Arts Advocacy Update 152: Saving the Colonial (Theatre) Spirit

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Oct. 26, 2010. (Subscribe to it here.) Expressions, opinions and/or comments in italics following each story highlighted in 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 here.

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New Hampshire: Effort to Save Historic Theater Gets Help
The Citizen of Laconia, 10/20/10
“To the delight of city officials and residents, the years-long hope to renovate and revitalize the Colonial Theatre got a major shot in the arm when the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance named the 96-year-old structure as one of seven Granite State buildings, communities, and/or landscapes that should be saved…While there is no cash award for being named one of the seven, there is prestige, publicity, and the ability to leverage the exposure to pay for practical, tangible items that can help start, move, or complete a preservation project like the Colonial. Opened in 1914, the Colonial is currently being eyed as a regional performing arts center.”
According to the story, there are also apartments as part of the theater complex. Seems to me that a bit of adaptive reuse is the perfect idea. I hope they move forward and prove successful.

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Washington: Former Immigration Building Becomes Arts Space
The Seattle Times, 10/17/10
“Now, the barbershop signs giving instructions for cutting hair of detainees are part of an art experience at the old U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Building on Airport Way South in the Chinatown/International District. On Saturday, the imposing, five-story, 78-year-old structure that was vacated by the federal government in 2004 was officially opened as Inscape, dubbed by its backers as ‘the largest arts and cultural enclave in Seattle.'”
Definitely Google the building and check out some of the images. It’s imposing and formidable and will someday be as fully gorgeous as it once was. Very, very smart idea, this is.

Georgia: Musical Bus Stops Arrive in Athens
The Red and Black, 10/14/10
“Everyone knows that around Athens, the music never stops-even when the bus does. The Athens Area Arts Council, in concert with the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County and the Athens Transit System, recently installed its fourth of eight planned music-themed bus stops at Broad Street and Minor, entitled ‘Beat A Drum’…This spirit of collaboration between the county, transit system, and arts council made the effort a reality, as funding for the project marked the first public/private partnership between the three.”
And, of course, this is in Athens, where the music is simply and inescapably in everyone’s blood. My question is why more Georgians don’t get aboard the arts train (or bus). So much of the rest of the state is anti-arts — it’s just inexplicable. Remember, these were the folks who almost zeroed out the state arts council earlier this year. The antipathy there you can cut with a Ginsu.

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Indiana: Students Keep Singing, Despite Elementary Choir Cuts
Evening News and Tribune, 10/16/10
“Recent cuts in the New Albany-Floyd County School Corp. didn’t hold back 37 students from doing what they enjoy-singing. Music instructor for Hazelwood Middle School, Laura McDonald, said she felt compelled to start the Floyd County Children’s Choir after the school system cut elementary choir from its budget this year. McDonald has been teaching for 15 years and has taught elementary music for about 10 years…McDonald said she was concerned for students not having anything to do if they weren’t involved in sports. With the help of parents and volunteers she started the [choir] last month to provide an outlet for them.”
There’s also another excellent quote in this piece and it’s encouraging that it came from someone in ruby-red Indiana:

Bob Wells, volunteer for the Floyd County Children’s Choir, said he wanted to contribute to the group for his grandson and choir member, 9-year-old Chase Braden.

“When there’s budget cuts, the first thing to go are the arts,” Wells said. “it’s just as valuable as sports. Sports become limited as you age, music is something you have all your life.”

As I’ve said before, I also think it’s unspeakable for the situation to continually be “either/or” when it comes to the arts and sports. In a healthy society, it should always be “and.”

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College Student: Save the Arts and They’ll Save Us
The Whitworthian, 10/14/10
Whitworth University student/columnist Katie Dolan wrote a piece on higher education arts cuts last week: ” This is especially tragic to me because, as someone who has spent the last four years studying theater here at Whitworth, I can definitely see the value in this kind of study. I know these degrees are not usually the most popular majors at universities, and there are usually a lot more students interested in getting a marketable science or business degree. But getting rid of the arts altogether, I fear, will have some negative ramifications.”
Problem is, Katie, parents are too dumb to fight on behalf of their kids — it’s always somebody else’s issue, somebody else’s problem, while children end up dumber still. You know, it is — much as some are sick of reading my writing about this — very much a left-right issue. The radical right is terrified by artistic expression, by any kind of creative thought, because they equate such things with the left (and they’re not in error about that). So the right wants no arts, no band, no music, no creative — just sports (the better with which to instill a militaristic attitude so we can declare more wars on the basis of lies) and math (the better with which to fight the East). I know these seem like reductive attitudes. I also think they’re true, in the broadest possible sense. And the more parents and kids refuse to fight, the more arts society will lose. There’s no one to blame but ourselves.

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Arizona: Loss of Funding Causes Domino Effect
Arizona Daily Star, 10/16/10
“When the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) announced the recipients of its 2010-11 grants, several major arts organizations were not on the list. Significant among them: Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Arizona Opera. Both were eliminated because they failed to score at least 85 points on their applications, said TPAC Executive Director Roberto Bedoya…TPAC awarded 38 arts organizations $182,000 in grants-half the amount it normally doles out and to nearly 30 fewer organizations than in years past, Bedoya said. TPAC this year lost 55 percent of its city funding; on [October 13], the city slashed an additional nine percent.””
Two words: big mess. Why the organizations should bother, given the monumentality of these cuts, is beyond me. It argues costs more to put hours of work into these applications than what might be received, potentially. For the organizations that didn’t make the cut, I say cut your losses and move on. It’s a zero-sum game at this point. Of course, if the state wasn’t so busy witch-hunting for those non-white illegal-alien types, perhaps there would be more money for those so-called “frills.”

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California: Arts Organization Finds New Cash Crop
KTVU.com, 10/13/10

“A Santa Rosa nonprofit arts foundation has taken a new approach to fundraising. Instead of putting on gala banquets for deep-pocketed patrons, the foundation has turned to selling medical marijuana to finance its art programs. On a quiet hilltop above Santa Rosa, Life Is Art Foundation founder Kirsha Kaechele regularly brings guest artists to her secluded retreat to collaborate with others on creative projects…But with the recession, she said grants and other funding were in short supply. Kaechele decided to try her hand at farming as a way to raise funds. ‘Funding was challenging,’ said Kaechele. ‘The current economic climate has been terrible, so it seemed like a creative way to address funding the arts.'”
What the article doesn’t cover, and I really wish it did, is how funding organizations, both current and future, feel about this and whether it would affect their willingness, interest or tendency to give. Will a major foundation, for example, be interested in supporting this effort and will it do so publicly?