Arts Advocacy Update CVI: Carolina Kool-Aid and ‘Capital’ Campaign

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Oct. 21, 2009. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Florida: Sarasota Art and Tourism Groups Partner in New Arts Festival
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/17/09
“Armed with studies, projections, some dreams, and a $1 million bonus in tourist tax money, the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Sarasota County Arts Council are pushing to create a new arts festival to give Sarasota and its arts community wider exposure among tourists. The two agencies won support for the idea from the Tourist Development Council, which will propose that the Sarasota County Commission create a steering committee to guide decisions on what type of events would best promote cultural tourism and the arts…The new Sarasota arts festival would be funded through a $1 million bonus in tourist tax collections earmarked for the arts. The money is available because of a change in the accounting process for the arts portion of tourist-tax collections, said Jeff Seward, the county’s chief planner.”
A change in the accounting process begets a $1 million windfall? Where, um, was the money going?

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North Carolina: Wilmington Arts Community Restarts Local Arts Council
The Star-News, 10/14/09
“For many in Wilmington’s arts community, Southeastern North Carolina has it all: lively theater scene, popular film festivals, strong classical music groups, an ambitious art museum. But for the past seven years, something’s been missing. ‘We need an arts council,’ said Tracy Wilkes of the DREAMS Center for Arts Education, one of seven local members of a steering committee whose goal is to help establish one. The need for an arts council is a nearly universal sentiment among Wilmington’s creative community. Supporters say a council could help arts groups get more funding, raise the area’s profile among culturally minded visitors, and even stimulate economic activity. Last week, the Wilmington City Council accepted a $15,000 creative economies grant from the North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC). The grant will support a study to be conducted by the North Carolina Folklife Institute with assistance from the NCAC’s Community Arts Development Team that will identify, among other things, ‘cultural assets in the region and help determine the function and priorities of a new arts council,’ according to a press release from the NCAC.”
This is obviously great news. I’m not clear as to how much fundraising this group could do, or whether it would serve as a sort of hothouse/beacon for advocacy that could, over time, lead to funding. But still, at least there’s potentiall a central well from which arts leaders and groups may begin to drink.

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Report: Federal Stimulus Preserved or Created 250,000 Education Jobs
The Washington Post, 10/20/09
“Federal economic recovery aid has created or saved 250,000 education jobs, the Obama administration announced [October 19], although states and school systems continue to face enormous fiscal pressures. The report issued by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education does not address how many education jobs have been cut this year because of the recession, nor does it project how many are in jeopardy in the coming year. From coast to coast, officials are warning of education funding troubles ahead. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 27 states are forecasting shortfalls for FY 2011 that total at least $61 billion, with five more states predicting unspecified budget shortages. Widespread state cutbacks would threaten a major source of school revenue.”
So the question is whether a second round of stimulus would be necessary to prevent these jobs, at least, from going away. With the Republicans happy to see their countrymen suffer, don’t count on it happening anytime soon.

Ontario: Businesses Use Arts and Culture to Attract New Talent
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 10/17/09
“Roger Farwell knows from experience how hard it is to convince people to move here. ‘I can tell you that is even true in our architectural and engineering firm-next to impossible to recruit the kind of architects and engineers we can use,’ Farwell, an architect with the Walter Fedy Partnership, says. For years Farwell has been active in the Prosperity Council of Waterloo Region, an umbrella group representing 3,400 businesses in the area. ‘Just about from every corner of the region we get the cry it is impossible to find enough talent,’ Farwell says. Farwell is among an influential group of business leaders who are laying the foundation for a vibrant arts and culture sector in this region. That group believes a thriving arts scene in an attractive urban setting is essential for drawing the educated and mobile members of what’s known as the creative class. After interviewing and wooing prospective employees, Farwell has watched as they toured the area one last time and heard them say, ‘It was not memorable.’ ‘What we are talking about doing is building out the best physical and cultural landscape that is possible,’ Farwell says.”
Many midsize American cities are getting this, too. You want the creative class to revitalize your struggling, desolate, economically depressed towns? Facilitate the infrastructure — or the creation of the infrastructure — for them to live and do their work. Otherwise, call your area Tumbleweed City.

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Iowa: Film Tax Incentive Program Abuse Causes Ripple Effect
The Wall Street Journal, 10/19/09
“Des Moines, population 200,000, is dealing with a nasty hangover. A lavish tax-incentive program that brought Hollywood to its doorstep has come to a halt amid allegations of faulty oversight, poor record-keeping, and potentially criminal abuse. One director bought himself a $61,000 Range Rover and a feather bed, as well as an iPod for his 15-year-old son. Another picked up a new Mercedes-Benz for $67,000. All the purchases were made with the help of a 50 percent tax credit, courtesy of the good people of Iowa. Iowa’s small but growing film industry is now in a state of suspended animation. Gov. Chet Culver temporarily halted the tax credits. The state film program’s director was fired, and his bosses at the Iowa Department of Economic Development resigned. The state attorney general has launched a criminal investigation. At least a dozen Hollywood projects that were to shoot in coming months are taking the action to other states, diverting millions of dollars from Iowa’s economy. A half-built pirate ship sits in a city mall turned soundstage for a fantasy film called Blackbeard that may never be made. Many young Iowans who thought they had found a promising homegrown industry are considering leaving the state.”
Incentives are just part of the equation is what the lesson seems to be. Incentives – accountability = disaster. Which is a shame, because the film incentive idea really is genius. Let’s hope the Iowans figure out how to salvage it before it’s too late.

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New York: Despite Tight Budget, Albany Mayor Maintains City Arts Funding
The Times Union, 10/14/09
“Despite challenging economic times, the city will continue to support the arts in 2010, Mayor Jerry Jennings said [October 13]. Jennings, who last week introduced his 2010 proposed budget, said, ‘I did not cut out arts funding…You do not have a city with a soul if you don’t have the arts.’ ‘Capital Repertory Theatre has been integral in establishing the downtown area as a beacon for both the arts and the dining scene,’ Jennings said. ‘Through this new [Wine & Dine for the Arts: Albany Chef’s Food & Wine Festival] I am excited to showcase this city’s top chefs and restaurants as well as raise funds for Capital Rep, a cornerstone in our community.’ Future installments of what is planned to be an annual highlight of early winter, normally a slow season in the capital city, will benefit other arts and cultural organizations.”
Of course, if Capital Rep really wanted to gain support for arts funding, it would also look to the state legislature to keep the New York State Council on the Arts in fine fettle. How to do that? Well, for one thing, programming. After all, members of the State Senate and State Assembly certainly can relate to such titles as Sleuth (as in, Find Their Morals), Sweeney Todd (as in, Let’s Slash Budgets and in the case of Hiram Monserrate, girlfriends) and Whose Life Is It, Anyway? (as in, self-explanatory).

New Jersey: Arts Advocate Creates Business Incubator to Help Others
The Star-Ledger, 10/19/09
“After watching arts funding dwindle for years, a West Orange, NJ, resident decided that artists need to monetize themselves. ‘I wanted to create a place where we could implement small business strategies, like you would in a business incubator,’ said arts advocate Amy Simon. ‘Survival is only through a business strategy.’ On [October 24], Simon will open the New Jersey Arts Incubator, a 6,000-square-foot space for musicians, painters, writers, and artists to learn business savvy and display their work. The incubator is located temporarily in a storefront building until it moves to a more permanent space in West Orange. The [new] building includes a theatre and a gallery, and will host performances, workshops, and seminars on grant-writing, digital streaming, and other business topics. Classes will cost between $25 and $65. Simon, an actress and writer who runs a public relations firm, said she hopes that after two years of participating in the incubator, artists will be financially independent.”
You mean creating a situation in which we won’t accustom artists to unceasing and unsustainable handouts from the government? Don’t tell our arts leaders — they’d be aghast.

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