Arts Advocacy Update CIV: “Why Oh Why Ohio — and Michigan” Edition

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of September 30, 2009. (Subscribe to it here.)

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New York: Transportation Department Creates Temporary Urban Art Program
ARTINFO.com, 9/30/09
“When Gabriel ‘Specter’ Reese says public art is ‘all about the community,’ he means it literally. The artist interviewed more than 800 senior citizens in Flatbush, Brooklyn, while he was making his latest large-scale work, A Collection of Local Memories. His interview subjects’ reminiscences-about neighborhood characters, houses, and storefronts, many of them long gone-are brightly painted onto the freestanding, three-sided mural in a plaza at Ocean and Parkside avenues…The mural, which went up early this month, is the second in a new series of five installations from the New York City Department of Transportation’s Urban Art Program. The program partners with local nonprofit organizations to commission public artworks as part of the DOT’s World Class Streets initiative.”
As a native New Yorker, this story appeals to me greatly. But I wonder whether this project isn’t a kind of urban obituary, and therefore kind of sad.

Maryland: Art District Struggles to Grow, Prosper
The Washington Post, 9/23/09
“Nearly 10 years ago, a group of Prince George’s County, MD, residents teamed up with hopes of transforming four areas of vacant storefronts, used-car lots, and seedy warehouses into a funky, eclectic community along Route 1. The group coalesced around the artists who lived in Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, North Brentwood, and Brentwood, believing that interest in the arts could revitalize the area. ‘We wanted to create a sense of place…to change the perception of the corridor,’ said Peter A. Shapiro, a former county council member, who worked with the group…But the two-mile stretch from Eastern Avenue to Madison Avenue, which the state designated as the Gateway Arts District in 2003, has been slow to change…Mounds of dirt and overgrown weeds sit behind a sign announcing that stores, lofts, and restaurants are ‘coming soon’ as part of a $150 million project being developed by the Bethesda-based firm EYA. The sign has sat by the side of the road for almost two years. The Gateway Arts District has been slow to draw investors, in part, because of the county’s long-standing difficulties in attracting development, said Kwasi Holman, chief executive officer of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. And the economic downturn delayed the EYA project, the largest in the district, said Aakash Thakkar, the company’s vice president of development. The EYA project plan includes 600 homes and 50,000 square feet of retail, but only 100 homes have been built.”
The problem, I believe, is that it all begins with housing, followed closely by amenities. Without the homes, the amenities could arise, true, but in this economic environment, it’s a dicier bet. Build the artists some housing and the rest will come.

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Arts Education Programs Narrow Achievement Gaps
Education Week, 9/23/09
“For many of the 1.3 million young people who leave high school each year without a diploma, the path that eventually leads to this educational dead end begins in middle school. The National Assessment of Educational Progress [NEAP] provides a snapshot of student achievement in various subject areas at crucial transition points, including eighth grade. In June 2009, the results of the 2008 NAEP arts assessment in music and visual arts were released; it was the first NAEP arts assessment conducted since 1997. Those 2008 results tell a disappointing, but incomplete, story of eighth grade student achievement in the arts…Does it really matter if the performance of eighth grade students on the NAEP arts assessments is mediocre at best, or that significant achievement gaps based on socioeconomics and other characteristics continue to persist? It matters only if we as a nation are truly serious about reaching the president’s goal of preparing all K-12 students by 2020 to succeed in school, work, and life. Arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and innovation. These capacities are increasingly recognized as core skills and competencies all students need as part of a high-quality and complete 21st-century education. And, as a matter of social justice, we must be concerned when students are denied access to a high-quality education-one that includes learning in and through the arts-simply because of where they live or go to school.”
But half the country believes that arts education is a frill, mostly because they themselves are shallow, often Republican, idiots. A new NEAP study is neat, but we have to keep making the case and, more than that, we have to keep presenting metrics.

Ohio: State Arts Council Cuts Six Staffers
Business First of Columbus, 9/29/09
“The state agency that distributes grants to arts groups plans to cut nearly a quarter of its staff next week as it adjusts to a drop in funding. The Ohio Arts Council said its board has approved cutting six employees from the agency’s 26-member staff. Their last day will be October 9. Employment at the arts council has dropped by more than a third since the beginning of 2008. Employees to be eliminated next week include a communications staffer, fine arts administrator, grants assistant, information technology supervisor, and two fine arts program coordinators, the council said. Prompting the reduction was a cut in support from the state budget. The arts council said its budget stands at $13.1 million, down from about $25 million in the previous two-year budget cycle.”
Terrible. Those jobs are not coming back anytime soon.

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Michigan: State Arts Agency Forced to Slash $6 Million in Grant Funding
WOUM Radio, 9/29/09
“State lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to slash arts funding by 71 percent next year. But the nearly $2.3 million that arts groups may receive is still more money than they had been told to expect. Gov. Granholm proposed a much deeper cut. Mike Latvis, with Art Serve Michigan, says many Michigan arts groups will find themselves without state funding next year. ‘You can look at it that almost a third of those 290 organizations may be funded,’ says Latvis. Latvis hopes the legislature will be able to increase arts spending with new tax revenues later on.”
Michigan continues to be an absolute mess economically. What can our arts leaders offer as ways for the state to stop the bleeding in the creative community there?

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NEH Chair Jim Leach Relishes His New Role in DC
The Washington Post, 9/24/09
“In the high-ceilinged office of Jim Leach, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, you’ll find portraits of figures both rogue and rabble-rousing. Confucius, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Giuseppe Verdi, Albert Einstein, Chief Black Hawk, Madame Curie, Charles Darwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Leo Tolstoy. These are not government-issued prints, but rather striking, one-of-a-kind works: heads painted on wood and fine silk screens. And they’re from Leach’s own collection, art from the heartland, art from the craftsmen of Iowa City.
A great profile of a very decent man. (Yes, I said that about a Republican.)

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Ohio: Foundation Launches $300,000 Match Campaign for Arts Groups
Business First of Columbus, 9/23/09
“The Columbus Foundation is turning to donors to help 15 area arts groups secure $1.2 million in funding, but the money is coming with strings attached. The foundation, which advises 1,700 individuals, families and businesses in the area on charitable giving, this week rolled out the Arts Challenge Fund Initiative, which puts $300,000 in foundation grant funding up for dollar-for-dollar matching. The $600,000 combination of donor giving and matching funds then will be used to unlock $600,000 in matching funds Franklin County put up for members of the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium this spring as part of its pledge to the city’s Thrive in Five arts fundraising initiative. Among the consortium’s 15 members are CAPA, BalletMet, Opera Columbus, COSI [the Center of Science and Industry], and the Wexner Center for the Arts.”
This certainly makes up for the bad Ohio news up above. Let’s keep our eyes on this one.

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