Arts Advocacy Update 142: Lackawanna Blues No More

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Aug. 11, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010, Americans for the Arts is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. From offices in Washington, DC, and New York City, it serves more than 150,000 organizational and individual members and stakeholders. Visit us online at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.

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New York: Under Construction, 9/11 Museum Offers Media An Early Look
ArtDaily.org, 8/11/10
“The September 11 museum is taking shape 70 feet below ground, a cavernous space that provides an emotionally raw journey and ends at bedrock where huge surviving remnants and spacial voids reveal the scale of the devastation of what once was the World Trade Center. The museum’s architects, director, and two victims’ family members led members of the news media [August 10] on a tour of the subterranean space, which commemorates nearly 3,000 people who died in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks…It is still a construction site. But it was easy to visualize the intent of the spaces, clearly articulated by the acute voids created by the fallen towers. Authentic structural elements that survived the terrorist attacks are there: the slurry wall that kept the Hudson River from inundating the Financial District, the last column of trade center steel ceremonially removed from the site in 2002; the survivors’ staircase that served as an escape route for hundreds; and foundational box columns that anchored the building…The $45 million museum occupies about 120,000 square feet beneath the 8-acre memorial plaza, the centerpiece of which is ‘Reflecting Absence,’ two square reflecting pools set above the footprints of the north and south towers.”
This is an actual 9/11 story that doesn’t involve right-wing racism and xenophobia, or lies about geography, or spreading religious hatred like herpes. Very refreshing.

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California: Jazz Musicians, Homeless Work to Change Perceptions
Ventura County Star, 8/10/10
“Like many artists, Toni Jannotta was looking for a way to advance her career. But a funny thing happened on the road to self-promotion. She began to notice people in need in the community around her. ‘I met a homeless man with a guitar on his back and I thought, “He’s got a voice, too,”‘ said the Ventura jazz vocalist…Jannotta applied for a grant from the Ventura County Arts Council for the Artist in the Community Program. Under the grant’s conditions, the artist must partner with another organization in the community, using his or her art form to help solve a community problem. ‘I began meeting more and more of the homeless in the area and realized that the perception of them is not always the reality. Most people don’t see the story behind the person,’ said Jannotta, who started volunteering to serve coffee and breakfast at a homeless shelter. She sought a partnership with Project Understanding, a nonprofit organization that serves homeless and low-income families in Ventura. Jannotta created a show that combines spoken word presentations from some of the homeless people she met with improvisational jazz musicians accompanying their presentations. ‘I wanted people to hear the voice of the homeless,’ she said.”
This story raises an interesting question: How can we strengthen the case for nonprofit funding so it is clear that such appropriations can provide important social services? In other words, it’s one thing for the mission of a theater to do new work, experimental work, cutting-edge work, etc., but to what degree do missions explain in sufficient — and convincing — detail what the societal benefit is? In the case of the nonprofit arts charity in this story, the social and cultural benefit is extremely clear. Can we say that about all nonprofit arts-related organizations? Why or why not?

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Arkansas: Center Provides Arts Education for 2,500 Students
The City Wire, 8/10/10
“When school resumes, 2,500 elementary school children will have the opportunity to learn about art through a program provided by The Center for Art and Education in Van Buren, AR. ‘We go to six elementary schools in Van Buren,’ said Jane Owen, executive director of The Center for Art and Education. ‘We have local, professional artists that go to the classrooms, and help teachers present lessons and create art.’ It’s an expensive endeavor. In 2009, the center spent approximately $80,000 out of a $204,000 operating budget on school programs. Owen said the return on the investment is incalculable. ‘If we are teaching these kids work ethic, teaching them how to chronologically work through things, solve problems-if we have ten successes, how can you put a dollar value on that?'”
The t-shirt worn by the dude in the photograph accompanying the story is worth the click. Very fun.

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Oregon: Beaverton Arts Education Initiative Secures Federal Innovation Grant
Oregon Public Broadcasting, 8/10/10
“Federal officials announced [August 6] that the Beaverton school district has won $4 million to test out a new way of using arts to boost achievement. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised Beaverton’s Arts for Learning Lessons program fewer than 50 [programs] were chosen out of nearly 1,700 applications. Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton says Beaverton is looking to break down a false dilemma between focusing on core courses like reading and math, or the arts, ‘What they are trying to do is actually put together a strategy for using this program that they have to drive achievement in those core areas in reading and mathematics, while including the arts-not squeezing them out.’ Shelton says researchers will monitor Arts for Learning, so they can see what aspects of the arts program help the most in improving overall achievement.”
There’s a “but” here. At the end of the story, it is disclosed that the district has not raised the necessary amount of money to receive the funding. Let’s hope there’s a follow-up story on what the district is doing about it and what the time frame for action is.

Massachusetts: Governor Warns Tourism, Culture Groups of Future Funding
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/10/10
“Gov. Deval Patrick expressed optimism about the state’s economy at his tourism roundtable discussion [on August 9], but he added that state tourism and arts organizations such as the Massachusetts Cultural Council were unlikely to see an increase in funding this fiscal year. ‘I get the point of the creative and cultural economy of Berkshire County, and its importance to the entire commonwealth,’ Patrick said. ‘We have to think of different ways of doing things…to set aside things that might not be so effective, and pick up some new things that are.’ As he spoke to an audience of more than 70 cultural and tourism company owners at Hancock Shaker Village, Patrick explained that over the past two years, Massachusetts had seen a $12 billion deficit, and that the only increases in spending would go toward Chapter 70, or local aid, funds. Any additional funds, he said, likely would go toward patching budget gaps in human services.”
There’s also a bit of a reportorial non sequitur when Gov. Patrick is talking about the importance of alternative rail lines in Massachusetts. Smart of him to tie non-auto-related access to the creative economy.

Pennsylvania: Arts & Culture Tax Funds Arts Groups in Lackawanna County
The Times Leader, 8/8/10
“Since 2005, Lackawanna County has supported the museum, the county library system, and the Scranton Cultural Center through an arts and culture tax. That tax has generated $250,000 annually for each institution, according to Lackawanna County Communications Director Lynne Shedlock. The funding has led to collaborative programming efforts, special promotions, and more. It has also spawned the annual Sunday in the Park, now in its fifth year, as an offering to the community. The free event happens today and features live music, arts and crafts, face painting, and more. The Everhart was a natural fit for the community event, Executive Director Cara Sutherland said, because of the open grounds surrounding the museum…Sutherland said the institutions give thanks for the support they receive from the general public and the county tax. The arts and culture tax has kept admission at a flat rate since at least November 2005, she said, and has helped underwrite various programs such as the Early Explorers program for preschoolers.”
Seems to me that in hard-pressed times, $250K annually is pretty good Lackawanna County. It’s equally important that the creative-sector leaders there keep pressing for more local coverage of how that money is raised and spent so that the tax, low as it is, can be preserved.

New Hampshire: Resort Partners with Neighboring State’s Film Festival
Associated Press, 8/6/10
“One of northern New Hampshire’s resort hotels is going to work with Rhode Island’s International Film Festival to host a four-day film gathering of its own. The nonprofit North Country Film Festival is being held September 30-October 3 at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch. Some films from New Hampshire will be included. The idea is to encourage tourism and support for the arts and businesses in the North Country, which has lost hundreds of jobs in recent years with the closing of some companies, such as a pulp mill in Berlin and the Ethan Allen furniture plant in nearby Canaan, VT. ‘We thought, “What can we do that would bring tourism up, give the community pride and be a morale booster?”‘ said Gary Armitage, vice president of sales and new business development at the Balsams. The area is flooded with tourists in the early fall, but ‘once leaf change is over, it’s pretty much finished up here,’ Armitage said. The festival extends the season for area hotels and employment, he said.”
With about 75 people in all of (unincorporated) Dixville Notch, where are the people coming from for this event? In other words, how many people will translate into how much expected fiscal activity? The article isn’t entirely clear, but it’ll be interesting to find out.

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Ohio: High School Receives $350,000 Donation for Performing Arts Center
The Morning Journal, 8/9/10
“Invacare Corp.’s pledge of $350,000 for the Performing Arts Center at the new Elyria High School will be used for equipping the new auditorium with state-of-the-art equipment to make entertainment look, feel, and sound better. This is the first donation to the center which will seat up to 800 people, school board member Holly Brinda said, and it’s the largest donation the Build the Dream, Shape the Future capital campaign has received. The campaign was started to raise money for enhancements to the new high school that cannot be made with taxpayer dollars, Brinda said. It has raised $1.2 million to date. With the money, the lighting and sound system will be upgraded and the seats covers will be made with higher quality, more comfortable fabric. And as a thank you, the lobby to the center will be named Invacare Corporation Grand Foyer.”
This gift, according to the story, represents about a quarter of all the money raised so far, but what Invacare has done is actually more impressive still. It has legitimized and energized the community. That’s invaluable.