summer musical last year, but changed their stance in December after community complaints.”
It will almost certainly become a box-office hit. The question is whether the religious right will put the high schoolers in the political crossfire and demonstrate against them. Trauma in the name of politics would be no vice, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, if that should come to pass.

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Rhode Island: Assembly Bill Revises State Public Art Program Funding
The Providence Journal, 6/14/2009
“The compromise proposal, introduced last week at the General Assembly after weeks of discussion, would start by capping the dollars the state spends on public art. Right now, under a 20-year-old law, at least one percent of construction budgets for new or refurbished state buildings must be set aside for an art installation that makes the building more inviting. The idea is to promote the arts in well-traveled public spots, and the law has helped place dozens of sculptures, paintings, and murals around the state. The amended law, if approved, would limit the money spent on such projects to no more than one percent of the construction budget, with at least 0.25 percent earmarked for local art and arts education programs. Building projects with a total budget of less than $250,000 could see the entire one percent allocated to community arts.”
I’m not real sure I understand why this needs to be changed. Anyone have any information?

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Wisconsin: Evjue Foundation Provides Over $1 Million in Grants
The (Madison) Capital Times, 6/8/2009
“Gifts and grants to area educational, cultural and civic organizations have been announced by The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times. The grants this year total $1,219,411 considerably less than what the foundation in past years has been able to give the nonprofit and educational communities in the Madison area. Of the total, $452,911 this year has been donated to the University of Wisconsin for 22 projects and $766,500 to 56 Madison area community nonprofits.” Arts groups receiving funding include the University of Wisconsin Press, the Madison Early Music Festival, Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Wisconsin, and the Madison Jazz Society.
Good news for those folks.

Connecticut: Greenwich Arts Group Donates to Other Nonprofits
The Greenwich Time, 6/14/2009

“Members of the Greenwich Center for the Arts have turned a negative into a positive by donating money originally intended to build an arts center to support art organizations in town. The group has distributed close to $300,000 to 24 nonprofit art organizations after plans to build the center folded late last year. Stuart Adelberg, a board member for the group, said after deciding it was not feasible to pursue the center, they decided the best thing to do was allocate the money to groups who share their values.”
California should learn by example. It could really use the largesse.