Arts Advocacy Update CXXVIII: This Land Is Oakland



The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of April 7, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Georgia: Arts Organizations Struggle to Find Public and Private Support
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/2/10
“A bill to let counties use sales tax money to help struggling arts groups has had trouble getting traction in the legislature, despite broad support. The measure failed to make last week’s crossover day deadline, meaning it could die if not attached to another bill already approved by the House.

That would only be the latest blow to the arts in metro Atlanta and Georgia, which are both feeling the pain of a weak economy in many ways.

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Public arts funding is being slashed. Corporate and foundation giving is down as businesses salve their own red ink wounds or refocus giving on social causes. Attendance is off for many arts groups. Layoffs are up. A few organizations, such as the Atlanta Opera, are presenting less of their art to avoid production costs they can’t afford.

‘It’s the hardest of times I’ve seen for the arts across the board,’ said Camille Love, director of the city of Atlanta’s office of Cultural Affairs.

That’s why, even at the eleventh hour, supporters hold onto hope for House Bill 1049, which would not assure any relief but would let any county hold a referendum on dedicating up to one cent of sales tax for arts and cultural groups and other economic development projects.

A model for the bill was Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, which, through a sales and use tax of one-tenth of one percent, distributes roughly $43 million annually to more than 300 cultural organizations in the Colorado capital.

‘We cannot afford to experience the devastating effect of a state without a well-supported creative economy,’ said Flora Maria Garcia, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition, an advocacy group for the city’s arts and cultural community. She said job losses will grow and some groups will shut down without new funding.

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Georgia in 2008 had 88,078 people in arts, according to the coalition. A year later the state had lost 5,756 jobs-and cuts continue.

‘The economic case has to be made that the arts matter,’ said Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb), a bill co-sponsor, after the measure stalled. ‘To move the bill out of the House will require deeper education of legislators and their constituents.’

Advocates tried. The Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition commissioned an analysis showing that support for the arts constitutes good economic development, not charity.”
In a recent article for Back Stage, I included quotes from Rachel May of Atlanta’s Synchronicity Theatre, one of the nonprofit arts groups particularly challenged by the economy — and the state it operates in. We talked briefly about this bill. I wasn’t able to include her thoughts in the story, but let me just say that the characterization in this story, above, of certain lawmakers requiring deeper education, did not come as a surprise. There is a political story here — the inability of the radical right to hear and absorb facts if they clash with right-wing orthodoxy. That’s at the root of a lot of this, although the Journal-Constitution may or may not be able to say so.

Texas: Broadway Show Presenter Battle Emerges in Dallas
The Dallas Morning News, 4/5/2010
“Dallas discovered during the 1960s that it wasn’t big enough for two professional football teams. Half a century later, the question is being asked about the presenters of Broadway shows. Michael A. Jenkins, president and managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals, which operates out of the Fair Park Music Hall, says he would not bring in some of the shows his rival at the Winspear has. On one side is the 70-year-old Dallas Summer Musicals, which operates at stately Fair Park Music Hall. On the other is the five-month-old AT&T Performing Arts Center, which hosts the Lexus Broadway Series at the shimmering Winspear Opera House. The two are competing for the same entertainment dollar in the toughest economy in decades.”
There is also a mention in this story that Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, grew up in Dallas, and believes there is room, in fact, for two presenters of Broadway shows. Well, of course she does — it’s in her interest, and the interest of the League, to promote the idea. But I would say that given Dallas’ economic power, it is probably also true. The question is marketing, no? I would also add that a little competition is never a bad thing in a free-market economy. Perhaps the two groups can not only spur each other on to innovation, but raise the profile of theater as a whole in Dallas.

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Tennessee: Chattanooga Welcomes Artists with Open Arms, Incentives
Chattanooga Times Free Press, 4/4/2010
“As sculptors, Roger Halligan and Jan Chenoweth travel and sell their pieces across the country. When the couple was looking for a new home to produce their art work, they quickly were sold on Chattanooga. Lured by a four-year-old grants program to help creatives relocate into the city, Ms. Chenoweth said they agreed to move into Jefferson Heights three years ago. Next month, the couple will relocate their studio from the North Shore business incubator into the Rossville Avenue art district only a block from their home. ‘We could live most anywhere, but we’ve really found Chattanooga to be an awesome place for artists like us,’ Chenoweth said. More than two dozen other artists also have taken advantage of the incentives offered through the privately funded ArtsMove Chattanooga program to move into the Southside. Artists and other mobile entrepreneurs say they are drawn to a city that offers natural beauty, a low cost of living, and improving urban attractions.”
Nifty story, though one thing here is especially key: ArtsMove is privately funded, which means that public figures could cite it as an example of government not needing to be involved. So when we talk of the necessity to consider state-level budgetary savings, this is the kind of program we should think about. How can we incentivize more programs like it elsewhere?

Florida: School District Says Merit Pay Proposal Threatens Arts Education
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 4/6/10
“Art, music, and other elective classes could be cut if state lawmakers approve a controversial measure that abolishes teacher tenure and links part of their pay to student test scores, Manatee County School District leaders said. The major overhaul of teacher evaluation and pay would require districts to set aside five percent of their budget for a performance fund to reward teachers. Manatee would be required to set aside $14 million. That is on top of an expected cut of up to $15 million in funding. District officials have already cut $44 million from schools in the past two years…In an e-mail sent [April 5], Manatee Superintendent Tim McGonegal warned lawmakers the district would have no option but to cut popular elective classes that many educators say help keep students attending school.”
What this story does not do, in my opinion, is explain why it is axiomatic that switching over to a merit pay system means a threat to arts education? Because teachers will balk and move? I’m not sure that’s clear. What could be clearer in the story is how having to teach to test scores (which has always been, and will always be, a colossally stupid idea) becomes a matter of diluting resources for non-core academic subjects. But here is my question: Why couldn’t there be, if test scores are so very essential, test scores for arts subjects? By this I don’t mean whether we can teach a ninth-grader to play a trumpet like Dizzy Gillespie, but can the student identify notes on a staff? Why couldn’t that be tested? Why couldn’t the demonstration of students’ ability in this regard be part of merit pay?

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California: Oakland Arts Community Pushes Back Against Proposed Cuts
The Oakland Tribune, 4/4/10

“The city’s arts community may be able to breathe a bit easier. City Council members were just about unanimous in voicing opposition to cutting city arts grants by 50 percent as Oakland struggles to fill a budget gap of $43 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the council held off from actually voting on the plan. The proposal to cut the grants would solve only about $500,000 of Oakland’s general fund budget problems, but would have devastating effects for a city known as a haven for artists, supporters of the grants said…Artists and their supporters crowded the council chamber [April 1], wearing stickers reading ‘SAVE OAKLAND ARTS NOW!’ They pleaded, protested, cajoled, and even sang at times, arguing that the arts can keep children out of trouble and help drive Oakland’s economy. They seemed to get their point across. ‘We have to recognize that the arts are a significant economic engine in Oakland,’ said at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, agreeing with a number of her colleagues.”
Good. That’s exactly the way these sorts of things should work. No offense to the good people of Oakland, but I would also assume there are correlation statistics between arts funding and lack of crime, or at least there should be.

Maryland: Advocates Rally for State Arts Council Budget
Washington Business Journal, 4/5/10

“Maryland’s arts organizations can expect to hold onto their state funding this year, after industry leaders lobbied hard to preserve jobs in the arts. Last year, the state funding for the Maryland State Arts Council was reduced from $16.5 million to $13.3 million, and arts organizations were forced to make layoffs, cancel events and, in some cases, close. By putting arts funding in the context of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative priority to keep jobs in Maryland, arts council leaders believe they have staved off a further cut for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The $13.3 million funding level has been progressing through the House of Delegates and Senate during this year’s session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to adjourn April 12. That money should increase the chances that nonprofits can retain jobs they currently offer, said Douglas R. Mann, chairman of Maryland Citizens for the Arts and chief financial officer at the Maryland Institute College of Art.”
For Maryland legislators to have done anything but this would have been a counterproductive move of the worst order, especially with discussion of a third arts district recently making the news.

Michigan: State Arts Agency Grant Funding Plummets to 1974 Level
Detroit Free Press, 4/1/10

“The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs announced grants of more than $1.5 million to 161 organizations [last week]. The money, earmarked for basic operations, represents the bulk of the arts council’s $2.3 million in grants for 2010. State arts funding in Michigan has plummeted during the recession. This year’s total fell by $6 million to its lowest level since 1974 and is 90 percent less than the $25.5 million granted in 2001. The number of groups receiving funds fell from 290 last year to this year’s 161. The largest groups, like the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which in recent years were receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, are now limited to a maximum of $20,000. Small and medium groups saw sweeping reductions too. The arts community, already fighting steep drops in corporate and individual giving and sagging ticket sales, has been frantically laying off workers and cutting programs to cope with the financial crisis.”
There really isn’t much else to say about Michigan beyond the fact that it remains the nation’s most trouble economic basket-case. I thought last week’s story, carried in Arts Watch, about the dire need for new strategies in Detroit was really on mark.

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Vermont: South End Spotlights City’s Creative Economy
The Burlington Free Press, 4/5/10
“The trend of artists and entrepreneurs moving away from the central traffic hub of a city and setting up shop in less commercial, more underground areas is not a new one. Philadelphia has its famous South Street with blocks of music venues and vintage clothing stores. Chicago has the South Side, where artistic communities from Pilsen have spilled over and stayed. Brooklyn has Cobble Hill, where buildings are being resurrected in the name of art. And Burlington has the South End. The Pine Street corridor is home to more than 100 artists, studios, and incubator businesses that have gone from craft fairs to owning and maintaining their own retail spaces. Be it a furniture maker, jeweler, or bread baker, the South End has become an artistic mecca for local folks, and it’s getting bigger.”
There’s a really fun phrase toward the end of the story: “It’s the hippest district in the state of Vermont.” You just have to love that.

North Carolina: Editorial Board Stresses Economic Importance of Arts, Tourism
Asheville Citizen-Times, 4/4/10
“The arts have been on our minds since a Citizen-Times editorial board visit with Linda Carlisle, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Carlisle was in town late last month for a ceremony unveiling a new road marker denoting the historic importance of the YMI Cultural Center-a richly deserved recognition, we would add. Carlisle, operating on a shoestring budget, is on a mission to stress the importance of arts, culture, and heritage on North Carolina’s quality of life, its tourism sector, and its economy. We tend to think of tourism as people driving to Point A, getting out and taking a picture, and driving on to Point B. This concept needs to be rethought. While the traditional let’s-see-the-sights tourism is still important, it represents only a part of a broader picture. People are traveling to take in vistas, but also to explore their heritage, experience the arts, and partake in unique cultures (such as the rich Southern Appalachian experience). And here we have to underscore the economic punch such travelers bring.”
This is a spectacularly rational and intelligent piece of writing — and, meaning no offense to the good people of North Carolina, but not something I would necessarily have expected from a relatively red state. What’s really going on here? Ah, here it is:

North Carolina’s “creative industry” — which runs the gamut from creating aesthetic or intellectual property, the production of artistic endeavors, dissemination of art or cultural products, etc. — accounts for $41 billion in products and services in North Carolina, and is responsible for almost 300,000 jobs. Its slice of the state’s total wages and benefits is nearly 5 percent.