Arts Advocacy Update 145: Major Musical Mess in Michigan

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Sept. 1, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.)

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The expressions, opinions and/or comments in italics following each story highlighted on the Arts Advocacy Update are those of the Clyde Fitch Report and are not endorsed or approved by Americans for the Arts.

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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 them online at www.AmericansForTheArts.org.

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Michigan: Detroit Symphony Musicians Authorize Strike
Detroit Free Press, 8/29/10
“The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) rejected management’s final two contract proposals and authorized its union leaders to call a strike. The two sides have been deadlocked in a battle over steep pay cuts that would, in the most contentious proposal on the table, leave base salaries for veteran players at $73,800 in three years, 29 percent lower than the $104,650 they make today. Battered by the recession, the DSO has been hemorrhaging millions every year-it expects to lose nine million dollars in 2010-and management says the cuts are needed to keep the orchestra alive. The players say such draconian reductions would transform the DSO into a second-class symphony…However, a strike or lockout won’t occur until at least September 24 because of an unexpected plot twist involving labor law that obligates management to keep paying the players under the terms of their current contract.
Sigh. I don’t blame the union for fighting this proposal, but let’s also not gild the lily here: $74K isn’t bad for Detroit. Where are the books? How is management justifying its financial oversight? Why did the orchestra lose $9 million in 2010? And how does a 29% pay cut rectify that? Frankly, it sounds like there’s a lot of blame to go around. Everyone should give a little.

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Iowa: New Public Art Installation Draws Praise, Criticism
Omaha World-Herald, 8/27/10
“Sculptor Albert Paley said that the worst reaction to art is when nobody says anything. That’s not a current problem for Paley, whose four-piece, $3.5 million Odyssey sculpture recently took shape on the 24th Street overpass of Interstate 80 in Council Bluffs. An outpouring of public reaction, both positive and negative, has been heard at the offices of Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan, the Bluffs Arts Council, and at the Iowa West Foundation, which commissioned the work. While some have found the sculpture distracting and even unsightly, others have praised the jagged, 60-foot-tall chunks of stainless steel, weathering steel and bronze. Paley, who visited the sculpture [recently] to talk to schoolchildren about it, said he was happy to reveal the creative process behind his abstract metal work. ‘The main charge for me was to create an artwork that would be a landmark and a point of interest that helps define the region,’ he said…Few people, he said, will pass by Odyssey without forming a reaction or a memory of some sort.”
Sorry, kids. I found photos of it and I kind of don’t get it. We’ll let the people of Iowa figure it out, but it isn’t my kind of aesthetic.

Illinois: Over 1,000 Apply to Live in a Chicago Museum for One Month
Chicago Sun-Times, 8/25/10
“The hottest home address in Chicago these days might be the Museum of Science and Industry. More than 1,500 people from all 50 states and more distant places including Antarctica and Australia applied to spend a ‘Month at the Museum,’ an immersion experience that lets the winner roam the museum freely, updating visitors about the experience and sleeping in exhibits like the U-505 submarine or the coal mine…After [semi-finalist] interviews, museum staff will choose three finalists, and the public will be able to vote for their favorite in September. From October 20-November 18, the winner gets unprecedented access to the museum, private quarters on the museum’s office level, and $10,000 in exchange for interacting with museum guests and blogging, tweeting, and posting videos to the world about the experience.”
A fabulous, fabulous idea and I’m intensely jealous that I didn’t know about this. I’d love to ask some questions of the museum — for example, how will liability insurance be worked out? But beyond that, it’s just an inspired concept and I’ll be incredibly interest to know how what the end result is. Bravo.

California: Proposed Cuts Include Elimination of Music Classes, Libraries
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 8/31/10
“Scotts Valley Unified School District leaders have outlined a tentative plan to chop one million dollars from the 2011-2012 school year. Looking down the road, district leaders are considering five fewer days of school, eliminating music classes in grades 6-12, eliminating all but one counselor, closing libraries at all four schools, increasing class size, and closing the high school career center. The proposed cuts were laid out in a letter sent to parents [August 27] that highlights the district’s need to continue to shave costs in the wake of ongoing state education funding shortfalls. ‘The worst is yet to come,’ letter said…The district’s annual budget has fallen to $16.4 million from a high of $19 million three years ago. The funding reductions already have resulted in layoffs, loss of student programs, less maintenance and custodial support, fewer teachers, and larger class sizes.”
Here’s an idea: Why not just tell the students that there’s no more school and their education can go to hell? Cut, cut, cut. What a shame. They should all be terrified of what they’re doing to their kids. So goes California, so goes the nation. I weep for their inability to get creative.

Kansas: Governor Issues Proclamation for National Arts in Education Week
The Topeka Capital-Journal, 8/30/10
A proclamation from Gov. Mark Parkinson has paved the way for the second week in September to be recognized as Arts in Education Week in Kansas, the Kansas Arts Commission announced [August 24]. ‘Arts Education Week (September 12-18) recognizes the importance of the arts in Kansas schools and in communities,’ said John Divine, chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission. ‘Kansans practice and value the arts, and understand them as being an important component of children’s education and the development of creative thinking. A strong arts education sets the stage for lifelong learning,’ he said. This summer, the U.S. House of Representatives passed…legislation designating the second week of September as Arts in Education Week.”
Not a very long story, certainly, but an important one in the heartland. Glad to read it.

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Indiana: Local Animation Startup Takes Advantage of Film Tax Credits
Indianapolis Business Journal, 8/31/10
“A Kokomo-based startup founded by a children’s book author and an illustrator plans to produce an animated film in Indiana with the help of state film tax credits, economic development officials announced [August 31]. Bach Morris Technologies Corp., founded in September 2009 to develop interactive children’s toys and media, will spend $2.4 million on Whoever Heard of a Herd of Fird? a movie based on author Othello Bach’s 1984 best-seller Whoever Heard of a Fird? The Indiana Economic Development Corp. said it offered the company up to $111,245 in assistance through the state’s Media Production Expenditure Tax Credit program, which provides movie-makers as much as a 15 percent tax credit on in-state production costs. Bach Morris’ film project is estimated to create more than 20 high-skill jobs including artists, animators and programmers, among other positions.”
Given that Indiana will probably revert to deep red for the next presidential election, it’s important to make sure that the arts occupy a growing place in the state’s economy — which is to say that it has an even greater place that most people might think. This is very encouraging as the economy begins to crawl out from under so much devastation and stress.

Florida: Polk County Proposes Large Cuts to Cultural Organizations
The Lakeland Ledger, 8/29/10

“The Polk Museum of Art, and other arts and culture organizations face steep cuts in funding from Polk County under the proposed budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. The museum stands to receive $62,500 from the county, just half of what it received for this fiscal year. The proposed budget also threatens funding reductions of 50 percent for the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, the Lake Wales Arts Council, the Polk Arts Alliance, and the Polk Theatre. The proposed budget for the fiscal year which starts October 1 offers no money for several other arts organizations that requested funding, including Florida Dance Theatre and Platform Art. Altogether, the proposed county budget designates $346,688 for outside agencies, which include such organizations as Keep Polk County Beautiful and Polk County Family Caregiver. That’s a decrease of 36.8 percent from last year’s allocation of $548,875.”
Terrible. Florida remains one of the most arts-regressive states in the union. Shame on them all collectively and individually.

Ohio: Cigarette Tax Separates Public Art Funding in Dayton & Cleveland
Dayton Daily News, 8/28/10
“Montgomery and Cuyahoga counties are home to Ohio’s only two publicly-funded arts and cultural districts, but differences in their tax-based funding sources means millions of dollars less each year for Dayton’s arts community than for Cleveland’s…Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, one of the nation’s top five sources of local government support for the arts, this year will provide approximately $17.5 million to Cleveland’s arts community from a dedicated excise tax on cigarettes approved by voters in 2006…The 10-year, one-and-a-half-cent-per cigarette tax passed with 56 percent of the vote and generated more than $48 million in less than three years, according to the Cuyahoga district’s 2009 annual report…A similar arts and culture levy is unlikely in Dayton because of the region’s economy, said Montgomery County Administrator Deborah Feldman. ‘We are not looking to revenue increases to solve our financial problems,’ Feldman said.”
Sigh. And so Dayton will suffer while Cleveland thrives. End of story.

Ovation Attempts to Bring Arts & Culture Back to Cable Television
The Kansas City Star, 8/27/10
“Television may be a vast wasteland, but for the last four years a group of investors has been working to establish an oasis for Ovation, an independent channel devoted to art and contemporary culture. It’s not easy being a little guy in a land of media giants, lacking leverage, and deep pockets. But the Santa Monica-based Ovation has notched impressive gains and is attempting to prove that an arts channel can thrive on TV. Available in only five million homes in 2007, the channel now can be seen in about 42 million homes, or nearly half of all cable and satellite households in the country. Ovation also has bolstered its roster of advertisers-including such marquee companies as Chase Bank, Wal-Mart, Acura, and Subaru-and this year the channel swung into the black. ‘We are here to build a profitable arts channel. It can be done,’ said Charles Segars, a longtime television programmer who is chief executive of Ovation. ‘The arts have never failed in America, and a whole new generation of artists is formed every day.'”
Great article — one that I was stunned to see coming out of Kansas City. Having done a little cross-marketing with Ovation during Tony time back in June, I’ll testify to their integrity. Let’s make it happen.

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