Arts Advocacy Update CXVII: Education, Stimulation, Recalibration



The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Jan. 13, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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New Mexico: Artist Helps Visually Impaired Children Experience the Arts
Las Cruces Sun-News, 1/10/10

“Visually impaired students from throughout New Mexico were given a unique opportunity to learn about visual and performance art by using their other senses [last weekend] at the Rio Grande Theatre. Elementary and secondary students were able to hear a live musical performance, touch various instruments, and feel the texture of paintings by renowned visually impaired artist George Mendoza, who also spoke to the children about art, during the Do-a Ana Arts Council’s first Arts for the Visually Impaired Day. Mendoza, who began to lose his vision at age 15, told students not to let anything, not even blindness, stand in the way of their dreams. ‘We’re taught that we can’t do anything as blind people,’ he said. ‘The power of imagination can make all things possible. Nothing can replace the power of persistence, so take risks and dream big.'”
Such a great story — and a reason why funding cutbacks are so devastating. If only there were more of these kinds of stories now and then.

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United Kingdom: American Artist Tracks Fallen Soldiers in London Gallery, 1/7/10

“Artist Emily Prince has been working on American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan for five years, and is likely to have to do so for several more. On an almost daily basis, the 28-year-old from California visits a website that tracks U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq to see if there have been fresh fatalities. When there are, she calls up the image of a dead soldier if one is available, copies it in graphite pencil, writes some basic personal details, and includes a short commentary about the person when there is enough information. If there is no picture available, Prince leaves most of the piece of card blank. The result is a long room where the white walls are lined with over 5,100 postcard-sized illustrations of fallen soldiers; their skin color reflected by different-colored paper…The postcards are arranged in columns, each of which represents a week.”
In London this is, but not in the U.S. I’m not faulting Prince — I just think it’s indicative of how far this country has to go in terms of how we honor our war dead. The Republicans scream patriotism and wear it badges of nationalistic, jingoistic, militaristic pride, but it takes the city of London to provide a home for an artist to honor them creatively.

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Pennsylvania: New Philadelphia Arts High School Gets High Marks
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/12/10

“With its academic focus, arts bent, and emphasis on technology and other 21st-century skills, Rush Arts is the kind of place district officials envisioned when they announced plans in 2002 to dramatically alter the high school landscape. Though some argue that too many of the city’s new high school options are selective, leaving fewer resources for the district’s failing large neighborhood high schools, those who have been able to take advantage of schools like Rush Arts have been wowed…The Knights Road school opened last fall in the old Benjamin Rush Middle School, a building the district spent $25 million to retrofit. Its 300 students-the school houses just ninth and 10th graders now, but will add a class a year for the next two years and eventually grow to 600 students-draws from all over the city…Students range from teenagers who appreciate the arts but have no desire to attend an arts college to serious performers bound for conservatories.”
Of course, I would like to know how the school is doing academically — but it’s great to read that this one is thriving. Watch the radical right feel threatened by all those free-thinking artsy children who aren’t being properly indoctrinated into their Republican agenda.

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New Reports: Arts Education Promotes Emotional Intelligence
Miller-McCune Online Magazine, 1/7/10

“Arts education, which tends to be something of an afterthought in many American school districts, is facing an even tougher time than usual. Twin threats-budget cuts necessitated by dwindling tax revenues and the push to focus on math and reading skills as measured on standardized tests-have left music and art classes in a particularly vulnerable state. In December, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District proposed eliminating its 350 elementary school arts specialists over the next two years. What is being lost-and what, if anything, can be done about this trend-is addressed in two scholarly papers published in the new issue of the Arts Education Policy Review. One notes students whose education is dominated by rote learning will not be prepared for ‘the jobs of tomorrow,’ while the other explores the value of the arts in helping kids understand their emotions.”
Nothing here is particularly newsworthy but at least there’s yet another voice out there that is warning the radical right that being anti-arts and anti-children and anti-creativity will turn out to be anti-American and anti-capitalistic in the end.

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Maryland: Arts Organizations Face Another Difficult Budget Year, 1/6/10

“Lawmakers return to the State House on January 13, and one of the top items on their to-do lists will be to pore over Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget proposal. Current projections show spending exceeding tax revenue by $2 billion. By law, Maryland budgets must balance. ‘We don’t want to see our arts programs deteriorate because of lack of funding,’ said Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Olney). ‘It’s going to be very difficult for the governor to put together a budget that tries to maintain everyone. That’s going to be impossible,’ Kramer said. The Maryland State Arts Council, a part of the Department of Business and Economic Development, provided about $13.5 million in grants to arts organizations around the state in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30…[Maryland State Arts Council Executive Director Theresa] Colvin and O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec noted that in three rounds of midyear budget cuts in 2009, the arts were spared. Arts jobs are as important to the governor as any other jobs in the state,” Adamec said.
So to help balance a $2 billion budget deficit, it will be necessary to cut into a $13.5 million arts budget? Maybe the problem is that Maryland’s legislators are no longer capable of simple math.

New Jersey: To Stimulate Economy, City Plans to Expand Arts District, 1/12/10

“The city of Rahway will continue to develop and expand its arts district in 2010, according to plans unveiled by Mayor James Kennedy during his State of the City address last week. ‘Rahway is positioning itself to take full advantage of the visual and performing arts that will provide long-term employment and economic development as well as sustain an enviable quality of life that will benefit all of our residents and visitors,’ the mayor said. ‘Laying the groundwork for a sustainable arts industry in Rahway will be our own economic stimulus plan…'” Included in the expansion plans are a 200-seat outdoor amphitheater; a dance, theater, and comedy space in a redeveloped New Jersey Bell Telephone building; and a new piano conservatory.
Terrific news — but is there the call and the demand for the infrastructure?

Virginia: Historic Williamsburg Weighs Creation of Arts District
Newport News Daily Press, 1/12/10

“City officials are looking beyond the wealth of history Williamsburg has to offer visitors and residents to a new possible foray into the arts world. In December, city council members asked that city planners and economic development officials explore the idea of establishing an arts district within the city. The state allows cities to create such districts and to offer incentives, like tax cuts, to encourage artists and other creative people to locate their studios or businesses there, Michele DeWitt, the city’s economic development director, said. That will help with issues of affordability-one DeWitt expects to run into. ‘Affordability is going to be an issue as space tends to be pretty expensive in Williamsburg,’ DeWitt said. ‘We don’t want to price out our artists.’ The idea behind the venture is to use ‘the arts as a way to diversify the economy and to create more tourism,’ Mayor Jeanne Zeidler said.”
But would artists compete against history? Wouldn’t it make more sense to figure out, via tax breaks and other incentives, how to embed artists into the fabric of the history?<

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The Recession’s Lasting Impact on Museums
The Art Newspaper, 1/10/10

“The Great Recession has been tough on museums, especially American ones. Layoffs, furloughs, and hiring freezes have become common. Endowments shrank by up to a third during the worst of the market swoon-the larger the institution, the steeper the losses. Endowments are now creeping back, but confidence isn’t. Private donors remain skittish. Corporate support is hard to find and ever more tightly tethered to marketing priorities. Public funding is jeopardized by imploding budgets and competing needs. Foundations, too, are smarting from losses. Some are rethinking their support for culture altogether. Venerable charities like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations no longer have divisions with ‘art’ in their names. Museum income from tourists, members, publications, shops, rentals, and restaurants is stagnant. It has been a perfect storm…With financial windfalls no longer papering over systemic problems, museums are considering moves that were unthinkable, or just unnecessary, in frothier years. Behavior modification may be the silver lining of this crisis. The result may be museums better equipped to confront 21st-century realities.”
All excellent points (and all made before elsewhere, quite frankly). But what behavior would be most suitable for this new environment? Does this not bring the conversation back to new models — and the failure of the nonprofit business model to adapt to the new age?