Wow…been quite a week, hasn’t it? My election-watching story isn’t as dramatic as some, but I’m glad I decided to break with tradition this year and watch returns with company instead of in the privacy of my home. Something about history makes you want to experience it with others.

Anyway, on to the issues of the day:

  • Barry Hessenius wants your opinion. More specifically, he wants you to send your nominations for the next NEA Chair to Barack Obama’s transition team.

    Nominate whomever you like – hopefully someone with nonprofit arts experience, familiarity with our issues, and vision for what our field needs. Nominate yourself if you like. I would suggest sending no more than two names, and include with each a brief (perhaps three or four sentence) background on who your nominee is (title, organizational affiliation etc.), and why that person would make a good choice (visionary, experience, effective leader – etc.)

    End the letter with some statement to the effect that this is a very important appointment to you, and the people in your community.

    Address the letter as follows:

    If Obama is victorious – send the letter to:
    John Podesta
    Obama Transition Team
    c/o Senator Barack Obama
    United States Senate
    Washington, D.C. 20510

    Apparently, former NEA Chairman Bill Ivey has been named head of Barack Obama’s transition team for arts and culture, and will be participating in a webinar with Americans for the Arts on Thursday, November 20. (Note: the webinar is free for AftA members, but a whopping $125 for everyone else.)

  • Robert Shiller gets it. Shiller, perhaps the most famous behavioral economist out there, published an editorial in the New York Times this week arguing that groupthink among economists was responsible in part for failing to anticipate the home loan crisis:

    I BASED my predictions largely on the recently developed field of behavioral economics, which posits that psychology matters for economic events. Behavioral economists are still regarded as a fringe group by many mainstream economists. Support from fellow behavioral economists was important in my daring to talk about speculative bubbles.

    Speculative bubbles are caused by contagious excitement about investment prospects. I find that in casual conversation, many of my mainstream economist friends tell me that they are aware of such excitement, too. But very few will talk about it professionally.

    Why do professional economists always seem to find that concerns with bubbles are overblown or unsubstantiated? I have wondered about this for years, and still do not quite have an answer. It must have something to do with the tool kit given to economists (as opposed to psychologists) and perhaps even with the self-selection of those attracted to the technical, mathematical field of economics. Economists aren’t generally trained in psychology, and so want to divert the subject of discussion to things they understand well. They pride themselves on being rational. The notion that people are making huge errors in judgment is not appealing.

    Effectively, Shiller is accusing economists themselves of irrationality in thinking that others will act as rationally as they (think they) do. Love it. Meanwhile, Shiller’s own stock, already high as it is, is likely only to rise in the coming months and years. He saw the credit crisis coming in advance and even published a book about it as far back as 2005.

  • Speaking of government financial policies, I learned something today which just blew my mind (though probably won’t be a suprise to anyone in my parents’ generation). Did you know that the tax rate for the top income bracket in this country was at least 70% from 1936 to 1981?! Or that it topped 90%(!) in 1944-45 and again from 1951 to 1963, encompassing the entire administration of noted commie Dwight D. Eisenhower? So, conservatives, when Obama says he’s going to roll back the Bush tax custs for the richest Americans to Clinton-era rates, put that in some freakin’ perspective, please.

  • And over in philanthropy land, Sean Stannard-Stockton is spearheading an intriguing open-source bailout in the name of transparency. FORGE, a nonprofit devoted to serving refugee populations in Africa, is facing financial difficulties that threaten to foce the organization to shutter its doors. Its founder, Kjerstin Erickson, posted an SOS note on her blog at Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge site, and Sean picked it up soon afterwards. So far, he’s helped hook Kjerstin up with pro-bono strategic consulting and communications help, tons of ad-hoc advice, and doubtless some capital as well. Sean sees this as an “experiment in radical transparency” due to the forthrightness with which Erickson has presented her organization’s predicament and the willingness she has shown to make its attempted rescue a public affair. On its own, the public disclosure of financial troubles frankly doesn’t seem so groundbreaking to me, as we see this all the time in the arts–take Tonic, for example, which went public with an emergency fund drive a couple of years before it was forced to shut down, even though it’s not even a nonprofit organization–but to Sean’s and FORGE’s credit, I’ve never seen a project like this one before in which consultants advising an organization are making all of their work public and blogging about it to boot. It will be very interesting to see where this all leads, and if successful, whether other organizations in trouble will try to follow the same model.

  • Finally, it’s instructive to compare two facts about Obama and McCain which tell you all about where the candidates and their parties were oriented with regard to the arts. On Obama’s side, artist Shepard Fairey (famed for the iconic “Obey Giant” stickers ubiquitous in hip urban streetscapes across the country) created an equally iconic poster series with official support from the campaign, sales of which apparently helped raise $400,000 for Obama’s primary campaign alone. This was part of the “Artists for Obama” effort which resulted in a stock of limited-edition prints that the campaign sold to supporters. There was no such analogous Artists for McCain effort. In fact, McCain’s campaign regularly stomped on artists’ intellectual property rights, getting themselves in hot water with Van Halen, Jackson Browne, Heart, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters, and others for using their songs at campaign events without permission or payment. Most artists didn’t need any convincing, but if you needed another reason to feel positive about this week’s events, there it is.