Arts Advocacy Update CXXII: There Is No Santa Claus, Virginia



The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Feb. 24, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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National Endowment for the Humanities Chair: Use Humanities as Societal Unification Tool
Iowa City Press-Citizen, 2/18/10
“Americans should study the humanities such as history and philosophy in order to find common ground in a divided society, [National Endowment for the Humanities Chair] Jim Leach said [last week]. ‘This great American culture is rife with division but also violence,’ said Leach, a former Republican congressman from Iowa. ‘That’s why we look at those cultural things that bring us together.’ Leach’s remarks came before about 100 people at a conversation sponsored by the University of Iowa (UI) Faculty Senate in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. As part of Leach’s two-day visit to the UI campus, he spoke on the role of the humanities at a research university such as UI.”
Leach’s comments are brilliant and fascinating — and a prime example of the kind of decent and fair Republican that no longer serves in the House. Very smart of Obama to appoint him to the NEH.

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Florida: City Sees Public Art Ordinance as Community Enhancement Tool
Marco Eagle, 2/17/10

“It’s not a tax and it’s not an impact fee, assured proponents of a new requirement for developers to pay for public art on Marco Island. Not all council members agreed, but in a narrow majority vote (4-3) of city council members, the city is moving forward with an ordinance to require non-residential developers to pay for art that will be visible to the public, as well as a resolution to set the new art fee at $1 per square foot. The city would also pay the fee for their development and improvement projects, as would all other non-residential owners expanding or improving their property by 50 percent or more of its assessed value. ‘I don’t think this is one of the worst things we’ve done to the people…I think it would enhance the community and it would cost the average taxpayer nothing,’ said Councilman Ted Forcht.”
But we’re so polarized as a nation that even this is considered controversial. Look at that vote! Awful.

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Michigan: Arts Losing in School Budget Crises
The Detroit News, 2/22/10
“Detroit’s public schools have been in crisis mode for far more than a decade. But suburban schools may not be far behind. In October, all public schools suffered a $165 per pupil cut in state aid-some suburbs lost even more-leaving even wealthy-by-comparison systems contemplating cuts to programs once regarded as indispensable. Student achievement in core subjects like English and math gets tested yearly under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Michigan Educational Assessment Program exams, to which state aid is tied. So when budgets shrink, art or music-which are not tested-are often the easiest to drop. ‘The pressure to improve math and reading scores is so great that the fear response has been to get rid of everything else,’ said Ana Luisa Cardona, a fine arts curriculum consultant at the Michigan Department of Education. ‘So administrators eliminate the arts, even though research tells us they help engage a student and turn an entire school around.'”
There’s a bit of this article that, in my mind, encapsulates how terrible the arts education situation is — and, sad as it makes me to say it, we’re still not doing a good enough job making the case:

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Detroit’s public schools have been whiplashed by budget cuts, crashing test scores and a rapidly shrinking student population. In 1992, DPS boasted 160 visual arts teachers. Now there are 68. As a result, over the years some parents yanked their kids out of Detroit, enrolling them in resource-rich charter or suburban schools, which only made the problem worse.

Benjamin L. Pruitt Sr., head of fine arts for DPS, said that as enrollment declined, so did fine arts offerings in Detroit schools. “The fine arts program has been decimated over the past 10 years,” Pruitt said. “What bothers us is that the fine arts declined faster than enrollment.”

Yet countless studies link arts instruction to lower dropout rates, improved academic performance and more socially responsible behavior in adulthood.

Virginia: Legislature Moves to Cut Grants, Eventually Eliminate State Arts Agency
Newport News Daily Press, 2/23/10

“State and local arts leaders say a House of Delegates committee proposal to reduce funding and eventually eliminate the Virginia Commission for the Arts would have a devastating effect on programs in the state. On February 21, the House Appropriations Committee voted 15-7 to reduce the arts commission’s budget by 50 percent in 2010-2011 and to eliminate the commission on July 1, 2011. The House proposal is at odds with the Senate Finance Committee, which backs former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s recommendation to keep the arts commission’s funding at its current level of $4.4 million per year. The Senate plans a vote February 24, and the matter will go to a budget conference committee to resolve the differences.”
This is what the people of Virginia voted for when they elected Gov. McDonnell. And now they’ll suffer.

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Minnesota: Federal Stimulus Funds Leave Lasting Impact on Arts Organizations
MPR NewsQ, 2/18/10

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has left a sizeable imprint on the Minnesota arts scene. Last year, the program allocated $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to preserve and sustain arts-related jobs that were hemorrhaging across the country. Two government agencies, the NEA and the Minnesota State Arts Board, and one Minneapolis-based philanthropic organization, Arts Midwest, distributed the funds in Minnesota. The NEA gave out $1.025 million to 26 state arts groups, including the Guthrie Theater, The Eastside Arts Council in St. Paul, and Coffeehouse Press…Minnesota State Arts Board Executive Director Sue Gens says the money was geared toward preserving arts jobs that had been eliminated or were in danger of being eliminated-all except fundraising jobs…’We believe 180 jobs in the arts that would have been either eliminated or perhaps downsized are still there now, or have come back,’ Gens said.”
Another powerful case made for the benefits of the stimulus package — and the $50 million in one-time funds given to the National Endowment for the Arts. Here’s the salient part of the story:

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State Arts Board Executive Director Sue Gens says the money was geared toward preserving arts jobs that had been eliminated or were in danger of being eliminated–all except fundraising jobs.

“So it might have been a marketing position,” Jens said. “It might have been an artistic director. It might have been the education manager, who plans all the residencies. In some cases, it was the actual artists.”

Taken together, Jens says the grants have saved dozens of jobs.

“We believe 180 jobs in the arts that would have been either eliminated or perhaps downsized are still there now, or have come back,” she said. “In some cases we had requests from organizations that had already laid off a staff person and wanted to bring that person back.”

Oregon: Ford Family Foundation Begins New Visual Arts Funding Program
The News-Review, 2/19/10
“The arts landscape of Oregon is about to get a whole lot richer thanks to a new multimillion-dollar program announced by the Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation. It is meant to support the state’s visual arts programs and carry on the memory of a passionate arts supporter Hallie Ford, who was a founding member of the Ford Family Foundation. The one-time Roseburg resident constantly expressed a love for visual arts in her 102-year life span. She not only took classes and created her own works of art, she recognized the ability and effort of others-making several generous donations…Current members of the Ford Family Foundation board wanted to continue Ford’s efforts and sat down to ‘fill the gaps’ in arts philanthropy, Visual Arts Program Manager Carol Dalu said. Two years and several consultations with artists later, the group has unveiled its seven tactics to improve, sustain, and preserve Oregon’s visual arts. The steps, which will be put into action and maintained for the next five years, will invest $3.5 million in the state’s arts ecology, Ford Family Foundation President Norm Smith said.”
According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, arts appropriations in Oregon stood at $2.11 million for the fiscal year 2009, and $3.13 million overall revenue. So what the Ford Family Foundation is doing really drives home how vital private philanthropy really is.