Arts Advocacy Update 149: Lost in Austin

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Sept. 29, 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.

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Michigan: In Defense of State Film Tax Incentives
Detroit Free Press, 9/26/10
“When he sponsored the bill that would, when adopted in April 2008, make Michigan the most generous state in the nation for movie producers, Andy Meisner had three objectives: creating jobs as quickly as possible in the depths of our economic meltdown; growing longer-term a new industry that could someday account for perhaps five percent of the state economy, and retaining creative, educated young people who were looking to pursue their futures outside Michigan. And by those objectives, Meisner said, the movie tax credit is not only a success but a bigger one than most of the much less visible tax breaks and incentives the state provides for other businesses.”
I fear the loss of the bipartisan feeling that produced this bill. Indeed, the question, which the writer of this editorial subtly raises, is whether the new Michigan legislature will pick the “low-lying fruit” to gain political advantage or, better, understand what kind of remarkable groundwork has been laid here. Meisner and Allen’s bill — and the economic boomlet it created — represents America at its local and bipartisan best. Michigan should insist on such a model in all areas of civic life.

Missouri: City Begins Countdown to Performing Arts Center Opening
The Kansas City Star, 9/25/10

“What happens between now and next fall’s grand opening of the $413 million Kauffman Center is critical to the city and the center’s success, local business and arts leaders say. They have hatched a plan to work together to not only support and promote the center, but also to find ways to take full advantage of the monumental, two-hall structure that will soon dominate Kansas City’s skyline. ‘Opening the Kauffman Center downtown really changes Kansas City forever,’ said Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council of Kansas City. ‘And it changes the way the rest of the nation and the world looks at Kansas City.'”
Do a little research on this structure and the architecture alone is breathtaking. Let’s hope this can be used as a beacon for the creative economy of the Midwest. Given the way the political winds are blowing, we cannot take such a thing for granted.

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New York: Arts Groups Collaborate on Audience Development Project
The Post-Standard, 9/24/10

“Anyone who’s attended a play or concert knows the potential for magical moments as a bit of music catches your fancy or a turn of phrase opens your mind to a new idea. Attending one of the Syracuse area’s museums, entertainment venues, or many cultural festivals offer similar benefits to heart and soul. The Initiative to Develop and Engage Audiences in Syracuse (IDEAS) hopes to tap into the love for arts and culture in an ambitious and valuable project under way to figure out why people attend-or don’t attend-events in the Syracuse area.”
Glad to see this data will be collected. Sad to see it doesn’t already exist. Tells you a lot about upstate, doesn’t it?

Arizona: University Unveils New Center for Creative Inquiry
Arizona Daily Star, 9/23/10
“The University of Arizona (UA) is launching an institute that will bring together thinkers from the humanities, arts, and social sciences. It will be called Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry…On campus, the new center is being compared to the UA’s Bio5 Institute, which brings together experts from science, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, and engineering…Examples from an earlier push for collaboration include a linguist and a historian working together on analysis of Native American language samples, and a public performance designed by faculty in theater, music, dance, and engineering.”
Excellent project, I totally support it and I pray that the funding remains consistent. Given that it’s Arizona, I do feel compelled to ask how much creativity is involved in being insufficiently outraged over legislation which, in effect, celebrates racial profiling. Oh, I know many people are upset. Has their upset been truly sustained? What can creative inquiry do about the radical right of the state?

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Michigan: Legislature Could Provide More Funds for Detroit Museum
Detroit Free Press, 9/29/10
“The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is likely to get a $10 million gift from a tight state budget later this year or in early 2011. A source close to the negotiations said the DIA deal was reached during the weekend in discussions among Gov. Jennifer Granholm, House Speaker Andy Dillon, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. State Budget Director Bob Emerson said the DIA is likely to get the full $10 million after accounting of state budgets ends in December. It could be the first act in something bigger-a regional tax to fund the DIA and Detroit Symphony, a leading Detroit lawmaker said.”
And that’s where nervousness lies — would a Republican governor support such a regional tax? Or is this the last-gasp act of an incredibly smart and progressive Democratic governor who knows that the arts are about to endure radical austerity from a right-wing-controlled state?

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Florida: Sheriff Offers Seized Property Revenue to Cultural Council
SunSentinel.com Palm Beach Politics blog, 9/27/10
“Sheriff Ric Bradshaw may have found a way to help pay for arts programs that ended up on Palm Beach County’s budget chopping block…While the County Commission and Bradshaw have sparred over budget issues, the sheriff has told Cultural Council representatives that he has about $200,000 in his forfeiture fund to help pay for those programs. The money comes from property seized by the sheriff’s office during investigations and a percentage of the proceeds is supposed to be used for local nonprofit programs.”
Very fine news out of a very bad situation. Property taxes rising 9 percent? You can almost feel the populist anger rising. And so pathetic: a $100 million deficit being allayed, in part, by a $262,000 cutback in arts funding? Bless the arts advocates for pushing, pushing and pushing for something better than what they’re facing.

Texas: Austin Hotel Association Questions Room Tax Spending
Austin Business Journal, 9/24/10
“The Austin Hotel and Lodging Association has identified 50 cultural arts programs funded by the hotel occupancy tax that, at first glance, make no obvious contributions, or questionable contributions, to boosting hotel spending and tourism. The programs, which aren’t identified publicly, account for about one million of the roughly $5.5 million in hotel tax revenue that is allocated annually to cultural arts in the city, Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) board member Gene McMenamin said at a September 20 board meeting.”
The article doesn’t really explain what criteria are being used to determine what an “obvious” contribution is. Seems potentially political to me. Anyone know more about this?

New Jersey: Struggling Resort Pins Hopes on Boardwalk Empire
The Canadian Press, 9/24/10
“With Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, the resort is ready for its close-up. And with critics hailing the series as perhaps the best of the fall TV season, the 12-episode series could keep Atlantic City in the nation’s consciousness far longer and better than any ad could…Atlantic City is in the fourth straight year of a revenue decline brought on by competition from casinos in neighboring states, as well as a continuing poor economy that has people less willing to risk their cash at the tables and slot machines.”
I know someone on the show and was shocked by how long it took for me to reach the part of the article that reveals that it was actually shot in New York. For the record, it was the 16th paragraph.

Connecticut: Hartford Stung by Loss of Local Curators
The Hartford Courant, 9/26/10
“Like canaries in a coal mine, three of the Hartford region’s four curators of contemporary art have suddenly disappeared. This should alarm both artists and civic leaders. For years now, expert economists and urban planners have told us that the arts are critical to the fabric of cities, that the creative economy is crucial to regenerating neighborhoods and animating downtowns…In each case, financial crisis is the reason given for the decisions, which should not surprise us given the current economy. But a more careful look at what is happening in Hartford reveals a few things worth thinking about.”
The author of this story makes some interesting — oh, what’s the word? — allegations. It’s worth a read.

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Wisconsin: Kohl’s Donates $2.7 Million for Arts Museum’s Programs
BusinessWire, 9/28/10
“[On September 28,] Kohl’s Department Stores announced a more than $2.7 million donation over three years to the Milwaukee Art Museum that will continue the successful Kohl’s Art Generation program launched in 2008, as well as create new programs for kids and families. Building on the $1 million contribution from Kohl’s in 2008, this donation is the largest gift to an education initiative in the museum’s history. The donation comes from the Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program, which sells special items, including plush toys and books, and donates 100 percent of the net profit to benefit children’s health and education initiatives nationwide.”
This is what I call corporate responsibility. Bravo!