Arts Advocacy Update CXXXI: Texas Teabaggers Raising Ruckus?

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of May 19, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Nevada: Proposed Vegas Arts District Venue Lost to Foreclosure
Las Vegas Weekly, 5/17/10
“For three years, David Mozes, a developer from Los Angeles, has been trying to build a mixed-use venue in the Arts District. He corralled some investors and bought an assemblage of land, then designed and promoted the planned ‘$95 million arts-related, transit-oriented, sustainable mixed-use venue.’ Problem is, there was no money to get the project, known as The Mission Las Vegas, off the ground, and he’s now lost one of its major land parcels. The large parcel at 1001 S. 1st Street went into default and was returned to its trustee, Mission Las Vegas, when nobody bid on it at auction. Two smaller properties to be used for The Mission were also lost and Mozes is now looking at a possible new location, unless he can find the money to buy the property back at current market value.”
Can you say “ugh”? This is the story of Vegas writ small, or at least writ artistic (and small). At the same time, and I don’t mean to be negative, here, but the story isn’t terribly clear as to what Mozes means by “arts-related, transit-oriented, sustainable mixed-use venue.” For example, was the city of Las Vegas or the state, for the matter, involved at all. Were there arts and/or cultural organizations on the ground and/or involved? I fear, noble as the sentiment seems, that this was a slick packaged idea wrapped in a fuzzy notion. Still, it doesn’t bode well for Nevada arts.

Maryland: Sharpton Visits Baltimore to Support African-American Entertainment District
WBAL-TV, 5/17/10
“The Rev. Al Sharpton stopped in Baltimore to support a proposal to create a black cultural arts and entertainment district in the city. Sharpton was the guest of radio talk show host and former state Sen. Larry Young at the downtown rally. Several hundred people turned out at the War Memorial Building to voice their support for the proposed district. ‘If Baltimore can find a way to develop the harbor, if they can find a way to develop casinos, they can find a way to develop symbols of self respect, and self worth, and self regard for the children of Baltimore city,’ Sharpton said. ‘You made deals for the stadium, you made deals for developers. Now let’s make a deal for the children of Baltimore.’ The Baltimore Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Consortium has its eye on real estate just south of M&T Bank Stadium. The group said that with the help of state and local tax breaks, and private funding, transforming the area into a family-friendly district is achievable. It could include a recreation center, a senior center, book stores, a concert hall, a comedy club, boutique shops, night clubs, and other businesses.”
He may drive the radical right-wing to drink, but you have to admire Sharpton’s consistency — his willingness to be so clear about what he stands for that, to paraphrase a certain buffoonish president, you’re either with him or against him. In the current political climate (not in Baltimore, certainly, but in states like Arizona, Texas and Kentucky, where xenophobia and racism are about two notches away from being the official platform of the Republican Party), you have to ask whether red-staters who might read about this idea could say, “All right, what about a white entertainment district?” I hope the people of Baltimore, who are really starting to get it when it comes to the arts, stick it in the eye of the GOP.

Utah: Survey Finds Arts Interest Growing, Resources Eroding
The Salt Lake Tribune, 5/14/10
“The survey also reveals a double-edged sword when it comes to arts education in Utah schools: Student participation in theater, music, visual arts, and dance classes is climbing at the same time resources are diminishing. Among the Utah schools responding to the survey, 40 full-time arts teacher positions have been lost during the past two years. ‘Overall, we’re concerned about the continuing erosion of arts education in our schools,’ said Margaret Hunt, director of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.”
There is a great quote that follows where this summary leaves off, and I’m adding here because I think it could serve as a repeatable mantra, especially in areas resistant to funding arts education:

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“It educates the whole child,” added Jean Irwin, arts education program manager with the division. “We’re not trying to say arts are more important than reading, math or science. We’re saying they’re all important.”

“It educates the whole child” makes the correct argument that failure to arts-educate leaves someone not fully formed.

Florida: Broward County Schools Cut Art, Music, Physical Education Programs
The Miami Herald, 5/13/10
“The Broward School Board took stock of deep budget cuts that will leave some schools without art, music, physical education, and library programs next year. More than three-quarters of the school district’s roughly 140 elementary schools will offer fewer electives next school year, though only some schools eliminated entire programs. More than a third of Broward’s about 70 middle and high schools will also reduce their art, drama, or music offerings entirely. `This stinks,’ a tearful board member Robin Bartleman said…The school district tasked principals with slashing six percent of their budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1, though board members asked that arts programs only be eliminated as a last resort.”
Interesting how headlines can be deceiving. The Herald’s headline is: “Broward schools cut back on arts, PE.” That is true. But the lede of the story is so flippin’ smart that the headline should have been: “Broward school board feeling guilty.” At least these folks understand how awful it is to eliminate or dramatically slash such programs. It sounds like they’re doing what they have to do, but feeling just horrible about it. Most of the time, it feels like you end up reading a quote by some right-winger who doesn’t even feel bad about it. I really applaud the conscience of the board.

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Idaho: Boise Boosts Arts Organization Budgets
Idaho Statesman, 5/19/10

“Mayor Dave Bieter has long promoted the arts as an economic driver, but there historically has been little financial support from the city for arts groups. To help remedy that, the mayor’s office and the departments of Arts & History and Economic Development have created a one-time boost for some of the city’s major arts groups. These awards are part of a long-term goal, says Terri Schorzman, executive director of the Department of Arts & History. ‘It is of our intention to increase the general fund for arts in Boise,’ she said. ‘The fund is small, and we can’t grow it yet because of the economy, but this is moving us toward that intention.’ The city used $105,000 of the money it received from Union Pacific Railroad for the lease of railroad tracks in Southeast Boise to create the grants. Bieter chose Trey McIntyre Project for the $25,000 Cultural Ambassador award.”
If things proceed the way they are, could Boise be the next…er, Denver? Can you imagine? Would really help to diversify the state.

Texas: Arts Center Bonds Questioned 8 Years After Voter Approval
The Dallas Morning News, 5/17/10
“The fate of an arts hall in Allen could be tied to politics and petitions in nearby Frisco. On [May 14], the Frisco Tea Party turned in more than 1,300 signatures on a petition asking the City Council there to let residents decide on the $16.4 million remaining in bonds for the proposed Collin County arts hall. The petition must go through a legal review before it is presented, and since it involves bonds already authorized by voters in 2002, the council is not required to take any action. But several council members have said that all those signatures can’t be ignored. ‘If 1,000 citizens were willing to sign a petition and say they wanted to have another chance to discuss that topic, then certainly we have to listen to that,’ said Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Cheney, who was just elected to a second term.”
Reading the comments on this piece is dispiriting. Watch, as a result of the Tea Party, they’ll end up with an empty arts hall. That will really help the economy. What ignorant, Palin-besotted fools.

Michigan: State Senate Committee Increases Budget for State Arts Council
The Detroit News, 5/13/10
“Arts advocates may have won a small but significant victory in the Michigan Senate. On [May 13], the subcommittee responsible for funding the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) increased the agency’s total proposed budget by $200,000 over the governor’s recommendation and the bill already passed by the House. The Senate general government appropriations subcommittee approved a total MCACA budget for next year of $2,560,100-$300,000 above this year’s funding…The grantmaker has seen its budget plummet over the past five years. In 1990, it granted $16 million to the Detroit Institute of Arts alone-more than six times its entire 2010 budget. The extra Senate money would in effect fund MCACA’s staff, whose salaries this year were covered not by their budget, but by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The proposed Senate bill still has a long ways to go. It has to pass the full Senate, and then be reconciled with the less-generous House version.”
Fingers crossed. This is about staffing, for heaven’s sake. It will fund jobs! Hello?

Colorado: Governor Ritter Signs Creative Industries Legislation into Law
Denver Business Journal, 5/18/10

“Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a trio of bills that supporters say will help to create jobs in Colorado’s creative industries. The signings come one day after Ritter inked a number of new laws increasing regulation on the insurance industry-bills that opponents had warned would raise the cost of insurance and cause small businesses to drop coverage and, consequently, cause some job losses in that industry. The creative-industry bills included: House Bill 1180, sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), which loosens the qualification for filmmakers to receive state incentives by reducing the amount they must spend in the state and the percentage of their costs that must be spent in Colorado; Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), which clarifies that one percent of all state-funded projects must be set aside for public art; and, Senate Bill 158, sponsored by Sen. Linda Newell (D-Littleton), which sets up a Creative Industries Division within the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in order to put more attention to creating and retaining jobs in areas like film, art, and theater.”
Approximately 186,000 jobs in Colorado are supported by the creative economy, the state’s fifth largest fiscal sector, according to this story. Two thoughts: more states need to wave around their creative-economy numbers, and, equally important, those numbers need to be updated on a regular basis.

Mississippi: Film Expected to Generate $13 Million for Greenwood Economy
The Clarion Ledger, 5/14/10
“A Delta town will see an economic boon when a movie based on a Mississippian’s bestseller begins filming this summer. Jackson native Kathryn Stockett’s The Help begins production in July in Greenwood. The book set in Jackson in the 1960s depicts interactions between black maids and the white women they worked and cared for…The Help will be the largest production to film a significant portion of a movie in Mississippi since O Brother, Where Art Thou? said Ward Emling, manager of the state Bureau of Film and Tourism Development. The state estimates filming will have an economic impact of $13 million in Leflore County, which had an unemployment rate of 15.1 percent in March, the latest figures available. The author was very supportive of in-state production. ‘Honestly, my heart would be broken if it were set anywhere but Mississippi,’ Stockett said in an e-mail. ‘Greenwood is both lovely and reminiscent of the quiet, small town that was Jackson, 60 years ago, while close enough to the capital city to film some historic, key scenes.'”
This is a serious proposal for anyone who would like to fund it: a documentary about the making of this film in this town, and how it changes the people living and working in the town.

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Arts Fundraising Site Funds Arts Projects via ‘Crowd-Sourcing’
Times Argus, 5/14/10
“An opera about Countess Elizabeth B√°thory, the most notorious female serial killer in history, reputed to be a vampire? Northfield, VT, composer Dennis B√°thory-Kitsz thinks so, and he’s writing it. But, he needs $12,000 more to make it happen next season-and he’s using a unique form of fundraising. B√°thory-Kitsz, who despite being 50-something is well-known as a techno-geek and is using an arts fundraising site: Kickstarter.com. ‘It because it represents a new, collaborative way to fund projects, a kind of crowd-sourcing,’ he explained. ‘My friends and acquaintances and listeners and readers are scattered everywhere, so it’s tricky to organize a one-person fundraising campaign.’ Kickstarter is an extension of social networking. The Web site offers explanations, a demo video, links, and secure processing of credit card authorizations via Amazon Payments. But, there is a catch: The pledges are authorized but not charged unless the goal is met. ‘It’s an all-or-nothing proposition, so if on June 15 I have $11,999, the project receives nothing,’ B√°thory-Kitsz said.”
Kickstarter is so cool. The whole invitation-only thing I guess is necessary. Question: Should the arts as a separate sector try replicating the Kickstarter model — run it through an arts-service org? Might it become a revenue source?

California: Antitrust Settlement Provides State Residents with Discounted Tickets
Associated Press, 5/18/10
“Thousands of Californians will be able to attend musical performances at discounted prices this summer thanks to funds from a 2002 settlement in a music CD price-fixing dispute. Attorney General Jerry Brown and the California Arts Council announced a list of events benefiting from $549,000 the state received from the settlement. They include opera, yodeling, musicals, swing, and jazz performances. Last October, state officials announced the 40 local arts organizations that would receive the one-time grants. The money is part of $143 million in cash and CDs paid by five of the country’s largest music CD companies and three music retail chains to settle the antitrust case. California and 42 other states had accused them of conspiring to boost prices of CDs between 1995 and 2000.”
Well, slam-dunk for Brown, hm? He will be elected governor.

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Arts Canvas: The View from the Field
Tim Mikulski, Arts Education Program Manager, Americans for the Arts
Although I am still shocked by the way that Glee has been accepted by mainstream America, it is comforting to know that creator Ryan Murphy’s depiction of the struggles of outsiders trying to fit into traditional high school stereotypes has become a television and iTunes hit.

There has already been some media coverage of the sudden rise in interest in high school show choirs as a result of Mr. Schu’s antics and now last night’s episode hit home a bit harder than the Madonna episode, Kurt’s coming out story, or the breakup of Rachel and Finn.

In a combination that can only be described as genius, cult TV/film writer/producer Joss Whedon directed last night’s episode dealing with what so many music, art, dance, and theater programs across the nation are fighting — budget cuts.

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After writing and directing a powerful musical episode of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer several years ago, and the innovative internet film Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon has shown his flair for conveying emotions with conviction through song, and his Glee episode didn’t disappoint.

While it was refreshing to see Mr. Schuster rattling off the reasons why arts education is important and singing about the importance of dreaming, it was unfortunate that the major argument about funding came back to the old standard of pitting physical education against the arts (see also the article about Broward County, FL, above).
Right on the money. Except that Jane Lynch is so good that if I were Mr. Schu, I’d probably break down and produce Chekhov with volleyball games during intermission.