Arts Advocacy Update CV: Duncan’s Brew and Louisiana Lovin’

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Oct. 7, 2009. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Louisiana: Cities Take Advantage of State Cultural District Program
Daily World, 10/7/09
“Culture is big business in Acadiana, and Lafayette is seeking to reap the benefits by establishing a downtown cultural district. The Louisiana Cultural Districts Program, created by the Legislature in 2007, allows local governments to designate cultural districts within their municipalities. The program allows original, one-of-a-kind works of art to be sold tax-free, and also provides income and corporate tax credits for rehabilitation of owner-occupied or revenue-generating historic buildings within the district…The Acadiana Arts Council and the Downtown Development Authority have promoted the idea of a cultural district in downtown Lafayette, which is already home to numerous art galleries, museums and facilities. ‘I think it would be a wonderful thing for Lafayette,’ said arts council executive director Gerd Wuestemann. ‘This could really help take downtown to the next level.'”
I’d love to see some metrics that would indicate whether these pro-corporate, pro-business ideas are more helpful to the economy than state appropriations.

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Ohio: New Local Arts Advocacy Coalition Launches
Valley24.com, 10/6/09
“Local arts advocates say it’s time to take action. The first session of the Power of the Arts, held [September 30] in Niles, OH, attracted 91 arts enthusiasts, according to the Raymond John Wean Foundation. The Power of the Arts coalition, sponsored by the foundation, was developed after June’s Valley of the Arts panel discussion at The Butler North Education Center, where the topic of conversation was the role of the arts in transforming neighborhoods. SMARTS [Students Motivated by the Arts] Director Becky Keck said from there, they realized that they needed band together for a common goal. She and Wean board member, Bill Mullane, were appointed co-chairs of Power of the Arts coalition and together, they organized a group of 11 community artists from a variety of creative backgrounds to attend September’s CPAC [Community Partnership for Arts and Culture] conference in Cleveland. Those community members’ jobs, she said, are to bring information back to the community and help organize efforts for the local arts and cultural community…The group hopes to answer questions, such as how can regional arts, artists, and cultural organizations play a role in Valley revitalization, how can these organizations take leadership roles in the region’s economy, and what can these organizations and individuals contribute to reinventing the community.”
At what point does this become political activism — and will it be permitted?

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U.S. Education Secretary Duncan Wants Matching Funds for Education Aid
Bloomberg.com, 10/6/09
“School districts and nonprofit groups would have to team up with private-sector organizations to qualify for $650 million in stimulus grants under guidelines proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Private partners such as philanthropic groups would have to provide matching donations equal to at least 20 percent of each federal grant under the proposal, posted [October 6] on the Education Department’s website. All school districts and nonprofits, including charter school organizations, will have a chance to compete for part of the $650 million, known as the Investing in Innovation fund, Duncan said on a conference call with reporters. ‘Some will find ways to establish a network of new schools or develop models to turn around low-performing schools,’ he said. ‘Others will find new ways to use technology. Others might explore how to engage children in the arts.'”
I love the idea. My only concern: Will the right- wing accuse the Obama Administration to trying to influence how philanthropies direct their disbursements?

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Massachusetts: Cuts Force State Cultural Council to Reduce Local Grants
The MetroWest Daily News, 10/7/09
“Local cultural councils won’t be able to award as many grants to artists, performers, and educators this year in the wake of a nearly 25 percent cut in state funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council…State appropriations for the agency were slashed by just over 23 percent, dropping from about $12.5 million for fiscal [year] 2009 to about $9.5 million for 2010. A chunk of the money appropriated for the state cultural council every year goes into the Local Cultural Council program, a network of 329 individual councils that serve every town and city in the state. According to the Local Cultural Council’s website, the network of 2,400 municipally-appointed volunteers award about $2 million in grants a year for after-school programs, concerts, dance performances, lectures, and field trips.”
More belt-tightening on the way. My hope is that the would-be recipients are prepared for it. There has certainly been enough warning.

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Iowa: Four Agencies Investigating Criminal Actions in Film Tax Credit Program
Sioux City Journal, 10/6/09
“In addition to an auditing firm’s report that found disorganized record-keeping, questionable practices, and lax oversight, the offices of the Iowa Attorney General, Auditor, and Division of Criminal Investigation, as well as the Polk County Attorney’s Office is looking at whether criminal charges should be filed. The program has paid about $32 million in state tax credits to 22 film projects that completed production in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Another 26 projects have signed contracts and 109 projects have applied for incentives that provide a 25 percent tax credit to investors and a 25 percent tax credit to producers for projects that spend at least $100,000 in Iowa. As of July 1, tax benefits were capped at $50 million a year and filmmakers must have at least a four-year presence in Iowa. Many applications were filed before those changes took effect. [Gov. Chet] Culver called the report from Clifton Gunderson LLP ‘an important preliminary step in reviewing Iowa’s film tax credit program, providing clear examples of how it has been both mismanaged and abused over the past several months.'”
Watch the right-wing use this situation as a bludgeon against tax-incentives for filming. I’d be very curious to know if there are other accused/documented examples of waste or fraud in other states.

Florida: Miami Budget Zeroes Out Mayor’s Film and Cultural Affairs Office
Miami Today, 10/7/09
“Despite a late outpouring of support, the City of Miami balanced its budget without including any of the Mayor’s Office of Film and Cultural Affairs’ $245,000 budget. ‘The smoke cleared from the financial battlefield, and I had to let my two fulltime people go,’ said Director Robert Parente. The budget reduction means he’s now under the city manager’s budget with a main focus on film permitting, Mr. Parente said. He has kept a part-time receptionist who is not trained to help out in permitting…Before the budget passed last week, several notables in the arts and film industries, including David Frankel, director of Marley & Me; Stephen H. Siegel, chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Creative Industries Committee; and Ed Stamm, general manager of ARRI CSC Florida, a full-service camera, grip, and lighting rental firm, wrote letters in support of Mr. Parente and the Miami film office. It was to no avail.”
Colossally dumb. Shame on Miami. The one city that could use a growth industry and there they go doing their best to make sure film and cultural affairs isn’t it.

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Washington: Seattle Art Museum Becomes Another Subprime Crisis Victim
Bloomberg.com, 10/1/09
“In what seemed a cultural coup, Seattle Art Museum officials opened a glistening glass-and-metal-paneled, $86 million addition in January 2007, just months after completing an acclaimed sculpture park. The arrangement with Washington Mutual Inc. even offered the museum space for future growth along with income to pay down the cost of the extension. Thus, the museum accepted compromises on the interior and external design of the extension for the sake of rapid expansion. And just when the papers were signed, the subprime beast began eating away at the foundation. When Washington Mutual collapsed a year ago, the museum lost $5.8 million in annual rent that was supposed to go toward the $65 million debt it incurred on the project…So the museum must find a new tenant, raise nearly $6 million annually, or cut deeply. It has already seen its endowment decline. It fired 12 percent of the staff and trimmed the budget by more than $1 million to $25.1 million.”
Another casualty of the infrastructure-building spree of the last decade.