Arts Advocacy Update 155: Nuts for the Nutmeg State!

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Nov. 17, 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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California: L.A. Philharmonic Joins Broadcasting Trend
Los Angeles Times, 11/8/10
“In a bold venture that the Los Angeles Philharmonic hopes will boost its ‘national brand’ recognition and help raise the profile of classical music from Manhattan to Orange County, the orchestra next year will transmit live performances of three of its concerts to more than 450 high-definition-equipped movie theaters throughout the United States and Canada. Under the new project, the Philharmonic will partner under an exclusive one-year contract with Denver-based NCM Fathom…which distribute scores of concerts, sporting contests, and other entertainment events to movie theaters and other venues.”
As more and more organizations focus on live performances via movie theaters, I’ve often noticed the lack of information about how the event will be shot — how, in other words, the properties and techniques of film will be utilized or commanded in the name of some other genre. Fortunately, this article touches on it:

Much like a simulcast of a rock concert or a boxing match, the orchestra’s concerts will be heavily produced affairs, shot with multiple cameras and overseen by directors who specialize in live production. Viewers seated before 50-foot screens will see close-ups, medium and long-range shots of Dudamel and the orchestra’s musicians, views of Disney Hall and the audience, as well as glimpses of the backstage action. Live interviews, and question and answer sessions will round out the transmission package.

Now, let me add that this trend raises yet another question: Is there no difference between the L.A. Philharmonic transmitting a broadcast and, for example, something on Great Performances? Is there no opportunity here for a little experimentation in terms of the content, the structure, the optics, the packaging and the promotion? Or is this just PBS writ large? Would make an interesting topic to discuss, no?

Texas: City Proposal to Sell Civic Center Draws Arts Opposition
TheMonitor.com, 11/8/10
“Selling the Civic Center Auditorium would cripple McAllen’s performing arts scene, which would wither without a proper theater, several people told the city commission [last week]…Situated on 13 acres…the auditorium site has become prime commercial property. Developers frequently contact city leaders about buying the land said City Manager Mike Perez. The commission has regularly talked about using the auditorium property and other government-owned land to lure a big-name retailer…A successful retailer would also pay property tax and create jobs, boosting the local economy. After the meeting, commissioners said they’d carefully weigh economic development against the performing arts.”
The idea that selling this auditorium is even a consideration demonstrates how completely oddball some people in Texas really are. The organization, as the article notes, has no debt “and minimal operating costs.” This notion of a big retailer, paying sales taxes, is going to generate more revenue and more jobs speaks to why the arts fiscal-impact meme is crucial — and rapidly, in some quarters, falling by the wayside. They call it the Lone Star State, but in this case it’s an intellectual Black Hole.

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Colorado: Denver Arts Scene Surviving Downturn
The Denver Post, 11/6/10
“The effects of the recession are evident in metro Denver’s cultural and arts community, with total economic activity attributed to area nonprofit arts organizations in 2009 dropping 14 percent from 2007. However, a study released by Colorado Business Committee for the Arts shows that contributions to the arts rose about four percent between 2007-2009, from $154 million to $160.4 million…Full-time employment in the arts sector held steady, which the report said may be due to increased arts grants from federal, state, and local agencies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”
This is an excellent set of news. The piece about government, in part, stepping in to stop the bleeding is, of course, a big concern — there isn’t going to be more NEA stimulus. Still, the data suggests that the community itself has some means to self-sustain. Denver rocks.

Oregon: Right Brain Initiative Brings Arts to 11,000 Students
The Oregonian, 11/8/10
“The students at Lincoln Street Elementary in Hillsboro kept their eyes trained on dancer Elizabeth Burden, who was teaching them about the life cycle of plants. After a brief lesson on the meaning of ‘dispersal,’ she guided them in pretending to be seeds that scatter to the wind…But on a larger scale, the lessons are part of an ambitious program to supplement arts that have shrunk in metro-area schools because of budget cuts. Now starting its third year in classrooms, The Right Brain Initiative reaches 11,000 students in four school districts…Eventually, the nonprofit’s leaders would like to reach 110,000 students in 25 districts.”
$15 a student is a bargain for this kind of education and illumination. I am devoted to the idea of arts education — I wouldn’t do what I do without it, and I experienced it in the public schools. This proves why it’s worth the investment of time and space and resources. Plus the photos of the kids are major adorable.

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North Carolina: College Students Light Up City Streets, Creating Public Art
Winston-Salem Journal, 11/7/10
“Beginning November 16, the Winston-Salem Light Project will present ‘One City Block: Urban Revelation’ on Fourth Street between Cherry and Marshall streets and by the fountain-fronted entrance to the Winston-Salem Journal on Marshall Street. This is the third time in as many years that Norman Coates’ lighting students at UNC School of the Arts have transferred their work from the insides of a theater to the outsides of Winston-Salem’s downtown in the name of a very public art…Instead of lighting the side of a prominent building — as was the case in 2008 and 2009 — the students will be lighting several parts of [the two streets]. The aim is to heighten awareness of city elements in a way that prompts reflection on the urban environment and our role in it.”
More and more, it feels like North Carolina is becoming an enlightened state, not a remnant of red state reactionary-ness. This story in particular is an affirmation of that spirit.

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Rocco Landesman: NEA Needs Other Federal Agency Partners
The Sacramento Bee, 11/8/10
“In Rocco Landesman’s mind, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was not made to exist in a Washington political vacuum. As chairman, Landesman is keen on breaking down the walls that have traditionally existed between the NEA and other federal agencies. ‘Cabinet secretaries should not exist in silos,’ said Landesman…[The chairman] is forging partnerships with other government agencies, akin to his involvement in the redevelopment of New York City’s Time Square. The Obama administration, Landesman notes, sees the arts as a key vehicle in helping to improve quality of life, revitalize neighborhoods, and create sustainable communities.”
Landesman has been speaking more and more about this idea of partnerships with agencies and program, partly because I think he knows NEA funding is likely to be cut by the next Congress — just sustaining current appropriation levels should probably be seen as a victory. What I’ll be curious to see is whether the radical right restarts the culture wars, and, if it does, whether it will try to legislate the NEA so as to ban it from forging such partnerships. Which could lead to legal action from the left or the right (interstate commerce, for example).

North Carolina: Local Arts Council Awards $1.95 Million in Grants
Winston-Salem Journal, 11/5/10
“The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County has awarded 68 grants totaling $1.95 million to organizations and individuals — a 6.5 percent increase over last year’s total. Of that amount, organizational support grants totaling $1.7 million have been awarded to 21 funded members of the arts council — a six percent increase over last year. The grant money will be used during the council’s current fiscal year, which started October 1.”
Those numbers strike me as amazing — $1.7 million to just 21 members? Impressive.

Report: Los Angeles Creative Economy Lost 37,000 Jobs in 2009
Los Angeles Times, 11/10/10
“The 2010 Otis Report released [November 10], which uses 2009 data, shows that the creative economy here generated $113 billion in revenue and provided 304,400 jobs last year (compared with $121 billion and 342,300 jobs in 2008). That allowed it to hold onto its rank as the second-largest business sector in Los Angeles County, behind tourism and hospitality. But some creative fields are clearly surviving the recession better than others. Of the 10 industries analyzed, furniture/home furnishings, toys, and fashion have been hit the hardest.”
Deeply distressing numbers, to be sure, but here the case for cultural funding is being laid out clearly, and all Angeleno advocates need to do is capitalize on it. Even with the contraction, we’re still talking about 304,000 jobs, right?

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Connecticut: New TBS Series Finds A Home in Stamford
The Stamford Advocate, 11/6/10
“The film studio felt like Hollywood, with production assistants murmuring into headsets and makeup artists scurrying after actors and actresses roaming the set. But it’s the Connecticut Film Center studio on Stillwater Avenue, not Los Angeles, that is serving as the film location for Are We There Yet? a new TBS sitcom chronicles the daily life of a man who has just married a divorced mother of two. The show is one of many director Ali LeRoi predicts will be lured to Connecticut by the state’s film credit program and the large pool of acting talent found nearby in New York City. Connecticut since 2006 has offered a 30 percent tax credit for film production expenses that exceed $100,000.”
My God, they ordered another 80 or 90 episodes? That’s a windfall for Connecticut. New York must be grinding its teeth. Talk about the little nutmeg that could…

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