Arts Advocacy Update 148: The Garden State Grinch

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Sept. 22, 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.

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.

Michigan: New Film Tax Analysis Claims State Loses Money
Detroit Free Press, 9/18/10
“Michigan’s film subsidies may be enhancing the state’s image and producing pockets of new economic activity, but they’re a net loser for taxpayers, according to a new report from the Senate Fiscal Agency. The state treasury spent $37.5 million in subsidies in 2009 and is expected to distribute about $100 million to the makers of TV and film productions. But the estimated additional state tax revenue generated by film-related economic activity was $3.7 million in 2009 and $10.3 million in 2010, the report found. The nonpartisan agency provides fiscal analysis to the Legislature. Its review is the most comprehensive to date of the program enacted in 2008.”
So, to be sure that I understand, this nonpartisan agency is stating that the free market is creating a drain on state finances — that economic growth alone cannot counterbalance the existence of these legal incentives. Can we assume the Republican nominee for governor, Rick Snyder, will stand by his belief in the unparalleled power of free markets? Or will it be his argument that government should have nothing to do with luring film production to Michigan? Discuss.

New Jersey: State Still Considering Public Television Privatization Options
The Press of Atlantic City, 9/16/10
“Lawmakers on [September 16] considered the consequences of privatizing public radio and television in New Jersey. A 10-member panel heard testimony at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey on a proposal to cut state funding to the New Jersey Network’s public radio and television. But after the second of three hearings, it was clear that neither lawmakers nor NJN executives had a solid strategy about turning the broadcaster into a moneymaker. ‘People are covering things, but not the way we do with arts, culture, and diversity programming,’ said Janice Selinger, acting executive director of NJN Public Television. ‘We’ve gone with the assumption that the Legislature and the governor would come up with the plan.'”
Kiss it goodbye. No, New Jersey doesn’t have the money, and certainly Gov. Christie has no interest in any media outlet(s) serving the Garden State with “arts, culture and diversity programming.” It would be a waste of money, right? (By the way, are there no universities in New Jersey that can take a look at this? No colleges, no schools that can’t see how, through alumni donations, to dovetail NJN with its media studies degrees? Really?) I’m uncomfortable and saddened by the privatizing idea, but a shutdown would be outrageous. If Gov. Christie really wants to showcase himself as a reformer in the area of education (except for the $400 million mess), shouldn’t this be a test case?

Massachusetts: Parking Tickets Adorned with Public Art Project
Boston Herald, 9/21/10
“Parking tickets messing with your inner tranquility? Try yoga! That’s the latest new age answer to modern aggravations from the City of Cambridge, where violation notices are now helpfully illustrated with a series of calming yoga poses…The city printed 40,000 yoga parking tickets as part of a public art project by artist-in-residence Daniel Peltz. There are new street signs explaining traffic rules in offbeat ways; ‘10,000 Excuses,’ a mural of excuses given by ticketed drivers; and plush, stuffed ‘soft-boots’ to give the ultimate parking penalty a warmer, fuzzier feel. [City Transportation Chief Susan E.] Clippinger reports a mixed reaction from the city’s 33 parking enforcement officers, who write about 340,000 tickets each year.”
LOLOLOLOL. The spirit of Massachusetts is the spirit of America. I love it.

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California: Los Angeles Artists Attempt to Save City Murals
Associated Press, 9/19/10

“At one time hosting an estimated 1,500 pieces of wall art, Los Angeles is the nation’s mural capital, but that’s a fading distinction thanks to prolific graffiti taggers, a legal morass over classifying the artworks as illegal signs, and neglect. ‘I never thought 30 years ago that I would have to save works from being destroyed,” said muralist Judith Baca, an art professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and founder-artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center, which promotes and protects murals. ‘We’ve had to defend one piece after another.”
Murals are not graffiti, of course, but it raises a similar question: Is it art? (Of course, I believe the answer must and will always be yes, but not everyone agrees. Thus the problem.)

North Carolina: KidZNotes Hopes to Duplicate Success of Venezuelan Violin Program
The News & Observer, 9/19/10
“The day marked the official kickoff of KidZNotes, a program that aims to use classical music to inspire learning and break the cycle of poverty. The program will provide free music training to 60 Durham children from three elementary schools…Sponsored by Durham Public Schools, the Durham Symphony, and the East Durham Children’s Initiative, the KidZNotes program is based on a model called El Sistema that began in Venezuela. That program has established a national system of youth orchestras that promotes positive change for thousands of the country’s underprivileged children…The youngsters will get four days of afterschool music lessons and orchestra practice on Saturdays.”
Awesome! I know that sounds like high school, but this really is an awesome program. The whole idea that a 5-year-old girl called a violin “beautiful” — is there anything more extraordinary or more life- and hope-affirming than that? Bravo.

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Illinois: State Housing Authority Grant Provides $1 Million for ArtSpace Project
DailyHerald.com, 9/20/10
“A key piece of state funding has come through, allowing Elgin to move forward with a 55-unit artists’ co-op planned for downtown. City officials announced [September 20] that the Illinois Housing Development Authority has released a $1.1 million annual federal grant for the next 10 years to ArtSpace. ‘We are very, very grateful to the state housing authority having the confidence in us and Elgin,’ said Heidi Kurtze, ArtSpace director of property development…The grant will enable the group to move forward with the project, slated for the Fountain Square building at 15 S. Spring St. that the city acquired by trading with Elgin Community College some 16 acres near the college’s main campus earlier this year.”
Back in June, when the Clyde Fitch Report covered a panel attended by, among others, L. Kelley Lindquist of Artspace, I believe this project was mentioned. This is what I mean by talking about new models — new models for everything. I hope New York City gets onboard with something like this one of these days. I mean, I can wish for it, right?

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South Dakota: Rapid City May Reduce Funding for Arts Groups, Nonprofits
Rapid City Journal, 9/19/10
“Rapid City could cut subsidies to nonprofit organizations, arts groups, and social service agencies by five percent in 2011, one of a handful of budget reductions being proposed by council members looking to slice more from a $163.1 million city budget. But the cut, which would save the city less than $63,000 next year, has many organizations questioning the rationale of a move that would be felt by upward of 40 organizations in the community. ‘The council needs to know what their objective is,’ said Ray Summers, executive director of The Journey Museum, which receives $325,000 a year from the city. ‘Why are they doing this?'”
Great question. Can you say “fear of the Tea Party”?

Nebraska: Legislator Sets Sights on State ‘Percent for Art’ Law
Omaha World-Herald, 9/19/10
“With the state facing deep spending cuts, one state lawmaker said it’s time to suspend a 32-year-old state law requiring one percent of sizable state construction or renovation projects to be devoted to artwork. ‘If we don’t have the money to adequately fund child welfare, we do not have the money to appropriate one percent for works of art for public buildings,’ said State Sen. Gwen Howard (Omaha). ‘You have to have your priorities…’ While she acknowledges that suspending an art program that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year won’t solve the budget woes, it would help.”
With all due respect, State Sen. Howard’s metaphor — “if you only have a budget that affords hamburger, you can’t go to the grocery store and buy a steak” — is borderline imbecilic. Cutting a one-percent-for-art program won’t do a damn bit of good in terms of the budget. But it will position her for a run for higher office. Remember, first they come for the artists…

Florida: Sarasota Welcomes New Film, TV Studio
WFLA-TV, 9/20/10

“For months community leaders have touted [what they called] ‘Project Waterboy’ as the big one. And [on September 20], the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County revealed the identity as Sanborn Studios. At its helm is Ken Sanborn, an entrepreneur who made his fortune with the creation of Gyrocam Systems, the stabilized cameras often used on news, law enforcement, and military helicopters…The $30 million film and TV production studio will create about 117 jobs over the next three years. It also will include a six-acre soundstage complex in Lakewood Ranch…plus a 30,000-square-foot aviation center at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.”
The real magic is in the number of jobs. Next step: to lure lots of production to Sarasota’s doorstep. I know they’ll do it.

North Carolina: Charlotte Symphony Receives $1 Million Gift
The Charlotte Observer, 9/17/10

“The Charlotte Symphony’s endowment fund is one million dollars larger thanks to a bequest from J. Mason Wallace Jr., a Charlotte music lover and former Mecklenburg County commissioner. The gift is a considerable boost to the orchestra’s endowment-an investment fund whose revenue helps pay the orchestra’s expenses. And it’s all the more welcome as the orchestra struggles against years of financial troubles. The donation takes the endowment to about $4 million, said Jonathan Martin, the orchestra’s executive director. Another $7 million is coming from the Cultural Facilities Campaign run by the Arts & Science Council.”
Given the relatively recent news that the Charlotte Arts Council would be making some cuts, this is genuinely wonderful news. Hats off to J. Mason Wallace.

Arts Canvas: The View from the Field
Alison Schwartz, Director of National Conferences, Americans for the Arts

I wonder what makes a product, a store, an experience, an artwork a HIT. I am particularly curious about how certain products make it big when they aren’t playing by the rules.

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Why is Target a beloved low-price big box store when most big box retailers are demonized for displacing the business of mom-and-pop shops?

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Why is In-N-Out Burger a revered fast-food chain when fast food is unhealthy?

How is Blue Man Group still selling out performances with anonymous performers who don’t talk? Without a celebrity to anchor the show (such as Tony Award-winners Scarlett Johansson and Denzel Washington), why should anyone pay attention?

While I am no branding expert, here are a few possible answers…
You think I’m just going to give you the rest of the post? Click over and discover what Alison has to say! (Just one tiny thought: don’t be so sure that Target is so beloved anymore.)