Arts Advocacy Update 158: Texas Tortures Tinseltown

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The content below is from Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch email blast of Dec. 15, 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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North Carolina: Arts Council Gathers Funding for Field Trips
The Charlotte Observer, 12/14/10
“Corporate donors are rallying to revive field trips and other cultural opportunities Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students have lost because of budget cuts, the Arts & Science Council announced. The council has $600,000 pledged to what officials hope will be a new $1 million education fund, which will supplement the annual campaign that starts January 19. Bank of America and the Wells Fargo Foundation have each pledged $200,000, while the Duke Energy Foundation and the C.D. Spangler Foundation have pledged $100,000 each. The new drive strives to plug a hole left by cuts in public money, as well as a fundraising slump and dwindling endowment earnings.”
It’s probably too much in the way of minutiae to ask this story to really break down expenditures, but if I read this webpage correctly, there are slightly more than 133,000 students. Taking into account the fact that these statistics aren’t necessarily easily quantifiable, let alone divisible, would a $1 million education fund mean $10, give or take a dollar, per student, in cultural opportunities. Is there the possibility of some slogan building here? (Again, I don’t have access to hard budget figures, I simply find the idea intriguing.)

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Nevada: Kennedy Center Launches New ‘Any Given Child’ Site
Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12/12/10
“Chosen as the fourth participating city — joining Sacramento, CA; Portland, OR; and Springfield, MO — Las Vegas is now part of the Kennedy Center’s year-old ‘Any Given Child’ program. The project is an effort to bulk up arts education in the United States for children in kindergarten through eighth grade by assessing current curriculum and then assisting school districts with long-term plans tailored for individual cities. ‘Many cities have applied to us, 45 so far. We’ve studied them to see who’s best prepared, and we were very impressed by the commitment of the senior leadership of Las Vegas,’ says Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.”
Smartly targeted, this may wind up being a spectacular program. One sentence and then a quote in this story, however, gives me just a little reason for pause:

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Smaller groups such as community theaters and downtown art galleries will not be involved, at least initially. “It’s not appropriate for every arts organization to have arts education… Those that are interested in working with young people, that’s who we are targeting. Does that mean others can’t develop? Absolutely not. It’s totally open.”

The last thing the arts sector needs is to encourage more groups to see education as a revenue stream that somehow may be appropriated to keep their organizations alive. We’ve got to be wary of that.

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Texas: Film Commission Denies Tax Incentives for Negative Portrayal
Guanabee.com, 12/9/10
“The Texas Film Commission has denied a tax incentive to director Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios for their production of Machete, the Mexploitation film set in that state which was shot in Austin in the summer of 2009. The letter cited part of the code that says incentives can be denied to films ‘because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texans or Texas in a negative fashion’…This is especially awkward because Perry actually signed into effect the legislation that beefed up filmmaking incentives in Texas in April of 2009 at Rodriguez’s studios. At the time, Rodriguez told the press that without the bill he would have had to move the production of projects, including Machete, to another state.”
You can almost tick off the legal questions on this, one by one. Can Rodriguez or his production company sue Texas (is the language of the legislation such that Texas can revoke the tax incentive at will, at any time)? Is Texas engaging in a violation of the First Amendment? Specifically, who decides what inappropriate content is? And is it constitutional for there to be no appeals process if such a flat dictum is handed down? How can Texans ensure politics aren’t being played? What a mess!

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New Jersey: Colleges Offer to Take Over State-Owned Broadcaster
NewJerseyNewsroom.com, 12/9/10
“Struggling broadcasting network New Jersey Network (NJN) may yet be receiving a lifeline. Richard Stockton College has presented Gov. Chris Christie with a plan to stop NJN from leaving the air in January while also taking station-running costs off the public payroll. Stockton College President Hermann Saatkamp has proposed to make NJN part of a college nonprofit, to be managed as a broadcast and radio operation in conjunction with a group of state colleges. The station would be administered through Stockton’s 501c3 organization, Stockton Affiliated Services Inc. (SASI)…The proposal would mean NJN, which includes television and radio programming, would stay on the air into next year, when budget cuts were expected to end programming.”
We weighed in on the importance of this last September. Meantime, there are critical updates on this story here, here, here and here.

Wisconsin: Promoting Milwaukee’s Creative Class
BizTimes.com, 12/10/10
“Historically, Wisconsin’s economic lifeblood was based on manufacturing, agriculture, and financial services…While manufacturing remains a key cog in the region’s 21st century economy, a collaboration of local groups is embarking on a mission to develop other economic drivers of the region, including the water technology industry and most recently the creative industry. The Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee, in partnership with the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Quality of Life Committee, launched the Creativity Works project in January 2010…The Creativity Works committee plans to use that information to develop and build upon a strategic campaign to nurture the creative community as a key economic driver for the region and for the state.”
My friend Jonathan West of Artsy Schmartsy fame should weigh on this one, and my friend Damien Jaques should, too.

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